I must begin this journal with a disclaimer. This topic is perhaps one of the topics I am most passionate about, so please forgive my fervor if any of this offends you.
I’ve noticed a pattern lately, particularly at anime conventions, where fellow artists set up their tables, toss up a “will work for food” sign, and litter their booths with fan art because that is what sells at anime cons. There seems an atmosphere of desperation that’s almost sweltering with the $10 originals and $5 quickie sketches while the rest of us who are charging what we’re worth are left to the mercy of undercut prices. Besides selling yourself short, the other half of what bothers me so much about this practice is the sheer hopelessness of these artists. Not every artist in an anime convention artist alley is this way, but it’s something I notice more at anime conventions in general.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a well crafted and well thought out homage to anime. Selling fan art is not the problem, it’s the intention behind selling the fan art. I have gotten the response from some of these artists about how they can’t sell their original work because it’s fluffy and idealistic to think one can make money off of drawing what they love. My response to them is that if you’re looking for a quick bang for your buck, the art world is not the one for you. For one, it is certainly not guaranteed for many of us to make money right out of school, though I have heard of it happening. Success in any creative profession is about doing what you love and standing out in the crowd for it. Doing what you love and doing it well…because there are a thousand others trying to do the same thing. If you have no passion, you’re more than likely to be a flicker next to a candle in the crowd.
(EDIT for clarification) For example, if you’re selling fan art in the artist alley, what will a customer be more likely to buy? The half-inspired doodle of Sasuke or the inspired, or at the very least masterfully crafted, image of Sasuke that really says something about the character and your love of him? This same concept can be applied to the creative field as a whole.
I used to be in the same position where I thought I could not make money with the subjects I enjoyed (an unfortunate byproduct of a gallery-focused fine art education). That is, until I started talking to more professionals in my field (and in other creative fields as well, for that matter!). Every single one of them has told me the same thing during interviews:
“It’s scary relying on the uncertain, but do what you love and they will find you. Doing anything else is a way to get stuck designing cereal boxes till you don’t care anymore.”
If you market yourself to draw the popular things you don’t even remotely enjoy drawing, you are going to burn out quick because that is all anyone will ever want to hire you for. This business takes patience, focus, and self-motivation. Forcing yourself into it just to make a buck generally leads to sub-par work because you are not challenging yourself or fostering your inspiration and you just cannot compete with other people in the same field who genuinely enjoy and love what they’re doing.
I am not naive enough to think an artist or creative individual will always be inspired for every single job they’re hired for, but if these sorts of jobs become more numerous than the ones you enjoy in even the slightest capacity, than something’s gotta give. Why? Why torture yourself if you don’t enjoy it even a little anymore? There must be a breaking point where you discover just how much your creativity is worth to you.
Why not just get another job that’ll help pay the bills, and then do art on the side because you can truly enjoy it rather than be held prisoner by the motivation of money? Don’t kill yourself! Don’t kill your muse! If the single motivation of your art is to make money without any enjoyment of what you’re doing whatsoever, than I can almost guarantee you that it is not worth it.
(Another EDIT for clarification XD) However, as Brenda pointed out in the comments, if making money is your enjoyment and that doesn’t harm your inspiration or quality of work, than more power to you! I realize not all people operate the same way I do.
My plea to you, the desperate undercutting artists, the money focused fan art peddlers who are afraid to explore their limits, the hopeless and uninspired who feel trapped by their profession, you have options. There is no shame in guarding your inspiration as a hobby if you cannot do it as a profession. There is no dishonor in doing such a thing.
Please stop torturing yourselves! It is painful to watch…