V. K. McGivney: On writing and art

In this blog, V. K. McGivney discusses her twin passions of writing and painting and the different experiences they provide.

V. K McGivney paintings


Is it a writing or a painting day? This is a question I always ask myself whenever I have a day at home. It can be difficult to choose between two pastimes that I love equally but which, like small children, compete with each other for my time and attention. I have a friend who paints only during the mornings and writes only during afternoons and evenings. But I’m not so organised and would find this too constraining. Sometimes I can switch from one activity to the other with ease in the course of a single day; more often I find I’m neglecting one in favour of the other. Which activity I select and when depends on a number of factors – if I have a deadline; the light (I don’t like painting in artificial light); whether I have a writing or art project on the go that I feel compelled to return to; and most importantly, how I feel on a particular day.


When I write, I often feel tense and on edge. The processes of planning a book, creating a narrative, composing scenes, searching for the right words or phrase, re-reading and editing, keep me alert and “in the moment”. Painting, on the other hand, I find more relaxing and therapeutic, especially when feeling anxious or stressed. Occasionally the experience is almost like falling into a trance, and when that happens, time passes in a flash. Accordingly, during the lockdown periods, I did far more painting than writing. I set myself a project to paint scenes within walking distance of my house and this turned out to be the most calming and enjoyable activity I engaged in during those difficult months.

Paintings by V. K. McGivney


I keep writing and painting physically apart. I paint in the dining room and write in a small basement office which I call The Dungeon. Despite heroic attempts to keep these rooms in a reasonable state of order, I manage to reduce both to mess and muddle within minutes of working in them, a state usually achieved with the generous assistance of Noodles, my cat. In order to assert his rightful status as the sole object worthy of my attention, he likes to insert himself between me and whatever I happen to be writing or painting at the time.

I don’t know whether, in my case, the painting and fiction writing I do feed into each other, although it could be happening subliminally. Many people are both writers and artists, which suggests that the activities are in some ways complementary. The activities certainly have aspects in common and require some parallel skills – imagination; a sense of design; observational skills; an ability to create scenes and put a narrative together. Maybe painting helps with writing descriptions, and maybe writing makes one view one’s artwork more analytically. Who knows? The one thing I do know is that I wouldn’t be without either.


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