Although this is a long and rambling article about being a visual artist, I’m going to have to start by talking about music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.
A few days before I prepared this article, I happened to watch a gameshow on TV (called “Even Better Than The Real Thing”) where several pop/rock music tribute bands competed to see who was the best. The program was a truly surreal affair, since the studio audience consisted of other tribute bands/celebrity lookalikes. Yet, it was absolutely fascinating to watch.
Although the few tribute bands I’ve actually seen perform live have been fairly faithful recreations of the bands they’re based on, one intriguing thing I’ve seen on the internet are tribute bands that put a slightly different twist on the traditional idea of a tribute band.
These are bands who play covers of songs by many different bands in the same genre, bands who use a different musical style to the band they’re paying tribute etc..
But, why have I been talking about tribute bands? Simply put, because they offers some interesting lessons about making fan art.
One of the things that always puzzles me are artists who only ever seem to make fan art. Although I’ve already written about this topic, I felt like returning to it again. Because, although I originally used “tribute acts” as a disparaging metaphor for the lack of originality these artists displayed, thinking about the subject of tribute bands more deeply made me reconsider what they can teach us as artists.
One of the central appeals of tribute bands is that they make big-name bands more accessible. For example, during my mid-late teens, I saw Iron Maiden perform live in London and I also saw a couple of concerts by an Iron Maiden tribute band (Hi-On Maiden). The two experiences couldn’t have been more different.
When I saw Iron Maiden live, I was sitting near the back of a large theatre. The music was, as you would expect, amazing and I consider it to be one of the coolest moments of my life. There were also a few amusing moments during the concert, such as when the lead singer of the support band (Trivium) ranted at the audience for throwing bottles onto the stage, or the ten-minute power cut during Maiden’s set when one of the pieces of sound equipment caught fire and had to be replaced. During this, there were synchronised waves, things thrown in the air, songs sung by the audience and other such tomfoolery. Seriously, it’s a testament to the band that they can still hold the audience’s attention even when their microphones and instruments aren’t working properly.
But it was a somewhat different experience to the visceral thrill of being near the front of the crowd in a small venue, being almost deafened by the speakers and singing along until my throat was hoarse. Seeing the tribute band was like what I imagine seeing the original band during their early days must have been like. The tribute musicians on the stage weren’t famous, so the focus was almost entirely on the music they were playing. They were fans of it, just like we in the audience were.
And, maybe fan art is kind of a bit like this. Because the artists who just make fan art are maybe internet-famous at the most, the emphasis is more on the art itself. They aren’t going to end up in galleries or anything like that. And their art is meant for a general internet audience. So, although it may lack the vision and originality that an artist who comes up with their own ideas will have, it is at least more of a “ground level” thing than the things it is based on are.
But, a more interesting type of fan art (both to make and to look at) is – like the inventive tribute bands I mentioned earlier – the type of fan art that tries to do something a bit different. Whether it is using a different art style, different art materials or making some kind of parody or pastiche, this is a much more creative and interesting type of fan art. Here are some examples of my own attempts at this style of fan art:
So, if you’re going to make fan art, then try to put an original twist on it. Use a different style, use a different palette, be a little irreverent or challenge yourself to use different materials to the original artist.
But, finally, it’s also worth noting that – like all musicians – all artists are tribute artists. Every artist has their inspirations, the artists who have made them want to make art or who have influenced their art in some way or another.
This is, by far, the best type of “fan art” – totally original art that has been inspired or influenced by another artist, but is also it’s own thing too.
It is art where the artist has asked themselves why their inspirations fascinate them so much (eg: the lighting, the composition, the colour palette etc..) and then used these answers to create art that doesn’t directly copy any part of their inspiration.
Although this type of “fan art” is more difficult to make, it is by far the best! Not only is it actually original art (that you can proudly call your own), but it also forces you to use your imagination more. It forces you to work out exactly why you love the things you do and then to use these elements in an original way that appeals to you.
Plus, the awesome experience of making something genuinely original that is inspired by something else will make you want to look for other things to take inspiration from – which will make your art even more unique and distinctive.
So, yes, if you’re going to make “fan art”, then be creative about it.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