Selling Fan Art At A Comicon Is A Race To The Bottom.

This guest post is by Doug Hoppes (Dougie), artist and owner of Shadow Myths. He creates original paintings that he turns into oracle cards, RPG cards, and wall art. He sells his artwork online and in person at conventions. Check out his portfolio and blog here: Shadow MythsOpens in a new tab.

Can you sell fan art at conventions
This is what it feels like when they shut down your only income source

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Can you sell fan art at conventions or online?

Look, I get it. You’re a fan of Spiderman, Loki, or Pokemon. You love drawing them and your friends offer to buy your drawings for a couple of bucks.

You go to your local Comicon and notice that there are a lot of other artists selling their favorite fan art and making a lot of money. You decide that, next year, you’re going to take the leap and sell your fan art at that show.

That’s true. You can make a lot of money doing it. The question, though, is should you?

This article will not talk about the legalities of fan art. There are plenty of articles on the internet that talk about this but the quick answer is… no. If you don’t own the license or aren’t licensed to create the image that you are selling, then you shouldn’t be selling it.

Let’s look at some consequences of selling an IP that you don’t own.

can you sell fan art at conventions
The freelancers finding you to shut down your store

Your online store can get shut down.

It doesn’t matter whether you sell on Etsy or Amazon, the online stores will, if they find you infringing on another company’s brand, shut down your store. You have no legal recourse and, if this is your primary income source, you had better find something new to do.

Sure, there are plenty of other people doing this and infringing on other brands. It may be years before they are caught. Same thing with your store.

However, many companies are becoming more aggressive in finding infringements online because it is costing them money in terms of lost sales. You can’t hope to forever evade them.

A lot of these companies are hiring freelancers to search out people who are infringing and making sure their stores are shut down.

can you sell fan art at conventions
Your favorite company doesn’t consider you for work because you’ve been making a living off their IP

If you don’t own the license or aren’t licensed to create the image that you are selling, then you shouldn’t be selling it.

You may not ever be able to work for the owners of the IP.

Now, you’ve been drawing for a while and you’re getting pretty good at it. Matter of fact, you’ve gotten really good at it and are now a professional illustrator.

You send your portfolio off to Disney and they WILL check your online presence. Guess what? They find that you’ve been making money off of them for years. Not so interested in you now, are they?

This is anecdotal, but I have heard from other Disney artists that they won’t touch artists who sell their fan art.

From some of the other artists that I know, it’s typically not a good thing to put fan art in your portfolio when seeking work.

The only time you would want fan art is if you are submitting work to the company that creates those characters and, even then, you definitely don’t want them finding out that you made money off of the drawings. Most companies want to see your ideas and not just how well you can draw someone else’s characters.

can you sell fan art at Conventions
How you feel when you find, at the same Comicon, a lot of other artists are selling your work for 1/10 of what you are charging.

Fan art is a race to the bottom.

Now you’re thinking that you’ll never work for the big companies and you’ll take the chance that your online shop will not be shut down. Plus, there’s plenty of shops out there and people at a convention selling the work, so why not you? This type of thinking is quite common.

Now, my stance is that I don’t mind fan art that others sell. I create my own products. Fan art brings people to conventions and gives me a wider audience of people who want to see something new. Not the same thing everybody else does.

When selling fan art at shows and online, you’ll see that it becomes a race to the bottom. You are not selling the Thor print for a high price. You are competing with a couple of dozen other prints of Thor.

To make the sale, the other vendors discount the price. Well, for you to compete, you have to have absolutely amazing work or you have to lower your prices. As you lower your price, you’ll find that you have to sell more to just break even for the show.

If you have your own brand and ideas, you can charge whatever you like. If people like your ideas, they will pay more money for them.

You are only competing against people who are spending money on other brands and their favorite characters. You are not competing against the other vendors.

What type of artist are you?

In the end, you have to decide who you are and why you are creating art. Are you doing it because you love art or are you doing it because you love money?

Popular brands and IP’s constantly change. If you want to do fan art because of sales, you’ll find that you’ll always be on the downside of the curve. If you create your own brand, you’ll create your own curve.

In addition, if your characters and stories become more popular, you have the chance of making more money in the long-term than you would selling fan art for the short term.

Kara Buntin

Kara Buntin has run a profitable home-based business since 1999, and has a background in art, theater design, and cake decorating. She's a top Etsy seller with over 51,000 sales on Etsy and her own website, and helps other home-based business owners with their business goals and SEO. She founded the Artisan Shopping Directory website to promote the artisans who are members of her EShop Success marketing program.

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