So, you’re a fan of movies and you have the skills to create amazing artwork. Now what? The cool thing is that you can apply your knowledge and artistic abilities to generate income and even a well-paying career!

There are some amazing fan artists out there that are making a living and doing what they enjoy and in this article, we explain the possibilities to help motivate you toward your dreams!

Fan Art 101

The world of fan art has always been a gray area when it comes to making money. On the one hand, fan artists create their whole artistic production around characters and elements they do not own.

Intellectual property is protected by law, so if you see things literally, selling fan art without permission from the authors breaks copyright laws, which is obviously illegal. If you need more insight into this hot topic then check out this article now:

One other point is that these artists really help build the hype around new movies, and for big studios, this basically means having an army of free advertisers (which is always good for business). So what weighs the most? The profit that studios lose because of unofficial art being sold under the radar, or the profit they earn from all that promotion? 

This idea gets a huge breakdown when we discuss the major differences between fan art and commercial art produced specially to market a project. The nuances should be understood.

It is most unlikely that Disney will start hunting down every artist that ever sold a copy of a fan illustration based on Marvel or Star Wars characters. It wouldn’t look pretty, and it would certainly create rejection or even outrage in the fan base.

Then again, there are many possible job opportunities without being exactly legal, which doesn’t mean that you would try them all out with no fear of getting caught.

If you want to build a career and make a living out of fan art, that is for sure doable, but you should still try to do it as legally as possible. In fact, we wrote an article explaining how you can get copyright permissions which is worth reading should you decide to go down this path.

There are multiple ways of doing so, and just like in any other work field: some fan artists barely earn some pocket money, others make a decent side hustle out of it, some can happily call it their main job, and the lucky ones are making big money with it. 

People that share the status of “fan artist” can have a variety of different backgrounds.

A fan artist can be a teenager making illustrations after school and selling copies of them at the local comic shop. But a fan artist can also be a professional designer with a passion for certain films, making alternative movie posters for a big studio.

Alternative and Commercial Movie Poster
Commercial Poster Versus Fan Art Poster by Dan Ryder

Whether you aspire to sell your artworks through a website or if your dream is to be discovered and asked to work on a big project, there are some common rules that will help you get closer to your goals. 

First of all, if you want fan art to be your job, then don’t treat it like a hobby. Friends and family especially, but just people in general, tend to ask artists and designers to work for free.

They think you love creating art and therefore won’t mind not getting paid for it, but people will never take you seriously enough to pay you if you start working for free.

Your time and your efforts are valuable, so you have to be the first one to act accordingly. If someone offers you to work “for the recognition,” but they don’t have actual money to offer, then they’re not even reaching an audience big enough to help you.

There’s no need to get angry or be rude; just be honest about your need to get an income from your job, like everybody else.

Nonetheless, remember that even though fan art can be your real job, it is also one you chose because of your interests and passions.

The best fan art is made with love and a deep understanding of the source material. Bring into your work what you would love to see as a fan: the subtle references, the hidden easter eggs, the meta jokes. You’re not a machine but an artist; your fan art will be greater if you pour your soul into it.

Furthermore, fan art is a lot about artistic talent in the traditional way: knowledge of anatomy, management of color, solid composition combining necessary elements, a sense for typography, etc.

But it is just as much about having good ideas. Study and nurture your skills and follow your instincts when you come up with a clever thought for a piece or when you think of an unlikely crossover.

If you interpret a film’s message in a certain way, it is possible that other people do it too, and that people could become your fan base, the followers of your fan art in particular. 

This is the perfect time to follow your nerdy instincts when pursuing an artistic career. The huge success of a series like Stranger Things proves that nostalgia has transformed what used to be considered a lame geek interest into what now is considered a cool knowledge of pop culture.

Some people still feel a little embarrassed to call their job “making fan art,” so they call it “making tribute art” instead… but who makes tributes if not fans?

Never mind what you call yourself; the point remains that it is now more than okay to make art based on your favorite characters and directors (even if the teachers in art school insist otherwise).

The concept of fan -or tribute- art is wide enough to choose your own niche, and it is always a good idea to do so in order to create a public for your art that will follow you to see more of that specific kind of artwork.

Maybe you ship two characters together, and all your production will revolve around their love story. Maybe you like imagining alternative endings for known movies.

Or you abide by the canon and simply love to recreate scenes or posters in your own art style. Whatever your niche, remember not to get fully carried away by commissions and remain focused on personal projects.

