Sunday, 31 March 2013

Writer with an Artist's Brush - Marion Sipe

I'm proud and honoured to present Author and Artist

Marion Sipe
to my little place in cyberspace.  What a wonderful talent! 
 Hey Wendy!  It’s so nice of you to have me here today!  I guess it’s Easter today—which I totally forgot—so Happy Easter to those who celebrate and happy Sunday to everyone else!  I hope you’re having a wonderful day, Wendy!


How does your art rub off on your writing?  Having an eye for detail must help in describing scenes, features, gestures and other details a regular writer might not even consider.


I think writing and art both inspire one another.  I love to draw and create creatures, and I also love to create them as people, their cultures and biology and worlds. 

Dragons - Mother and child by Marion Sipe

I think my drawing them has made me a lot more aware of their physiologies, because you can’t draw something unless you understand how it’s made and how it works. 

Even when you’re putting something together in Photoshop, you have to know how the shoulder meets the arm, how the legs work, how they move.  That really helps when it comes to describing something in words as well.  Especially if you can see in your head how actions happen, the details of body language. 

I think that’s probably one of the reasons that I love writing action scenes.  Of course, these are also details that you can totally over do.  If you describe too much, you get lost in the minutiae and lose the interest of the reader.  It’s a bit of a double edged sword.  I’m never sure whether or not I’m including enough description, because I can go on for pages and bore the reader, but then I sometimes cut it too short, forgetting that the reader isn’t seeing it the way I am. 

It Feels by Marion Sipe

In the book I’m working on--Born of this Soil--I have sketches of the architecture, of statues in the squares, of the entire palace garden, of all the characters, of most of their homes, of ships in the harbor and just… yeah.  Most of that never makes it into the story in and of itself, but I think it does bring a richness to the story, the details I do include show that there is more and makes it feel more like a fully realized place.  At least, that’s the hope!

Do you write your scenes with paintings on a canvas in your head (like with a paint brush) rather than a scene playing out on the big screen, as other writers might do (with a camera)?

Actually, I don’t see it as either.  I see it as if it’s real life.  I really envy writers who can do the camera work in their writing, you know, showing you the sweeping panorama and then focusing in on one detail, or who can make you feel like you’re getting one of those openings where the camera sweeps over books and things to eventually land at the guy sitting at his desk.  I have to work at that. 

My focus is often very tightly on a character, on what they’re seeing and feeling.  It can actually make it difficult to describe things because the character just would not notice or care.  Although, I do have a lot of fun playing with different character’s perspectives on the same visual landscape. 
Cover Designer: Marion Sipe

One of my favorite scenes in A Sign in Blood is when two of the main characters get a chance to both describe a ruined temple and the two of them come away with completely different impressions of the place.


I can understand why you’d be drawn to writing fantasy. I think a mystery would be enriched by your eye too. All the clues other writers would never think to add would be quite appealingly original coming from your brush.

I love mystery!  I haven’t tried writing in the genre per se, though.  And mostly that’s because I… lose interest in writing contemporary settings.  *hangs head*  I love reading them, or watching them, but I most enjoy my writing when I’m exploring something different.  When things are taken out of the real world setting, I feel there’s a greater freedom to really dig into the concepts.  Even with urban fantasy, the fantasy elements give you a way to explore the real world in new ways. 

However, I think I do include mystery type elements in my speculative fiction.  For instance, in A Sign in Blood, the main character is trying to solve the murder of her father. 

Cover Designer: Lex Valentine

Getting Ahead is about two detectives trying to deal with everything on top of trying to find a serial killer (who kills trolls). 

And it’s a murder mystery that kicks off the plot of Born of this Soil.  Hmmm.  Actually, I write a lot of murder mysteries rolled up in speculative fiction concepts, now that I think about it.  *G*

What came first the art or the author?

Oh, dear, that’s really hard to say.  As a kid I kept a journal and a lot of it was poetry and fiction snippets, but there were tons of sketches and doodles, too.  In fact, I’m dyslexic and when I was young if I couldn’t spell a word I’d draw a representation of it.  In kindergarten I was once writing a ghost story and just could not remember how to spell ‘graveyard’ so I drew a little gravestone and then wrote ‘yard’ after it.  That happened a lot in my writing then.  So drawing and writing kind of grew up together.  I suppose I’m lucky my teacher and my mom both thought that was really awesome, rather than just being annoyed I couldn’t spell.

Does one take precedence over the other?

