I draw fanart. I’ve been doing it ever since I saw “The Dark Crystal” in theaters way back when, filling my sketchbooks with doodles of Jen and Kira and the Mystics and even Fizzgig (no Skeksis, though -they were too difficult for my 8 year-old self).
For the decade that I was involved in computer animation, I didn’t draw anything at all. I never had the time, and even if I did, I was too creatively exhausted at the end of every day to even think about picking up a pencil. And besides, when I embraced CG, I felt like I had turned my back on Fine Art, and honestly, I kinda wanted to. My experiences in Art School were what turned me off of the idea of being an artist in the first place.
Then one day, my husband (who also works in animation and special effects) took a contract in New Zealand. The studio out there (who shall remain nameless, but their name begins with “w” and ends with “eta”) didn’t hire women for their animation department. This wasn’t official policy, of course, but they just happened to hire men, and only men (if you don’t believe me, check out the credits for “Avatar”. There is ONE female name there, and she wasn’t even an animator – she was an animation TD, which is not the same thing). I spent a lot of time at home feeling useless and angry and very much alone, but I had two outlets that saved my sanity: Wellington Public Library, and an internet connection!
Somehow I stumbled across the DeviantArt website, and my mind was blown! Here were thousands and thousands of people producing and sharing the kind of art that I had been doing since I was a child – fantasy, sci-fi, comics, etc – and had continued to sustain me through my darkest moments at Art School. And they did it openly and without shame! It was like they were saying “Screw it! We’re geeks, and we’re proud of it! Now let me show you this cool Harry Potter drawing I did just today!”
So I started drawing again and posting the results to DevianArt, and I encountered something I never experienced throughout all of Art School: appreciation! We all know we’re not supposed to make art with an eye on the reaction we hope to get once we exhibit it, but oh man, getting positive feedback, fans, and requests for commissions was like water in the desert for me.
But there IS a downside to fanart, and it cannot be ignored: at the end of the day, you are fiddling with someone else’s intellectual property. Not only does this have legal implications, but can also lead you to question every “like” and “favourite” your work receives. After all, is the audience responding to your drawing, or to the intellectual property that you just riffed on?
Will I ever stop drawing fanart? I don’t think so, because I’m 43 years old and I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for it yet. It appeals to my inner geek, and somehow makes me feel like I have a (tiny) part in the storytelling process. But if you were to press me on the subject, I would have to admit that one of fanart’s greatest strengths is also its greatest weakness: the fans themselves. Fanart, by its very nature, comes with a built-in audience just ready and waiting for you to add another piece to the fandom, so unless you do something truly terrible, you cannot fail. And I have to admit: that feels like cheating.
So if there was a magic pill I could swallow that would allow me to feel that same sense of excitement and confidence when I make original art (which is akin to throwing a precious jewel out into the ocean and hoping, just hoping, that someone out there likes it, or even notices it in the first place), believe me: I’d take it in a flash!