creativity in your forties

As we become more mature as women, the collection of our experiences develops into the core of who we are and how we express ourselves.  This is why, without doubt, a woman’s creative capacity takes a huge leap forward around the time of her fortieth birthday.

One of the best examples of how a woman in her forties blooms creatively is artist Zita Mc Garry Kelly.

Zita is an Irish self-taught professional artist whose inspiring work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and art festivals.  She had her first show at the age of 38 and turned professional at 40.  You can learn more about Zita and her work at

This is her story and we thank Zita for sharing it with us.

My creative journey

by Zita McGarry Kelly

The beginning

It all began when one of my sons suffered from chronic eczema as an infant.  He was up all night, every night, and so was I applying wet wrapping and trying to soothe him. 

At the time, I was teaching my older son to use poster paints so I started to play around with those at night to keep myself awake, because there seemed no point in trying to sleep. 

I found it calming and started to paint all sorts of domestic things-even the Sallins bin truck!

The boys used to come down every morning to check up on what I had painted the night before, so it was a way of keeping going and remaining sane!

40 and mature?

Yes, I’m grown up now!

I’ve gone to college, got the education, husband, house, and children. I have done all that society required of me, and now it is absolutely my turn!

I honestly feel that my life so far has been in preparation for my life today. All the experiences until now, all the things that happened in my past, almost unknown to me now, those that are deeply buried in the clay of my mind, and are now yielding their fruits. This is harvest time! And it is good.  I am so grateful for it and pray that it continues to be so. (Even Faust begged the moment to stay “Verweile doch, Du bist so schon”).

Source of inspiration

It was only after I had taken up painting that I discovered through my sister that my father used to give art classes in our house – something I had never known about! (I was a very late arrival!)

This had to be my destiny; this had to explain how I felt so incredibly motivated and compelled to paint.

There are many inspirations, all very real, no punches pulled, most deeply personal, and I know now that I’m actually trying to heal many of them by painting them out!

Memories of parents loved and lost….

A good example of this is the work Skin Boat. 

I painted it in memory of my father, an angler, who died when I was eight.  The boat is a study of him: his depth of passion for his sport, his love for the “game” Brown Trout or Salmon.

The image is darkened as my memory starts slipping away, making me feel panicked at the thought of the complete loss of him.


When I paint, it is so instinctive that whatever I reach for when making a work, (e.g. sand, rice paper, inks) are somehow subconsciously required by the work to exist. I am the artist; therefore I feel that the materials somehow present themselves to me.  

Every time I paint, I paint for someone.  There’s always someone in my mind, someone driving it forward with a thought or an idea.  I feel so incredibly confident now in my work, the first few movements of paint on canvas continue to burst with possibilities, nothing is wasted, and everything is used. 

In my work I create a dense and richly textured surface by manipulating materials (polyfiller/gel) through etching, carving and lively brushwork. These elements combine with colour washes and muted tones to create a striking balance between abstract expression and control. It is a process of reduction, of isolating the essential ingredients of subject, distilling it down and re-building the image around it.

I can frequently be moved by a moment, or a view, and it simply transforms into a colour. The more physical I become in my paint strokes, when my arm begins to ache, that’s the moment when the painting reveals itself to me, and then I simply follow the course. Sometimes I suspect that it has little to do with me at all.

Is it too late for a woman in her 40’s to start being creative?

Now is our time to shine!

After 20 years of adult life, relationships, grief and joy, children and partners, it simply must all add up to a highly emotive and expressive individual.

Also, at forty, nobody questions me anymore, they finally accept.  At forty, my work, style, politics, decisions are all accepted without criticism; I am now really free to fully engage with life!

Art is now so important; we all need it to remind us of our humanity, through reaction and emotion.  I think that television, consumerism and general personal confusion sedate the primal force in all of us.

Recently we had some friends over for dinner, and at the end of the evening, I persuaded them to take off their shoes and walk on the dew drenched grass. It took some persuasion, just the act of going barefoot can give us a sense of freedom - but we all still talk about that evening, and the honesty in the conversation that ensued... So, especially

At 40, I am no longer afraid to live and feel and be proud and celebrate my own humanity.  


Two years ago, my friend Nikki died from breast cancer.

When she came home from hospital to die, I was deeply traumatized not just through her appearance, but also by the fundamental changes to her home and family.

We were both “mums in the village”, we did the coffee mornings, the calories pounding walks through the park and the book club parties. (We knew where the coffee was kept in both our houses).

That day I realised that a higher level of communication was necessary to express my emotional reaction.  I began to write poetry.

I loved Nikki most when she was dying, not out of sheer compassion, but because she became grown up, she spoke her mind, and she only did that which made her happy.  Nikki had reached 40, although she died at 38.

Uncomfortable Chairs

The walk through the fields seemed to herald the event -

Daisies innocent and pollen-free so as not to offend

The sensitised senses of


The door, the family, the call to enter - all part

Of this ritual of visiting; her stairs winding to introduce

Her bedroom - once an exuberant mismatch of domestic clutter,

Slapped now into astonishment by stark

Hospital signs.

Her smile reassuring - my awkward touch;

Hearts racing with anger and compassion,

I sit and wait for instruction - it will come.

This listener does as listeners do when all other faculties flounder -

Settle to uncomfortable chairs.

Powers to heal - books and cd's - things intangible to some

Suddenly grasped.

Division of room from life and life from room


No longer plumped with ego,

No longer full of phrase or rhetoric rich

I am childlike, nervous - tense as a schoolgirl before the teacher

Whose lesson, once absorbed, will alter lives.

Zita McGarry Kelly




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