Digital Illustration: Leaving Fan Art | Jeff Mitchell | Skillshare

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Digital Illustration: Leaving Fan Art

teacher avatar Jeff Mitchell, Illustrator + Designer

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

5 Lessons (25m)
    • 1. Leaving Fan Art Behind

    • 2. Let's Talk About Fan Art

    • 3. The Problem with Fan Art

    • 4. Going Legit

    • 5. Homework

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About This Class

This class was recorded in January 2020, just prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic. At the time, I had recorded this as a half-class/half-rant about Fan Art and why I've chosen to step away from producing it to pursue original projects. I'll be perfectly honest, I'm not entirely sure how much of this will be relevant in the coming months and years. The landscape of the arts has already been changed beyond recognition.

Be that as it is, I've decided to post this class--not so much because I believe it will be super helpful (it might) but rather because I now see it as a personal symbol of hope, a belief that things will eventually return to "normal". And because what the world needs now is folks who don't give up because things are tough. 

So, it's here for your viewing--my thoughts on the world of Fan Art and why I've decided to leave it behind to focus on creating 100% original content. You can read the article upon which this class is based on my website:

Meet Your Teacher

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Jeff Mitchell

Illustrator + Designer



Hey! It’s Jeff, from Baddest Shirt Co. I’m an illustrator and designer known for my mash-up posters and pop culture t-shirt designs. I'm also the creator of Hero of Wizards, a NSFW comic strip you can (and should!) follow on Instagram.

I work with Autodesk Sketchbook and Adobe CC (Photoshop and Illustrator) to blend traditional comic art illustration with modern digital design. My favourite subjects are comedians, 80s nostalgia, rock bands, and comic books. I’m also a huge fan of &#@%ing with artistic conventions, people (in general), and “the man”. 

I’ve been lucky enough to work with the folks at: The Princeton Review, snapd Newspapers, The Co-Operators (Barrie), Movie Pilot, Dean the Basset, CineBites, South... See full profile