You need to believe in your own vision if you want other people to do it too. The more genuine and unique you are, the more possible it is for your art to stand out from the rest. 

If you want to build a career around fan art, your presence on social media is vital. If your drawings are great, but they’re only exhibited in your own bedroom, it is unlikely that Universal Studios will give you a call asking for a collaboration.

You’ll have to show your work to the world, build a coherent brand, have profiles on different social media, post regularly, interact with your audience and use the proper hashtags.

Be nice, work hard, promote other artists you admire, understand how plagiarism works, talk a bit about your creative process, and always remind your fans how much they help you reach your goals.

These are almost proven methods that have really allowed some creatives to quit their 9-to-5 jobs and work as full-time fan artists. Some of them have done so on their own, and some had help.

But who would be willing to help fan artists?

Don Thompson

Thompson has been in love with cinema ever since he was a child, and as an adult, he created a website called Blurppy that focused on pop culture and fan art.

Almost a decade ago, he had the idea of inviting selected artists to make a series of alternative movie posters for the film World War Z, which was eventually bought by Paramount itself.

That is how Blurppy gave way to a new project that is still around today: Poster Posse.

Through this website, Thompson connects creatives with fans and helps build the connections to let the artists be part of projects and collaborations that would otherwise be out of reach for them. 

Studios nowadays know that fan art simply creates a connection with the fandom that the official advertising campaign of a film cannot mimic.

The people behind Poster Posse make this fact work in their favor: they do not usually sell prints based on intellectual property they do not own, but they certainly share them as much as possible.

Once these pieces reach an audience big enough, the proposals to work in projects that earn big money come independently. Let’s see some living examples of that phenomenon, some members of the Poster Posse family.

Alternative Posters
Alternative Movie Posters by Eileen Steinbach

Eileen Steinbach

This graphic designer and illustrator is based in Germany. Steinbach is a full-time freelancer specializing in official key art, but she has also been making alternative, minimalistic movie posters for years.

Her main tools are digital, namely Photoshop and Illustrator, but she also sketches on paper from time to time.

In her illustrations, she is always trying to capture the core of each film in a single, simple image. Her brand, SG Posters, is very active on Twitter and has its own website in which you can scroll down through her key art, promotional movie posters, and unofficial illustrations.

While other professionals from the world of design would have refrained themselves from publishing fan art, she decided to go for it, and it paid off.

Steinbach has actually been contacted by the director of one of the films she made a fan poster for and also by the photographer who took the picture in which she based her work: they both wanted to get a print of her alternative movie poster.

That is the power of talent when combined with great management of social media. What started as a somewhat risky personal project is today a job in which she is highly successful, working both for indie movies and big studio productions. 

Cristhian Hova

This artist from Peru started his career working for advertising agencies as a freelance vector illustrator and animator.

He has amazing fan art in the form of alternative movie posters for films that go from Leon the Professional to The Lion King, and he sells the prints too.

But represented by Poster Posse, he has also managed to create official posters and illustrations for Warner Bros, 20th Century Fox, Sony Pictures, and Cinemark.

His latest collaboration with a big studio is a beautiful illustration for the Disney-Pixar film Onward, a commissioned piece for Disney Studios in digital content and marketing.

Fan Art

Freya Betts

Betts is one of the brave ones; she actually devoted herself to her passion for films right after high school.

And now, in her 20s, she is already designing film campaigns for Universal, Paramount, Fox, Warner Bros, and Disney, among others.

This illustrator lives in the UK and is represented by both Poster Posse and Jelly. She earned her dream job by making beautiful alternative movie posters that are digitally made but remind us of oil paintings.

Some of her more beautiful recent posters include ones for Little Women, Joker, Midsommar, and Blade Runner 2049.

You’re The Next Big Fan Artist

The good news for an aspiring fan artist like you is that Don Thompson is always looking for new artists that could join the Poster Posse team.

He evaluates portfolios and social media presence; he wants to know if these potential partners are passionate when promoting their work and kind when interacting with their audience. So who knows? Maybe you could be the next Freya Betts. 

But How Do You Get Started?

That’s where we come in. We are currently producing an online school to show you how to create movie posters, fan art, entertainment design, and marketing. You’re probably wondering if you even need a degree and of course we had to chime in and explain why you may and may not need one.

I do want to mention that the courses will be taught by actual art directors and creative directors in the movie poster business and entertainment marketing world.

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