To fanart or not to fanart

Fanarts are proof of affection to a character or brand. They come from a deep feeling, be that gratitude for emotions a character gave you or respect for the brand and its achievements.

Whether or not to draw fanart is a controversial matter: while established professionals advocate to invest your time and skills on your own IP (intellectual property), a moltitude of talented youngers enjoy making fanarts and hope to break into the industry through them.

While drawing fanarts for personal pleasure is awesome, things get tricky once we publish or even sell such images.

Fanarts and copyright

Copyright laws vary from country to country. I’d recommend you to spend some time learning the basic copyright rules of your country and stay up to date about them. Luckly, some basic principles from international copyright agreements are common to many countries.

The property of a character belongs to the person or company who created it. Rights are splitted in ownership rights for the author and commercial rights, usually transferred to the company. When you draw a fanart, the content/character is theirs and the skills/making is yours. See how things start getting complicated?

Princess Serenity from Sailor Moon.

Princess Serenity from Sailor Moon.

Publishing fanarts

Fanarts lack original content in favor of tecnique: composition, anatomy, colors and style are highlighted. Fanarts can be easily compated to official art of the same brand, or even offer a fresh view of it. You are free to show off your fanarts to prove your artistic skills against official stuff.

Selling fanarts

Basically, you could legally sell your own art crafts. However, if you paint an image of a copyrighted character, you’ll end up paying all the providers (for paper, colors, prints, etc) but the copyright owner (creator / content provider) of the character itself. This slight is the reason why selling fanarts is illegal and, above all, unethical.

Good and bad reasons to draw fanarts


Analyzing official and professional art trying to achieve such good results is a good way to learn.

 Show skills and improvement

We said fanarts are all about skills and tecnique. Drawing the same characters over and over highlights your improvements over time.

× Lack of original content and personal creativity

Alright, you can set perfect proportions and lights when drawing your favourite character, but what about everything else? Can you draw a convincing background character, right out of the blue? Can you create clothes, accessories and backgrounds that fits with the brand?
Don’t focus on characters only, consider their environment too.

× Looking childish when seeking for a job

Professional portfolios must stick to rigid rules in order to look appealing. A portfolio full of random fanarts won’t get you anywhere, not even into the company that owns the brand you love so much.

× Fanarts get stolen and sold without your consent

You’ll learn badly how an infringed author feels like. Worse, there’s nothing you can do to stop the thief from making money out of your images: you can send a cease-and-desist letter or report him for copyright infringement. Truth is that you’re at fault as well, because you don’t own any commercial right in the first place.

×  Break into the industry

It’s true that a few artists got hired by big companies because they drew terrific fanarts of their characters. But that’s just one out of many other reasons to hire a professional. Fanarts alone won’t land you to your dream job. Indeed, they can easily kill your carreer.

× Fanarts for contests are only free work for brand owners

When your favourite character’s company holds a contest, do not take part to it! There is no reason in the world for gifting them artistic skills they can definitely pay for.

If you give them spec work hoping it will win and become their next launch poster or such, they’ll never even think about hiring you as a professional. You will only prove to them -and other companies- that you’re naive enough to work for free in exchange of some moneyless ego-tailored prize.

Best practices about fanarts

Do not abuse

The fanart ratio in your portfolio should be 1:10. Nine images out of ten should focus on original content, preferably from previous paid commissions. Too many fanarts will make you look childish. Too many about the same brand will show an “insane” affection. Why should any other company hire you, while you’re so fond of their competitor’s characters?

Show, don’t sell

Fanarts are good to attract visitors to your website or comicon booth. There, you can introduce yourself and sell your own IP.

Money are a tasty bait, but try to ask youself this: does people like your fanart because is good art, or because they love the branded character you portrayed? What’s the point of being appreciated for something that doesn’t belong to you?

That way, I’ll always be a bare workman with no creative power to compete with famous names. Now the advice from veterans makes perfect sense: invest your time in making your own original, creative stuff.

“Inspired by” instead of fanarts

Revise characters and situations to make them look new. For example, draw your own and personal version of the Little Mermaid, keeping the red hair and green tail colors that recall the famous Disney’s version.

Fanarts to break into the industry? Be sure to do it right

If your goal is to get hired by a certain company to work on certain characters, you can’t aim such high right away.

  • Learn and practice a lot. You must reach professional quality level, then move up to astonishing level in order to stand up among the crowd of artists out there.
  • Be versatile with your style. You won’t start working at once for the company you aim for. Be prepared to suit the needs of other clients while builnding your carreer.
  • Be professional. Study all aspects of the brand, make props and don’t forget the environment your beloved characters live in. A bunch of pin-up like fanarts will kill your goal. A wise collection of awesome and stylish samples will make a much better impact.
  • Your personal IP first. You’re a professional artist, confident with your creative and artistic skills. This is why your original content should occupy the first pages in your portfolio. Fanarts, if any, should be put in the last pages. Most of your potential clients don’t care a thing about how well you draw Spiderman or Disney princesses. They’re much more interested about your problem-solving skills on original content: how do you style a new character from concept, how you pose it, etc.
  • Consider alternatives. Stay open minded and ready to grab oportunities, even if they seem far from your initial goal. Settle with the chance that your carreer may bloom easier and in full once you drop your expectations. And after that, who knows what may happen? ;D
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Francesca Urbinati Artist

Francesca Urbinati

Sono illustratrice e fumettista freelance. Ho lavorato su effetti speciali 3D, graphic design e multimedia per RAI, Mediaset, Adobe, ArtOrder LLC, Studio Hamburg, MoveTheGame e molti altri. Pubblico la serie a fumetti Niki Batsprite e aiuto altri artisti e autori a emergere.
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