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1. Leaving Fan Art Behind: okay. Hey, it's just from Metta Shirko. I'm an illustrator and designer based out of ST Thomas, Ontario. I'm also the creator of Hero of Wizards, which is an online comic strip that you can find on Instagram, Acura Wizards and on the website. I just church dot com in this class we're talking about fanar Next three videos, we're gonna discuss the pros and cons of producing fan art, my reasons for ultimately stepping away from it and some of the challenges and rewards that come from building a business based around your original ideas and stick around. I'm gonna have a fun project that rates a lot of the concepts that will be talking. And if you have any questions or concerns, drop me a line in the class discussion or shoot me an email at hello at Mattis shirt dot com 2. Let's Talk About Fan Art: in this video, I'm going to discuss some of the positive and negative aspects of fan art and why I think it's important to steer clear of it. If you're serious about being a professional artist, as one of the most divisive topics in the art world, you either love it or you hate it with the kind of passion generally reserved for Spanish telenovelas. Personally, I love fan art. I love creating it, and I love supporting other independent artists who do the same. My experience within the fan our community has been overwhelmingly positive, but I've decided to leave the fan our community behind and focus on creating original work . There are a lot of reasons to love fan from the diverse and talented community communities that it has fund to a renewed excitement for the arts. But and this is a big Kim Kardashian sized, but it's also a perilous corner of the art world, littered with legal landmines and legitimate questions of morality. There are a lot of definitions of what fan art actually is floating around out there. Most of them are more or less accurate. Fan art is ethereal and find its way into every corner of our design, so it's tough to nail down a concise definitions that covers every single aspect for the intensive purposes of this video. Let's assume the term refers to any artwork derived from popular culture. Television film, etcetera, etcetera, created by someone a fan without the direct consent of the creator or copyright holders. For the unaware, there's an entire community of creators who have built their careers around the production sale of unlicensed Pfanner. You can find it online at trade shows and conventions. Fan art is so ubiquitous these days that there are probably a couple shops near you that you could go to right now on. Find some for sale. Fan art can come in the form of posters, T shirts, comic books, cosplay photography. It could be it could be anything, really. It comes in all shapes and sizes across the entire spectrum of legality and morality. It is the dirty, muddled, Wild West of creativity, the guerrilla warfare of the modern art world. No, I I stumbled in fan art. I had taken an office job straight out of university, out of industry and frankly, of desperation, any creative aspirations. I had were put on holds that I work from 9 to 5. I don't bring in a steady patron with benefits. Sure, I was trying to fit into some. Both idea what a career was supposed to be about a year or so into my first salary job. I'm commuting three hours every day and I can't take it. You know I am. I'm ready to blow my brains out right aboard. I'm just done. Keep in mind this is before our digital, when interpreting yourself on public transportation meant one of three things. I read a book yourself scarf, or you would just leer at people until they caught you. So I started drawing again. Um, I used to draw and paint and do a whole bunch of fun in creative stuff, and it all stopped when I got a job in the house and a wife and kid responsibilities. And anyway, I started drawing again. Nothing amazing. I was rusty, and so I started moving around. At this point, I'm just passing time, just trying not to lose my mind. Every day I'm on this train and I start to remember how fun it waas just to sit down and draw. I'm doing it on the way to work. Do it on the way home from work, doing it after work when I get home before work before leaving, going to do it at work, drawing as much as I possibly can before I know it. This grooving around turns from us a simple way to pass time to a little side hustle. You know, I started selling prints to friends and people at small local comic conventions. I've still got a full time gig and family occupying most of my time. Anyway, Skip forward a couple of years. My wife get the opportunity, Teoh quit our jobs and work for ourselves. This is when I really had to start thinking, you know, about whether I really wanted to be a part of our community, whether this is something I wanted to continue to do as I established my career. Now I'm not the best with analogies, so bear with me here, but I see fan art as the Ramones are. They inspired almost all of my early influences, and anyone familiar with their 1st 3 albums knows that they were just beach boys spent up in fed through distortion filter. I mean, no disrespect. You know, those album dolls were incredible. My point is, fan art is that attainable. Step between jamming with your friends and the beach boys. When I was a kid, my heroes were fan goes and politics or halts mythical artists. The idea of achieving anything remotely close to what they had done, you know, creatively speaking, it was laughable. Just it was so far beyond beyond. But Joe artist, you know, down at the local comic convention selling his portrait of Batman. Yeah, I could do that. And the Beach boys didn't leave a wake of energized garage bands wherever they went. They inspired a fair number of bands, for sure, but they were too polished and perfect. They were traditional technical, boring art compared to the remixed convention. Part of the remote genius of the Ramones is that they were good enough to get your attention, but amateur bad enough to inspire thousands of kids to think that they could go out and do the same thing kids would be there shows thinking, thes guys can do it. That's what fan artists, and it's great. And it's also experience right. Everyone thinks that their king off Mountain, you know when they started out. But ask any artist who's been working regularly for more than a few years. They're gonna be the first to tell you how coming garbage there early work. WAAS artists made hands on experience to develop their skills, and these skills aren't just technical in nature. Unfortunately, the sad state of arts education in North America, you know, it leaves a lot of young artists desperate for guidance and experience as an amateur trying to break into the arts world. It's easy to get discouraged, especially if your original ideas aren't landing. So Pfanner provides an outlet for an experienced artists to practice and work on their craft within a welcoming community but like minded artists and craftspeople. Let me put it another way. I've learned Mawr from my fellow artists and defend our community when I ever learned from any of my teachers, and I'm including my time at the Ontario called Partner Arts. Education in North America is a joke, so the