Contributed by Pete Ware. Ware is an experienced freelance designer specializing in film and music inspired typography prints, and founder of 17th & Oak.

Fan art tends to be created out of wanting to see something you love from a different perspective. The only restriction with fan art is the creator’s own imagination. While creating fan art over the years, I’ve noticed a few key things that make my work appeal to clients in both a personal and professional sense. Here are five things to keep in mind when creating your own fan art.

1. DECIDE WHAT YOU WANT YOUR FAN ART TO BECOME.

Ask yourself, do you want to create something for a world of fans, or something that scratches your own personal itch? What you want your fan art to become is two sides of the same coin.

Knowing what people want is hard to gauge. Just because you like what you’ve created doesn’t necessarily mean that other people will. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, I know. A stunning personal image that you created of your favorite Transformers character may simply not appeal to anyone. Or, because of the disposable nature of the internet, your work is loved one minute ... and forgotten the next.

It’s worth thinking about creating a name for yourself, and work on coming up with ways to give your art a long shelf life. The big key is in creating your own personal style, one that can adapted to fit different concepts and themes. That is what will truly set you apart from everyone else.

This 17th & Oak print was inspired by a quote from The Transformers films. 

This 17th & Oak print was inspired by a quote from The Transformers films. 

2. PUT A DIFFERENT SPIN ON THE SUBJECT. YOURS.

I’ve come across a growing number of fan artists since starting my company, 17th and Oak. Some blend into the background and others stand out. The ones that really stick with me are the ones who put a different spin on popular culture, and have made the concept their own. I’ve seen lightsabers created in old style tattoo art, movie posters recreated with a clever use of negative space, and movie characters Photoshop’ed into everyday life.

Some of the icons and characters used in those projects didn’t necessarily appeal to me, though. The elements that did impress me were the style, execution, and the ideas behind each of these images. I could look at these works and imagine the artists recreating my favorite characters in their own style. A high regard for craftsmanship is one of the things that will get your audience and customers excited about your art.

A personal example of this is a wonderful present I received for Christmas from my girlfriend. It was a Batman action figure with my head on it (below). What really made this gift work was the fact that it’s essentially customized fan art. Again, a personal take on a pop culture theme is what truly makes for great art.

The figure is the style provided by the company and the 3D printing of my head is what makes it really appeal to me.

The figure is the style provided by the company and the 3D printing of my head is what makes it really appeal to me.

3. REGARDLESS OF WHOM ITS FOR, THE ART ALWAYS STARTS WITH YOU.

I wouldn’t have created my prints if I didn’t do it for myself first. I wanted to see my favorite characters in the style that I had developed, honed, and tweaked. When they got into the public eye, they started taking on a life of their own, and moved into "art for the customer." I started to receive emails on a daily basis with commissions and suggestions of what people would like to see. The customers had brought their own themes and ideas to the 17th and Oak style and that's what has made my company grow.

Sometimes a request from a customer can spark me to create artwork for myself, too. Recently, I was commissioned to create one of the characters from the film Ghostbusters. After seeing how well it came out, I decided that I wanted to create the rest of the cast.

Fan art will always start with you. You’ll create what you want to create, but you can’t be precious. If people like what you have achieved, then they will ask for what they want. The style, however, must always be yours.

This 17th & Oak print was inspired by Elvis Presley. 

This 17th & Oak print was inspired by Elvis Presley. 

4. KEEP UP WITH TRENDS.

Trend is a big word with so many layers and means something different to each of us. When a new big blockbuster movie comes out, then it’s obviously going to trend and be in the public eye for a while. It’s good to jump on the back of that, but what’s current is only a small factor in what you may wish to create. Some trends hang around for long time, and some come n' go in the blink of an eye.

When the new film The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is released later this year, it will make perfect sense to release a Spider-Man-themed print around that time and let it get caught up in the buzz. It’ll gain more recognition for your work and you, but it will have a relatively short shelf life (normally until the next big blockbuster comes out, then the process is started again).

There should be a constant design element flowing through your work which appeals to a wider audience. I’ve done this in a couple of ways: vintage and made-to-order. All of my prints have a very vintage and rustic look, which are both style trends that don't seem to be leaving us anytime soon.

My customers love the textured old look of my prints as it fits in with the styling of people’s current lives. The good thing about designing this way is that it can be easily changed depending on how design trends change. Your art should be able to subtly adapt to overall lifestyle fashions, depending on what’s in and what’s out.

This 17th & Oak print was inspired by a quote from the film Return Of The Jedi. 

This 17th & Oak print was inspired by a quote from the film Return Of The Jedi

5. REMEMBER, BEING A FAN IS ONLY A STARTING POINT.

You wouldn’t want to create fan art if you weren’t a fan of something, but that shouldn’t be a restriction on your creativity or your business. If you’re a huge Star Trek fan, and hate Star Wars, would you turn down a request for a piece of Darth Vader artwork? I certainly wouldn’t.

Yes, being a true fan is a great way to interact with your customers. If I get commissioned to create a print of a movie I love, then I’ll let the customer know how excited I am about creating that specific piece. Shared enthusiasm only heightens the experience. I’m a huge Batman and Star Wars fan, but if I only created art for those films then I’d be isolating a lot of people.

For instance, even though I’m British, I can safely say that I’ve never watched an entire episode of Doctor Who. But, even though it’s a show that doesn't really appeal to me, I have created a few Doctor Who prints for my customers. My disinterest in a television show or film has never stopped me from giving its fans what they want.

Think of your favorite artists and what you like about them. I bet that, nine times out of ten, it’s their style that draws you to them. Fan art is no different. The nature of the internet has added a spin on how art can be presented, and the ever-growing trend of personalized items has opened the doors for working alongside customers. Add these ideas to the kind of work you do, and you will then create some amazing fan art and build up respect for you and your brand.

Pete Ware 

Pete Ware 

About the Author:

17th and Oak founder Pete Ware is an experienced freelance designer specializing in film and music inspired typography prints.  

He recently set up an ever-growing online gallery and shop named 17th and Oak Presents. It features work by a range of talented artists from around the world. 

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AuthorPete Ware
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