Elizabeth Coffey is a Richmond, Virginia-based mixed media painter. Working primarily with the figure, she constructs narratives that are intentionally ambiguous, leaving room for the viewer to interpret and respond through their own personal experiences. A central theme to these narratives is the tension between the seen and the unseen. Important to her process in bringing these narratives to life is the exploration of materials and techniques. She often paints on lace, a fabric that is symbolic of traditional domestic roles and accepted forms of creative expression for women, and that can also serve as a veil to true identity. She layers oil paint, graphite and other media, creating surfaces that may appear simple at first glance, but reveal underlying complexity and meaning.

Can you share a bit about your background and how you became interested in mixed media painting?

My career actually started in graphic design – my visual aesthetic, love of color, and appreciation of typography have definitely been influenced by that. But as much as I love design, a yearning to return to painting persisted. This stemmed from a childhood filled with drawing, sewing, and crafting with every material imaginable. My curiosity about materials and their potential continues to drive me. Merging paint, repurposed fabrics, and even glitter into mixed media pieces feels incredibly natural and fulfilling.

Do you feel your environment influences your art? If so, how?

My studio is like my creative oasis. High ceilings and big windows make it feel expansive. I tack up inspiring words and images, and depending on the work I’m doing, I listen to music or podcasts – energizing or meditative. A lit candle helps me focus. When I feel stuck or drained, a change of scenery does wonders. Traveling or even taking my work out into nature totally refreshes my perspective and sparks new ideas.

Your work often features a tension between the seen and the unseen. Can you elaborate on how you develop this theme in your pieces?

I'm really interested in the contrast between how we present ourselves and what's truly going on inside. I’ve found that the diptych format allows me to exaggerate that tension. Juxtaposing a detailed face with messier, stenciled text emphasizes the duality of how much we reveal versus what we keep hidden.

Lace is a recurring material in your work. What significance does it hold for you, and how do you incorporate it into your narratives?

I love fabric, but lace was not initially my favorite. I experimented with it as a way to add texture to gessoed backgrounds. Then, inspiration struck – why not paint directly on it? The more I work with it, the more layers of meaning I uncover. Lace can serve as a veil hiding true identity, a symbol of traditional femininity and domesticity, and it’s also surprisingly strong despite its delicate appearance.

Can you walk us through your process of layering oil paint, graphite, and other media? How do you decide on the combination of materials for a particular piece?

My creative process typically begins with a loose graphite sketch. Oil paint applied to gessoed lace curtains is a mainstay in my work. However, the background layer offers an opportunity for experimentation. Stretched canvas with paint, fabric, or even vintage quilts are all potential starting points. The level of complexity in this base layer is carefully considered, with various materials tested to see what works best with the painted lace.

Your narratives are intentionally ambiguous. What do you hope viewers take away from your work?

Of course, I want people to be visually drawn to my work. However, my deeper aim is to spark individual interpretation. By drawing on their personal experiences and perspectives, viewers can discover their own meaning in the work. I hope this process will also inspire empathy and a broader understanding of diverse viewpoints and lived experiences.

Looking back at your body of work, how do you feel your style and themes have evolved over time?

The female form has been a constant in my work for over 15 years now. While some themes remain, my way of expressing them has definitely shifted. Through ongoing reflection and material experimentation, I feel like I have a much clearer vision today. Exploring female identity and balancing intellect and intuition are general themes that guide my practice, and I’ve found an intersection of those themes through working with female faces, repurposed domestic textiles, and text.