industry itself becomes a sort of de facto instructor For all of these eager artists . It should be obvious for anyone taking mawr than a cursory glance that this has come about more out of necessity, agreed, speaking of obvious, We've got to address the elephant in the room, which is fan art as brand marketing before you roll your eyes. Understand this. There is an ever increasing list of companies wading into the industry and creating proper channels for artists. They've recognized what artists in the community have been saying for years, which is that fan art is near free promotion for brands and creative properties were slowly exiting the Napster phase of Fanar. There's still a bit of a free for all going on, but companies are seeing the demand for unique takes on established by peas. It's the reason that Netflix absolutely decimated Blockbuster and changed in industry almost overnight. People want new and different, and they expect it at a blistering speed. Folks who immediately raised a red flag with fan art and site copyright infringement, without exception are missing the bigger picture. Finn art isn't going anywhere. It's changing, sure, but if you think it's going away at any point in the near future, you're kidding yourself. We're just seeing a shift to a more accepted commercial version of fan art. But even still, in its current form, the industry is fraught with legal pitfalls and murky, ambiguous rules 3. The Problem with Fan Art: Okay, so let's go ahead and get the obvious One way it is unlicensed fan art legal. Now they're on licensed Fan, are you need a license for that? I'm not gonna bother getting into the technicalities here. There are lots of nerds that there were much better equipped to deal with the intricacies of copyright law, and I will defer to them on this issue. Whoever they may be, however, only they may be. All you need to know is that by the letter of the law, if you get taken to court over a legitimate copyright claim, things are not going to go well for you, but not like copyright lives. Easy to understand. It's a hot mess, and it could be interpreted by someone who is not well versed in the law, almost like you in different ways that aren't always correct. And the confusion around copyright laws has spawned an even more insidious threat. Creativity. The copyright troll, these human gems. Sorry, germs, These human germs. They crawled the Internet with computer algorithms looking for images that looks similar to those of their clients. When they get a hit, they send threatening emails and phone calls demanding large sums of money unless they take you to court. Now, most of the time these days amount to nothing more than you know spammers fishing for suckers. They prey on the uneducated and used tactics borrowed from collections, agents and the like. They are generally pretty despicable, which is why it's so frustrating. But their existence is somewhat validated by crooks and cons within the fan. Our community, the industry is, unfortunately, party to opportunists and thieves looking to make a quick buck. You know, the these the guys. Yeah, I'm saying guys, because on average they tend to be guys. These guys that set up shop at conventions with a kind of art that, you know, they did not create help. Some of these losers have been caught red handed thanks to social media and still continue to go out and sell other people's artwork. You see that every convention or trade show they clearly didn't make any of the art they're hawking, or they straight up copied it from another source. I've had a couple of my own posters show up in foreign online shops and at conventions, and it happened is more than most people think the worst part? This is that, like it or not, if you're part of the fan, our community, you're getting lumped in with these cons and thieves and the worst elements of industry, which more or less brings me to my next point, which is that fan art? And I'm sorry to say, this is a little lazy, creatively speaking, and I don't mean to offend anybody. Making fan ardor used to want to make fan aren't after this video you, do you? I'm not saying that there is an effort in fan art. Are some artists out there eating mind blowing, jaw dropping works, stuff that took real time, effort and talent to produce? I don't want to diminish what those those people are doing, but working with someone else's I P is bypassing be fun and challenge of being a creator. There are exceptions to the rule for sure. No doubt there are challenges to working with established properties to I don't want to argue that. Let's just not kid ourselves here, you know, like coming up with an original idea is hard today more than ever, and it's not surprising that fan art has proliferated. The way it has. Let's look at it from a more practical with you. If I'm spending 40 plus hours a week producing artwork, I don't wanna have to worry about whether it's legal or I don't want to get legal threats or actually have to go to court to defend the drawing. I sold 10 people, and I don't want something I've spent 20 hours on to get taken down because you know the folks over a company, ABC aren't a school with fan art. As the folks over at Company X wise, it's not worth my time. And for the love of all things holy, I want to own my own art. This is the more sinister side of fan art that doesn't really get talked about as much. I'm gonna make it really simple. The minute you make something the minute you put your fan art out into the world, you no longer own that Pfanner. It no longer belongs to you. If you've made something and the owner of the I P wants it, it's there's no questions asked. It doesn't matter how much time or money put into this. If the copyright owner wants to use the image you created based on their I p, they can. You have zero legal recourse. It seems obvious when you hear it, but it's an aspect of industry that a lot of people want with. No, it doesn't happen often, but it does have a think about that for a moment. When it comes to fan are nothing you create is yours. So you spend all the 17 you create something that you aren't going to get rich off. That comes with all of these possible diesel implications. And then at the end of the day, don't even fucking own it. It just seems, you know, it seems ridiculous. It's a stone's throw away from spec work, also known as working for exposure, because they show company that your time isn't worth money and spec work is disgusting. 