Well, sometimes one has to.  I mean, I make a lot more money making book covers than I do selling books.  *G*  But still… I have phases.  I do with everything, really.  Sometimes you cannot pull me away from the writing, but other days you’d have to drug me to get my sketch book out of my hands, and still other times I forget to eat or sleep because I’m working in Photoshop.  I’ve found myself saying, “Wait… why is the sun coming up?  Oh, damn,” more times than I can tell.  And some things make me want to write, while others make me want to draw.  And some do both.  Usually, worldbuilding makes me want to do both.

I guess you’d never suffer from writer’s block. All you’d need to do is pick up a pencil and draw your way out of it.

Oh, I wish that were true!!  But a blank page can be just as threatening to an artist as a writer.  Sometimes I can be blocked on one and not the other, but often it’s both. 

Whether it’s words or lines, both take energy.  I don’t think we realize how much energy it takes to be creative, but the brain uses energy up, too.  It’s not a free process.  It doesn’t burn the kind of calories that exercise will, but it uses up its stores of glucose and other chemicals needed for thought.  While that’s not a big deal for a lot of people, activities that require sustained use of the brain (hours spent writing, drawing, studying, etc.) can leave people feeling completely and utterly exhausted. 

As writers well know!  I think we just don’t feel that we’re “legitimately” tired, or that it’s justified.  We’ve been told for a long, long time that creative pursuits like writing or art don’t count because they’re not physical.  But they can be just as exhausting as physical work, just not in the same way.  So, when your brain’s worn out, it’s worn out.  And that’s when I have trouble doing anything.

 Time must be a problem. You belong to the MuseItUp Art Dept and make book covers for the authors as well as your freelance work. Deadlines – do they stress you or spur you on?

 Oh, time is my biggest enemy, but I’m kicking its ass.  *nods*  I’m also a business student, so spare time is not a concept I really understand. 

Between school and art as work (I differentiate between for work and for fun) I actually don’t get nearly as much time to write as I would like.  But what really gets cut out is time with my fiancé and my mom, and I hate that.  So, when my brain decides to take a vacation (it happens, occasionally I’ll spend two weeks barely able to make a 'to do' list, let alone complete one) I do enjoy the fact that I get to spend more time with actual, non-fictional people.  Of course, I also feel slightly… wrong when I’m not doing something. 

Unless I’m really, really tired, I can’t even watch TV without working a puzzle or writing or drawing or something.  That’s a really, really bad habit (so my loved ones tell me) and I’m working on being able to relax when that’s what it’s time to do. 

Deadlines are stressful, because I usually have half a dozen things to finish at any one time, but I’m really not sure how much I’d get done without them, so… I have to go with both!  I take some pride in the fact that I never miss a deadline, but I do occasionally have to reschedule them, so maybe that’s not the complete truth.  *G*

 Do you ever resent stealing time from your writing to work on your other love, art or vice versa?

Oh, yes.  Both.  Constantly.  My moods change, and I’ll want to be working on something in Photoshop, or I’ll want to be drawing, or I’ll want to be writing, but I have deadlines for other things, and so that has to take precedence. 

The good thing is that, usually, once I start whatever it is I’m supposed to be working on, I’ll find myself enjoying it.  I love both writing and art for themselves, so putting words together for school (which is the thing I usually least want to do) has its own joys.  Right now I’m doing a video for class and every time I think about it, I’m thinking, “Ugh, and I have to do that,” but then I get started and I get sucked in. 

So, yeah, I do resent not always being able to do the things I’m really passionate about (at the moment, because it changes all the time!), but I think everyone gets that.  I mean how many people have been sitting at work or school and been daydreaming about doing something totally different.  I think that’s just a human experience.

 Being given so little information to go on for the covers, you have an amazing knack to symbolize the story, that’s something that must come naturally, you couldn’t learn that, could you? I mean, I had no idea what my cover for A Summer Squall would look like. But you created the only cover it could possibly have. Thank you for that.

Thank you!  It makes me happy to know you’re really happy with your cover! 

Actually, I don’t think writers realize how much they tell me about the story in just the blurb. 

Cover Designer: Marion Sipe

You, for instance, were the one who talked about the splash of red in the rough waters.  As I was reading the excerpt and blurb, that image just struck me.  It was symbolism that you incorporated, the stormy sea (and everything it stands for!) with the vivid red of a life jacket amongst the waves.  The moment I read that, I knew there couldn’t be any other image to represent the story. 

Cover Designer Marion Sipe

Another of my clients—Becca Mills—on her book Nolander describes her secondary world with the phrase “A world like an autumn forest, its realities as multiple and layered as fallen leaves.”  So, how could I not incorporate that as a visual element? 

Writers are creatures of words, they reveal their visions (even when they don’t mean to!) in the words they choose, in the phrases they make central to their paragraphs, in the frequency with which they return to related symbolism and metaphor.  I find it hardest when a writer doesn’t seem to have a clear vision of their own story, of what the central themes and elements are, which happens more than you’d think.  You guys describe a story to me, I just turn it into a visual.

 Marion, thank you for letting us into your wonderfully creative world. I've picked up plenty of writing tips from your artist's eye, today. No wonder I thought you'd be good at writing mysteries as well as your beloved fantasies. You already are! :)


Rosalie Skinner said...

Wow, Marion, what an incredible insight into your art and writing. Fantastic covers and wonderful read about how you do both.
I agree with Wendy, your cover for A Summer Squall is perfect. Thanks for sharing, and, Wendy, thanks for asking the right questions.

Edith Parzefall said...

A fascinating interview, Wendy and Marion. I was starting to feel a little stressed to imagine facing creative blocks on more than one level, but then the combined creative fits must feel even more euphoric than only writing.

Jim Hartley said...

Yay, Marion! I am a proud possessor of three Marion Sipe covers on my MuseItUp books ("Magic to the Rescue," "This Wand for Hire," and "Change Partners") and all I can say is three cheers for Marion. If you'd like to see those three examples of her work, go to my website at

Marion Sipe said...

Thank you all! I had so much fun with this interview and Wendy asks such wonderful questions!

@Rosalie - Thank you! I love it when a writer's description of their story just *boom* creates a cover in my head.

@Edith - Oh, when I'm inspired to both write and draw (for instance, when worldbuilding) I forget about everything else. Sometimes I don't come up for days. If it wasn't for my mom and the fiance, I'd probably die of starvation. *G*

@Jim - Hey there! I've got another of yours coming up soon, too! *G* I'm so glad you love your covers. It makes me so happy to see happy authors! And after all the work of writing the book, I really think authors should get something beautiful to represent their story.

@Wendy - Thank you so much for having me!

S. Durham said...

Great interview Wendy and Marion, and how cool that you write too! I love your art work, and of course the cover to The Jaguar Sun was spot on!

You sound like a very busy girl, but I hope you can find time to incorporate relaxation into your days, because I think it energizes us and allows us to regain our perspective on the little joys in life:)

Cheers, Sara

Carole said...

I viewed Wendy Laharnar’s presentation of Marion Snipe as Writer with an Artist’s Brush, with a touch of envy. To have two such precious gifts – no wonder Marion has a smile on her face! I could also understand Wendy’s natural assumption that all Marion had to do was to utilise her second gift if the first on let her down. But of course, as Marion was quick to point out, life is not as easy as that! It is interesting to hear that even someone as talented as Marion can suffer the blank page syndrome.

I loved your book designs, especially the cover of Nolander, by Becca Mills. It has a great depth of feeling.

Annie said...

I always enjoy Wendy's interviews and lovely to meet the face and talent behind so many book covers. Absolutely awesome how much Marion does with her time.
A Summer Squall is a wonderful story on so many levels and the cover, like the book, conveys multiple layers of meaning.
So nice to meet you Marion and thanks to Wendy for the introduction :-)

Annie said...

I always enjoy Wendy's interviews and lovely to meet the face and talent behind so many book covers. Absolutely awesome how much Marion does with her time.
A Summer Squall is a wonderful story on so many levels and the cover, like the book, conveys multiple layers of meaning.
So nice to meet you Marion and thanks to Wendy for the introduction :-)

Kay Dee Royal said...

Hi Marion and Wendy:) It's great to virtually meet you through this interview along with your cover art samples. WOW, Muse It Up truly does have many creative members. I'm dazzled by your work and your words:)

Thanks for sharing her, Wendy:)

Nancy M Bell said...

What a great interview Wendy and Marion. Interesting to see how a CA views the bit of things we put in our blurbs and then pulls images from that. Love the cover for A Summer Squall.


Marion Sipe said...

Wow, thank you all for the wonderful comments! I'm so pleased that it struck
a chord with you all!

@Sara - You are totally right about relaxation. And I'm getting better about it. I like to think of my self as a workaholic, in recovery. Although, it's still one day at a time!

@Carole - Thank you! I really love the cover for Nolander, and Becca is such a visual writer. She knows what she's looking for and we work together to make it
happen. I think writing and art are really entangled for me, they're water from the same well, so to speak, and when that well runs dry, it effects them both.
Fortunately, there are lots of things that refill it! :-D

@Annie - It was so nice to be here, too! Wendy is really great at interviews, and I'm hoping to pick up some tips. *G*

@Nancy - Thank you! I love doing cover art, and working in indie and small press publishing in general. It's all built on words, and words are... well, just the
best thing EVER! *G*

Laurel Lamperd said...

I loved your wonderful interview with Marion Snipe, Wendy. Such a lot of information about how a talented artist and writer goes about her business.

Wendy said...

Hello dear writing friends. Thank you for being here when Marion let us inside her creative head.

Rosalie, you being a painter and a writer will certainly understand where Marion is coming from. You have that special eye for detail when you created the worlds in your Chronicles of Caleath.

Edith, I see what you mean. Double strength highs and double strength lows, and at the rate Marion puts out work, I suspect she had many more highs than lows. You are putting out a lot of books too lately.

Jim, I had a look at your site and Marion's 3 covers. They are awesome and so is your site. You put a whole lot of work into it and it works so well.

Sara. I had a look at your cover in your author page at MuseItUp. Like mine and Jim's, Marion has added warmth and a definite spark of magic to yours. I suspect drawing might be Marion's prime source of relaxation.

Carole, it's hard to believe we are not alone with the blank page syndrome. If only I could draw my way out of this dilemma, if only I could draw, if only...I would draw those beautiful dragons. Marion's 'Mother and child' make me smile. There is a story in there somewhere.

Annie, you're right, it is lovely to put a face to the name we know so well. Marion's covers do have many layers, don't they? They are full of symbolism that often surprises even the authors.

Nancy, Marion's talent to pick up on the most relevant words in the blurb amazes me, too. I loved seeing how Marion interpreted the sentence describing Norlander. Her cover is warm and magical. I love the cover of A Summer Squall too. :)

Laurel, I agree, Marion did share a lot about her art and writing. I picked up some creative tips. e.g. Marion says you can't draw something unless you know how it works. I'll bear that in mind and apply it to my writing as well.

Marion, As a writer, I picked up something else from what you, the artist, said here: 'I find it hardest when a writer doesn’t seem to have a clear vision of their own story, of what the central themes and elements are...'

If we don't know this well enough to convey to our cover artist, then we really don't have much basis for a story at all, do we?

Thank you everyone. Hey, I know who has a stash of half priced Easter Eggs. Haven't found where they are hidden yet, probably where Lea hides the cheesecake. When I find it, I'll send you some. Chocolate doesn't melt in cyberspace.

Wendy said...

Hi Kay Dee,
Lovely of you to stop by. I just found you comment (it was in the spam, which I rarely check). It would have been so disappointing to miss it and I can't see how that could have happened. You are so right, so many talented MuseItUp members, including your dear self. :)

Marion Sipe said...

@Kay Dee - Hey there, Kay Dee! Sorry your comment got lost in cyberspace. It's nice to meet you as well! MuseItUp has a very creative team all around! *nods*

@Wendy - LOL! Actually Mother and Child is based on my cats. *G* We brought home two little kittens and while most of our cats were terrified of them, one cat--Kismet--pounced on them and made them her own. They adore her. In their minds, no one (even humans!) is better than their momma kitty. And when she cleans them (especially their heads and faces) they look at her as if she is the center of their little universes. I wanted to take that some kind of emotion and translate it into a species we rarely think of in that way. Plus, I wanted to draw dragons. *G*

Knowing how something is built (for a human, how the muscles connect, where the bones are, etc.) is really essential to drawing it. If you start with simple shapes in those areas, you can build off of them until you have the full shape, to which you then add detail. I think the biggest impediment to most people who are trying to draw is that they want to just automatically translate what they're seeing (definitely start with things you can physically see) onto the paper, but most artists (unless they're really, really experienced) begin by drawing simple shapes and build that up into more complex shapes. For instance, using simple circles to indicate the musculature of the person or creature you're trying to draw.

Finally, you say, "If we don't know this well enough to convey to our cover artist, then we really don't have much basis for a story at all, do we?"

And that's a really good thought. A lot of writers have difficulty seeing the big picture, even in their own writing. It's even more confused by the fact that many writers think that themes have to be something huge and grand, with philosophical points. Themes, though, can be simple (a person's love for their family, etc.) but those are exactly the things you want your cover art to convey! Themes are built from the motivations and emotions of the characters, but many authors have trouble standing back and seeing how that theme is echoed throughout a book. I'm actually going to be doing a blog post on this, after the April interviews. *nods*

Okay, okay, I'll stop talking now! *G*