ByChris Jaser, writer at Creators.co
Chris Jaser

So yesterday I started writing blog posts again after a long hiatus from it. The title was going to be "Fan Art: a Guide for Artists and Fans". In the post, I was going to outline how fans and artists can go about looking for good fan art that they could purchase. While also in the realm of fair use.

As I began to write the portion that would outline how to find Fan Art that would go beyond the scopes of the original, it occurred to me.

There is no real clear cut answer.

The issue that most artists face whenever people ask for Fan Art of their favorite characters is the fact that they don't own the characters or have permission to do so. There have been cases of studios suing over artwork being sold at comic con. Yet there are some companies who turn a blind eye to it and allow Fan Art to be created.

This is my feeling towards artists making fan art to sell.

Until studios have posted terms and conditions on using their characters to create fan art, I feel artists need to stop selling fan art at conventions.

Now the reason I am saying this is because I feel that artists are sort of trapped in this grey zone of legality. There is no guidance from the studios or the original creators on what artists should do when it comes to fan art. There are a lot of well known artists out there who will praise selling fan art at conventions.

Their top arguments are this:

  • People who go to comic cons are looking for their character.
  • Its a way for people to discover your work.
  • People buy what they know rather than something new.
  • Artist Alley would be dead if there wasn't fan art.

Lets break down these arguments into why most people would think this way.

People who go to comic cons are looking for their character.

We all have our favorite characters and some we have an attachment to. I totally understand that and wanting to purchase items relating to that character. The problem for artists is this: Which character would sell at conventions? As an artist, I struggled to figure that out. I just created Fan Art that I would enjoy and try to sell them. For example, I created a piece for the 30th anniversary of Doc and Marty coming to the future (Title image above). I thought it would sell and try to ride the wave that Back to the Future was having at the time. However, just like surfing, sometimes you miss that perfect wave. I didn't sell one of those prints.

As artists we can't predict what is going to be popular until it becomes popular. Even then popularity fades and you might miss the boat on it.

Plus there are so many different kind of fans out there. From anime to Disney, to DC to Marvel, and so much more. There are mixed bags of fans and even then they don't know what they are looking for.

Its a way for people to discover your work.

That is true. I will be the first to admit I have gained more fans by creating fan art and posting it on social media. However I also gain fans by showcasing my own work on those same platforms. Creating stuff that I enjoy. I have also sold the same amount of original creations as my fan art. Its always going to be a mix bag. I slowly have faded out creating fan art because I wanted to put more of my effort into my own projects. I think people are looking for great art. Art that moves them whether its their favorite character or something unique.

A great example was five years ago. I went out to Burbank for the CTNx Animation Expo. I went to artist alley and there were so many talent artists. Really talented. From Stephen Silver to Chris Avery to Andrea Deja. Animation professionals in the industry at this convention. I was doing some Christmas shopping there. Purchasing art prints for my family and for myself. I remember meeting one artist and I fell in love with her work. Her style was this really neat geometry cutout look. Mostly of women, mythology and birds. Really beautiful works of art.The artist was Britney Lee. She later worked on the character design of Elsa for Frozen. She didn't have a single fan art piece in her collection. All of her work was her own. However, you can tell that she took a good amount of time perfecting her craft and was able to get discovered by Disney. Some argue that they have gotten work from art directors who saw their fan art and wanted them to use it for their branding of the character. Though the same can be true for artists who have created their own work and have been discovered through their own projects.

People buy what they know rather than something new.

I think that might be the case for some people, but overall I think people like seeing new pieces of art. I think its up to the artist to push their salesmanship to the consumer. Being friendly and coming to conventions with great pieces of art will certainly create more sales. Being active in social media and showing people what they have been working are will also create more sales.

Fan Art, I feel the artist is betting on the recognition and that will land them a sale.

I think what is true is that people buy art from artists that they know rather than someone new.

That might be a tough pill to swallow for up and coming artists but its true. You really have to build a relationship with your audience. Have them be engaged with you. Produce work that is true to your ideals and to your own style.

Like one of the things I have been doing is creating my characters in color pencils. I needed to take a break from the computer and just draw on a sketchpad again. Create a piece that I couldn't ctrl+z (undo) to make it perfect. Of course I posted up the progress and people really enjoy what I was creating. They would comment and I would comment back. I started doing these at conventions and people were asking me how I was getting these rich tones out of color pencils. I would answer them and start conversations. People started taking my cards and of course ask me to do commissions for them.

I started building a relationship with my audience and that has led to more commission work and even full on contract work with clients. Most of them have contacted me because they saw what I created and wanted to hire me to create something similar.

Artist Alley would be dead if there wasn't fan art.

If that was the case then Artist Alley would have been called Fan Art Alley. Its silly to consider that the only reason people come to artist alley is to purchase Fan Art. Considering that they could find most of the fan art online or draw it themselves. People will buy things that they find interesting. Its very easy for artists to think the only way to sell art is to create what everyone likes. When in reality, people like art that speaks to them and engages them. People love seeing that someone took the time to perfect their craft and create something unique.

So how should artist approach conventions when it comes to fan art?

I think artists should bring their best work out for people to see. I understand that comic cons are a celebration of fandom but at the same time its also a celebration of the art of illustration, animation, film and comic books. So showcase your own work and talk to people when they come to the table.

Until studios have started putting out terms and conditions on using trademark characters for fan art, don't sell fan art prints. Not only its a risk but its doesn't help you in the long run. The goal is to have people buy your work and your ideas.

So what should artists bring and do?

  • Make small batches of prints and merchandise of your top favorite pieces. Here is a guide for first time artist in artist alley.
  • Say hi to people when they come by. Be friendly. Give out business cards.
  • Offer commission work. Even if its a drawing of their favorite character, its only one drawing and its personalized for that person. I actually sold more drawing commissions than merchandise.
  • Make art that you love and you would buy.
  • Don't undervalue your art.

What should attendees do when visiting a booth?

  • Obviously say hi!
  • Ask what kind of artwork do they do.
  • Start a conversation. Even if its "man I really like this piece how did you make it?"
  • See if they do commissions if you want fan art.
  • if you like an original work from an artist, buy it. It would mean the world to them if you did. I had a fan buy a print from me at full price even though I slash the prices to gain sales the next day. He also bought a commission on top of that. I was so overwhelm by his generosity I nearly cried. Artists put their hearts and souls into works of art, that when another person recognized it and appreciates it, we feel like we are getting somewhere.

I know fan art is here to stay but it doesn't mean that artists are slaved to it. This rat race of creating fan art to gain fans and to make money will only cause more artists to not be discovered. Even if you do go to conventions and buy fan art, that's OK. Though I would implore you to also look at the artist's original work and possibly purchase an original too.

What do you guys think? Feel free to comment and subscribe. Check out my own artwork at www.chrisjaserart.com

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