4. Going Legit: As an artist, you have a skill set not shared by the majority of people on Earth. You have a unique voice and incredible ability. Ability to express that voice came on your own. Why would you give that power away to produce derivative art for a company that doesn't give to you as an artist? I've made fan art for years, and when I asked myself this question recently, flattered, stumped. What exactly have I been working toward? And why am I so scared to leave this community toe work on original art? I don't think there's one right answer here, but for me, it's all about confidence. I think in order to push out original ideas, you have to have confidence. And I'm not talking about the one of the mill. Yeah, I like my stuff kind of confidence. No, I'm talking about the mice is so for amazing. You lucky to have the eyes to be ableto see it. That's the kind of confidence I'm talking about. You have to know your true worth. How you get there emotionally, spiritually, physically. Well, that's up to you to figure out. I've struggled with a lack of confidence for years, I still dio, but I'm learning how to improve it. It's a common problem for artists who tend to be more introverted and self conscious. I even fought against being confident for years. I would refuse to brag about my work or accept compliments from others without dismissing it entirely. I just figured bragging about my art would turn people off and make me look like a boob on . Why were people giving me compliments? You know, my stuff wasn't that good. They must be from pulling my leg Are messing with you. Got some cocky SNP's running around the art world. You know them waiting to be friends with them. These are the artists gave me this false idea what confidence really is. That wasn't really think turning point for me was realising that you could be confident without jerk. I can be confident without being overconfident, and it doesn't hurt to be strategic. There's a lot of fans, really. I'm talking about a lot of fan art, and more is being produced at an overwhelmingly steady pace every day. When I first started out, I felt like I was doing, you know, something somewhat original. I was viewed Pfanner as the spiritually cousin Teoh music remixes and hip hop tracks that sample beats from 40 years ago. To me, it was a way of taking something old and dated and making it fresh and new. It doesn't feel like that anymore, at least not for me. Maybe I've been doing it too long, or maybe I'm just getting too old for this. But it feels cheap and a little lazy now. There is a glut of fan art these days, and to be perfectly honest, it feels as though I'm throwing my contributions atop a giant funeral. Pyre of fan art just doesn't seem like a portrait. This may be more personal preference than trend, but is the original works that stand up to me these days, finding something that isn't derived from an established property that has its own charm and character? It's rewarding in and of itself. Don't get me wrong. I have made a lot of Pfanner that you know I really love. That's really important to me. That has made a lot of other people happy, and I don't want to diminish that in myself or in any other artist. There is value toe what I did and what others continue to dio. I want something more. I want something different. I want to carve my own path and be known for something that is uniquely me. I might be wrong, but I don't think I can accomplish that with a portfolio work built on the back of other creators. I want to challenge myself because complacency is boring is if you're a professional artist . My mind is going a 1,000,000 times over if you are not constantly pushing yourself approval . If you are faulting for the easy path, being an artist, pushing yourself relentlessly, it's about never being satisfied with what you produced and always wanted to get better. What was going to be better? Artists don't become artists because it's lucrative and easy either of those things. Being an artist is a way of life, and I wanted to be my life, not someone else's life. I want you see. Fanar feels that might be one of the reasons it's as popular as it is. I think it's fair to say that at least plays a part. It could be a crutch for artists to lack confidence. I expose your soul you know why expose your truest self when you can hide behind someone else's creation? Why create something from deep inside of you only to put it out into the world? Brothers judge and rejected right? It's easier to hide behind the shield of someone else's creation, and it is a create your own. Bearing yourself. Your purest artist to the world is dangerous and scarring. What what's a doubting artists to do? Lawsuits law, Since I can handle, you know, God forbid, ridiculed for exposing myself to the world. Here's the thing. If you're an artist and I'm not screwing around here, just look in the mirror and decide whether or not you're an artist. But if you noticed this is what you do, this is non negotiable. This part of the it's what's demanded it. You put your out into the world and you take the beatings along with the praise. You take the beatings. Even if there is no praise on you, do it because I believe in what you're doing. That's how you grow. That's how you develop a thicker skin. That's how your heart goes from you, garbage to transcendent. If you're willing to go all in. You absolutely can make a living as an artist selling your original artwork. I'm doing it, and by the end of the year, I will have transition editor belief in our entire If you're a few of the steps I'm taking to better myself and my art way, you might think it's something you either have or you don't you're born with. And the rest of us losers are just waiting to die. But that's not the case. That's not how confidence works. Confidence is something that you can build over time. It doesn't mean being an egotistical jerk. It just means knowing who you are, what you're worth and where you're going. The best part is that confidence at in one area of your life tends to bleed over into the other areas of your life and allows you to do what war. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to, this isn't gonna happen. I've spent the better part of last year's creating exclusively fan art. It's a transition out of that and start creating original works is going to take time. Some of my fans, our fans, because of my fan, are I want to alienate them. So the challenge then becomes creating fan art that doesn't infringe on any copyrights. And I devote a connection to a popular I P without any copyright infringements whatsoever. It's not as easy as you think. It's a real challenge, and that's the point. If you're spending your precious time making fan art make it impossible for someone else to lay claimed Making Yours and Yours alone I mean Fanar for years, primarily for one reason. I was just interested in the content. I was interested in pop culture and movies and comic books, all the things that became what I created, things that became my heart. That's why it happened. A lot of the ideas I came up with, although interesting to me at the time, they just weren't good enough to keep me on. Of course, my problem was that instead of pushing myself to find an original idea that did hold my interest, I opted to revert back to Fanar. Luckily, I've found my thing, at least for now. My goal for this year's to keep pushing forward with my own stuff until it reaches a natural conclusion and not give up on it for something easier and less rewarding. Push to the days, months, years himself down. Keep making your art your are not someone else's art. It takes time and dedication, but it's worth it. Just show some grit and state with it the point being not be successful after creating one piece of art. Unless it is something no, miraculously go Rapid Island in Pink Lynn and talk to me. You know, you're gonna be pumping up for years on the majority of your stuff. It's gonna be buried and forgotten. But if you're okay with that welcome to the club. I know fans are allowed, okay? 5. Homework: