top of page

Into the Sprawling World of Fanart

rrramble written by Sabrina Ki.


Since COVID pushed so much of our socialisation online, the concomitant boom in the fanart world certainly warrants a closer look. Fanart has captured a vast and diverse audience who revere and engage with creators in ways that feel distinct from other artforms. I set out to discover why, and perhaps more importantly, why now?


Digital painting of the side of a pink and blue bubble tea truck with a tea menu displayed. A blue-haired skeleton leans out of the shop window, wearing an orange apron and headband. To their right stands an Asian teen with a ponytail, pink cap, red backpack with colourful patches and turquoise toned shirt and bermuda shorts. Behind the truck is a colourful sunset. Text reads ‘I’ve Got a Bone to Pick with You’, with ‘Bone’ crossed out and ‘BOBA’ written in purple above it. On the truck side is written ‘an osteopals short story’ and on the wheels is written the names ‘Rebecca Avery’ and ‘Sabrina Ki’.
@paperplanenomad

Firstly, what is fanart? Alternately spelled ‘fan art’, ‘fanart’ is unofficial, fan-made artwork for a particular media or person, e.g. books, movies, celebrities, etc.


This image isn’t fanart as the concept belongs to the artist and isn’t derived from other media (image is author’s own).






The image below is fanart as it draws upon media (e.g. Netflix’s ‘Heartstopper’) that the artist doesn’t own the rights to (image is author’s own).



Digital drawings on a textured pale pink paper background. The drawings show the characters Nick and Charlie, two white teen boys, along with two drawings of shoes and lyrics from the Baby Queen song ‘Colours of You’.
@paperplanenomad

A quick scroll through my Instagram yields up fanart created using paint, pencils, pastels and so much more. The majority are painted digitally though - this is art designed for sharing online. As far as I’m concerned, fanart and ‘high art’ are both valid art forms, and whilst that’s not the focus of this piece, I came across this fan-turned-official-artist interview that’s worth a read!


The Internet is key in forming and facilitating the myriad of micro-societies of fans and fan artists. Springing up around aspects of culture (not necessarily even popular culture!) and bonded by a common passion, these communities are so embedded into our online surroundings that they offer a great, modern window to observe everyday engagement with art and culture.



As both a fanart creator and consumer, I wanted to delve into what fanart really means to others in its communities. Thanks to our good friend Instagram, plenty of creators and consumers were happy to share their thoughts with me.


Nearly everyone I spoke to testified that their day-to-day mood improved when they interacted with fanart. @manyfandoms4one went so far as to describe it as “[p]ure serotonin” to see “how certain media can stick with a person so much that they are able to create [their] own interpretation of said media in their own style and share it with the world”.


The boost from fanart isn’t just emotional. @estelle_rupprecht recalled improving their drawing skills and learning new techniques through fanart, which was a common point between consumers and creators, highlighting how fanart makes learning art more accessible. @manyfandoms4one further noted that the art terminology she learned through fanart helped with appreciating art whether in a museum or fanart, and that it’s “[v]ery approachable for beginners/people who don’t ‘know’ classical art.” I feel that the audience and artists’ shared, diverse understandings of the subject (i.e. object of fandom) helps more people access the ‘meaning’ of an artwork. I wonder if the free and ardent expression and appreciation that characterises the fanart world is aided by the lack of an ‘expert’ minority, gatekeeping what artists and audiences should be like.


The strongest correlation that my questions revealed was between fanart and community. A whopping 82% of those I spoke to had made new friends and/or joined new communities directly through fanart. So, why is fanart so embedded with a sense of community?


In essence, fanart posted on social media offers limitless opportunities to discover and connect with new artists. Via niche hashtags, post reshares, the ‘Followed by…’ information letting you know if you’ve got mutual connections etc., it’s easier than ever to find fellow fans. Fanart even opened new conversations with an old friend that I haven’t seen in years, so this sense of community can extend offline too. Social media has created a space that simply didn’t exist before, and fanart acts as a gateway into these online communities.


Connections can be made through collaborative fandom projects organised online - for example, I participate in projects like the Grishaverse Big Bang, where a network of writers and artists/edit makers collaborate on projects inspired by the book series. As a consumer, I’ve bought charity zines like Golden Days (inspired by the Simon Snow series) full of fan creativity, and discovered inspiring new creators! These collaborations can also include cosplays (dressing up as a character) inspired by fanart and vice versa, or the #SixFanarts art trend (by Melissa Capriglione) tailored to specific fandoms, such as @akaluna.art’s template for The School for Good and Evil books. The far-reaching common ground that online spaces provide allows fanart to create communities that actively appreciate and engage with individuals’ creativity.


It’s unsurprising then that fanart interactions have skyrocketed since COVID began. When asked, @maeva.writes commented that they spend more time online to help with loneliness. Another common response was that people are simply spending more time online, seeking diversion in general rather than to fill a suddenly deprived sense of community. This latter reason is the one I relate to most – having already established a pre-COVID book blogging network, I turned to fanart because I suddenly had the time to devote to an interest. The friendships I made along the way are a happy bonus! However, others said their fanart engagement had either stayed the same despite COVID, or decreased significantly following an initial rise. I wonder what the overall trend will be in the future, when COVID worldwide has become more manageable.


Fan creations are perhaps most valuable for members of marginalised communities. I’ll quickly clarify some terms I’ll be using: canon is the ‘official’ material, e.g. a movie’s storyline as it appears on screen, and non-canon or headcanon are fan ideas.


There’s that common adage about how if you can see it, you can be it, and as @thadeaart notes, fanart can visually convey headcanons and “open infinite possibilities on how the canon story can be interpreted”. @dustysadsoph points to the heightened importance of fan contributions in fandoms where the canon lacks diverse representation or where the original creator is problematic. The transphobic rhetoric of Harry Potter’s Rowling came to mind, and as though the Instagram algorithm was listening in on our conversation (perhaps not that unlikely…?), soon afterwards my Explore page popped up with a headcanon fanart by @upthehillart of trans Harry Potter and Remus Lupin bonding over their shared identities. In any fandom, this freedom of creation allows characters who have been historically sidelined or killed off (or not even invited onstage) to be portrayed as central, complex figures that challenge stereotypes, informed by the life experiences that their fan creators often have in common with them.


A digital drawing of Harry Potter and Remus Lupin. They are sat on a stone step, looking at each other with care. Remus says "I'm just like you Harry, I'm transgender too."
@upthehillart

Being involved in LGBTQ+ fanart and fandom projects has been so meaningful for me personally. I painted a popular sapphic 'ship' between Elina and Nori from Barbie: Mermaidia (far more chemistry than the canon straight romance!), and worked on collaborative projects like Winter Sun with Shadow and Bone characters Alina and Zoya (who are also girls of colour). It’s so comforting to work with and create for people who respect and share identities like mine.

Race-bending (depicting a canonically white character as a person of colour) in fanart is another way of diversifying media. (Note: race-bending is not the same as whitewashing, where a canonically non-white character is depicted as white. It’s worth taking the time to Google the difference, but these blog posts with superheroes and Disney Princesses are a start.) It can open people’s minds up to different iterations of beloved characters that happened to be white in their first/most well-known appearance, and perhaps temper the racist backlash like the kind that spewed forth when Halle Bailey was announced as Disney’s new live-action Ariel.


Fan creations can also support diverse characters that are already in the canon. Fanart (especially canon-consistent fanart) can be akin to free publicity for the original creator, and I can vouch for fanart of canonically diverse characters leading me to new media, e.g. Netflix’s She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. It was also fanart that made me realise that Nina from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse is one of the few canonically (and positively represented) fat heroines in mainstream YA (young adult/teen) fantasy books. Another way of highlighting diverse canon characters is by adding to character development or world-building that perhaps aren’t present in the original material. For example, zemenipearls’ Zemeni Extended Universe fanfiction series focuses more on Black characters and their backstories, new stories, lands etc. from the Grishaverse books.


Fan creations can affirm and represent what the everyday person loves, wants and deserves to see in media. If I could choose only three words to distil the essence of fanart, it would be accessible, people-centred and passionate – but there is still so much left to say on fanart, enough for a new ramble! We could discuss fanart as business, or fan artists being recognised as official by the original creators, such as Viria for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson or Gabriel Picolo for DC’s Teen Titans. We’ll have to wait and see.


I hope this has been a fun foray into the sprawling world of fanart, showcasing both its significance to socialising (especially online) and social issues. Perhaps you’ll now feel the urge to check out fanart of your favourite media…or even to draw something yourself!






147 views

Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page