Heya folks and welcome to a bit of a nibble (Or maybe a tapa-sized portion) of some important Food for Thought! While I did not choose to go to art school, I pride myself in kind-of-sort-of being in the know for how to get into art schools. And what’s one of the most common pieces of information/advice that I hear often? Do not include fan art in your portfolio. And honestly, I agree with that: when trying to apply for an art school make sure you showcase what YOU can do with your own skills, let YOUR own creativity show itself to your portfolio panelists!
However, that does not mean that budding artists should avoid all fanart. While your Miss Norris x Crookshanks ship picture may not be suitable to get into Pratt, by no means should you deprive yourself of fan art and the fun that comes with drawing in homage to all those quirky things that you like. In fact, for all you budding artisites out there listen up: fan art can actually be a helpful tool–when it comes to fleshing out your sense of character design.
Now while most art institutions will frown at fan art being sneaked into a portfolio, the fact remains that fan art is a brilliant tool for artists to discover their own preferences and build up a feel for character design by working through examples that actually were successful. Because here’s the thing about characters and design–you could have the coolest idea for a character, but if said character is too “busy” and “complicated” they certainly will not sell as well. For most design ideas simplicity is the key to success–and to discover that right balance between something unique, yet simple and appealing sometimes takes time.
I mean let’s be honest: tell the average fandom-familiar twelve-year-old to design an OC and you might be greeted with a design like this:
Which is undoubtedly creative but. Uh. All over the place.
Of course, there are industry examples of some characters with such interesting features making it big. If our young example artist is so intent on keeping a few features–maybe the wings, for instance–they can look towards other characters, or heck, even museum-quality examples for ideas on how one can go about creating a balanced character with wings. So in theory: fan art familiarizes people with not only what sells well (Because this is all a business, sorry) but also could help foster those instincts for recognizing what is and isn’t good.
Fan art won’t take the place of legitimate art classes, of course, but it does provide an outlet for experiment–of seeing successful designs and ideas in action, and in offering a break from the everyday. Because sometimes variety in art is necessary–especially when dealing with blocks. Using fan art as challenge to restrict oneself to a specific style is also a great art exercise; there is, after all, a surprising amount of freedom for creativity in restricting or focussing on a particular subject. And, it’s all really just a good excuse to doodle up what you love. In fact, the ability to render characters in your own style, or as a replica of a given company’s “home” style can prove to be vital practice for future work and allowing for adaptability and consistency.
Even the professionals agree; as of late, Disney animator Brian Kesinger’s pep talk in support of fanart has made the rounds around the blogosphere.
Kesinger pointedly articulates how fan art is a tool that helps artists become comfortable with creating their own original characters–again highlighting how fan art is a way for artists to explore the possibilities of character design, and “bigger ideas”, and then adapt them to your own style. So you can create concepts based on designs that you know actually worked, and you can figure out how your own designs may, or may not, work by looking at what’s successful as a reference.
And if you won’t take Kesinger’s word for it, here’s another bit of fandom advice from some “animation gods” that have made it big in the industry. This weekend I personally had the privilege of attending the Story, Character & Masterclass hosted by PIXAR animators, writers, and concept artists in conjunction with Vanarts — and I have to say that after three days of nine-hour lectures, demos, and workshops, I can walk away with some very interesting and specific advice.
To all you budding artists out there: Draw inspiration from outside sources, whether it be real life, film, literature, comics, and especially be inspired by other people’s art. Many animators not only reference live-action footage of humans or animals, but will usually (Sometimes shamelessly) use other art as reference and inspiration to drive their own work.
We all might have heard this age-old saying: Good artists borrow, great artists steal–and while I’m not saying go out and copy everything and advertise it as your own, artists shouldn’t also be afraid to look at and study other work. Especially if they find inspiration in drawing their own version of a beloved character such their own take on Batman’s distinctive silhouette or in the portliness and hairiness of hobbits. If an artist learns how to make their own characters just as distinctive, then I say fanart has done its job as an invaluable teaching tool for artists to explore the possibilities and nuances of character design!
Of course, tracing, and out-right stealing is still a very big no-no, sorry. But at the same time: don’t discredit the possibilities for fanart to inspire.
Anyroad, that concludes this little bit of Food for Thought. Tune in next time for more exciting ramblings and quirky moments of eloquence on everything and anything fandom-related!