Fan Art: Getting Started in a World of Expression

If you’re a part of a fandom, chances are you’ve seen your fair share of fan art. It’s been around for decades, allowing fans of shows, video games, movies, and books to express their love for characters.

It has allowed characters to live on long after their movies have finished, video games have been beaten, and their books have been closed.  Fan art has changed the art world for many artists, and with good reason. 

Let’s dive into the world of fan art, and see what’s behind this world of expression.

What Is Fan Art?

So what exactly is fan art? Put simply, fan art is artwork that’s created by fans based on a work of fiction. This can be anything from Marvel’s Avengers to the Kingdom Hearts series. 

The sky is the limit for these artists, and it is not uncommon to see full-color drawings next to Photoshop creations that bring new life to an old fandom.

Bringing Fan Favorites to Life

While every movie or tv show has its hero or heroine, there are often characters who get overlooked. 

Some characters are loved but aren’t a big part of the main plot (think Babu Frik from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). Creating fan art is a way for these characters to live on. 

When it comes to books, some characters are simply descriptions on a page. Turning these qualities into a real, visible person allows readers to connect the character with a real manifestation.

If you think that art can’t be found in the video game world, think again. Take a look at our article Finding Art In Video Games to see how hundreds of artists have pulled inspiration from video games across various genres. 

Promoting Your Fan Art

Fan Art Communities Online

To dip your toe into the fan art world, why not go to a place that holds years of fan art? Fan Art Central is a website that’s been around for 20 years, and it’s a great place to get started. 

Although it originally started as a fan art community for South Park, it quickly morphed into a home for all fan art, regardless of the fandom. Whether you need inspiration or want to post some of your artwork, it’s a haven for fan artists.

Take to Social Media

If you’re not sure where to get started when it comes to promoting your fan art, perhaps you can

take a page from Anthony Pham’s book. Make the best use of social media to share your work and get your name out there. He’s created several pieces of work and has used them to create t-shirts, pillows, phone cases, backpacks; you name it.

Try Something New

Don’t limit yourself or be afraid to try new things. If you’re part of a rather popular fandom, people may be looking for a new spin on beloved characters. 

Try your hand at something that hasn’t been seen before in the fan art world. Conventions can be a great way to test the reaction to your art. 

Regardless of the direction you take, fan art allows you to express how you feel about your favorite characters.

Can You Sell Fan Art?

Selling fan art is a long-held tradition of artists all over the world. You can easily find plenty of artists who make a good living selling fan art of their favorite shows, games, and movies. One instance is the artist Anthony Pham, whom we linked to above, who is even selling fan art on our platform.

Unfortunately, there can be a drawback to selling fan art: it can be a legal grey-area. 

Some artists have been mercilessly shut down and even sued over copyright infringement. So, let’s a little deeper into the legality of fan art.

Is Selling Fan Art Illegal?

Some resources you might find online will imply that fan art is completely illegal, but the fact is that it’s not so cut and dry as some make it out to seem.

The reason given to argue that fan art is illegal in all respects is that the characters or scenes depicted are copyrighted by a corporation. Legally speaking, you are not typically allowed to sell (or even share) any derivatives of a copyrighted character or scene — save if you have express, written permission from the owner.

The reasons this becomes a grey-area are “fair use” laws. Stanford University has an excellent resource explaining fair use laws. In it, they explain that there are four principal points of fair use:

  • The purpose and character of your use of the copyrighted material. Was the copyrighted character or scene used to create a new original work by adding new expression or meaning? Was value added to the original piece by adding new looks, new insights, or new understandings?
  • The nature of the copyrighted material. Is the material factual or fiction? Was the material published or unpublished? You have more leeway when it comes to published, factual content.
  • The amount of the original art taken. The less you take of the copyrighted items, the more leeway you get.
  • The effect you may cause on the potential market. Will you deprive the copyright owner of income or undermine their potential market?

There is also a fifth factor that Stanford outlines, and it’s basically “does the judge or jury like your work?” If you create something offensive, you are more likely to get your art flagged as an infringement on copyright rather than fair use.

Here is a quote from the Stanford article citing a court case (Original Appalachian Artworks, Inc. v. Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., 642 F.Supp. 1031 (N.D. Ga. 1986).)

“…in one case a manufacturer of novelty cards parodied the successful children’s dolls the Cabbage Patch Kids. The parody card series was entitled The Garbage Pail Kids and used gruesome and grotesque names and characters to poke fun at the wholesome Cabbage Patch image. Some copyright experts were surprised when a federal court considered the parody an infringement, not a fair use.”

Essentially, the only way to find out if your fan art is “fair use” is to wait and see if you receive a “cease and desist” letter from the copyright owner, and then to fight it in court and allow a judge or jury to decide. (Another option when receiving a cease and desist notice from the copyright owner, is to simply stop producing and selling the art based on those copyrighted images.)

Art Commissions

One way to make money on fan art is to sell art through art commissions.

What Are Art Commissions?

An art commission is a contract between an artist and a buyer for a custom work of art as decided by the buyer. 

Typically, you would be contacted directly by a potential buyer because they enjoy your art style and artworks that they have seen so far. The buyer is also usually a huge fan of the same fandom as you; they have an idea for a piece of art and they would like it in your style.

Another Way to Make Money on Fan Art: Patreon

Another way to make money with fan art is to use platforms such as Patreon. Your fans would donate to you to see more of whatever you decide to create. In this case, you might even have more wiggle room when it comes to copyright infringement because you’re not directly selling the art, rather, you are just showing it to your fans.

Fan Art is a Respectable Art Niche

We love fan art, and there are many talented fan artists out there that deserve compensation for their amazing work. Of course, on top of commissions and Patreon, you can also utilize Art For Your Cause’s platform to sell your fan art.

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