Wednesday, June 14, 2017

3 reasons I'd NEVER make Star Wars art, until now

Do you want some behind the scenes secrets? I rarely share the artist struggles that we all know are there yet many of us pretend don't exist. Here's a little peek into the reasons I refused to create Star Wars art (and other fan art in general) and why my mind has dramatically changed.

For many, MANY years I've denied requests to make Star Wars art. All the way back to high school art class when kids would ask, "hey dude, draw Darth Vader on my notebook." I once said yes and as I was staring at the page waiting for my hand to start drawing he says, "put the Death Star in the background. And maybe some TIE fighters. Oooh, and the Millennium Falcon!" I handed his notebook back empty and told him I'd have to think about it for a while. He threatened to have me beat up but I explained that drawing an entire Star Wars scene on his notebook by the end of class WOULD be like taking a beating.

There were a few reasons I avoided fan art in the past, and Star Wars in particular. I'm not going to speak of legal issues here. In short, it's illegal to make fan art but the copyright holders rarely enforce that law to the point that they sometimes even promote this illegal art when they like it, so let's move on. The first reason is that I felt there were already too many people creating Star Wars fan art. Why should I add to the noise? Having been a full-time artist now for ten years, most of which have been spent exhibiting at comic book conventions, I've seen more than enough Star Wars art to throw Hoth off its axis. So why were people coming to my booth and asking if I had Star Wars? How could they possibly need more?

Let's back up for a moment. My first comic con was in 2011 at the Albuquerque Comic Expo (ACE). I showed up at the recommendation of friend and fellow artist Jeff Herndon. I had zero fan art. Somehow I managed to find homes for a surprising amount of art and prints and my anti-fan art mentality only thickened. Four months later I had a booth at the Long Beach Comic Con. What a different story. People purchased what I had brought, but not nearly as much as in Albuquerque. It took me a while to come up with a hypothesis but if I were to guess I'd say it was because ACE was in it's first year and the locals were excited and supportive because they wanted to help build a good convention. Long Beach was established and the attendees were there for top notch fan art. I didn't even have bottom notch.

Quite a few conventions went by with people stopping at my table and asking for this or that relating to pop culture. I had to start saying YES if I was to establish a successful art career. (I know people make a good living without ever creating fan art but they are very few and most of them still have a side job. Most of them don't get to spend their careers going to comic cons either!) So long story short, I started making fan art and I immediately needed to bring twice as many prints to shows because I was coming home with empty boxes. This was great, but I'd NEVER do Star Wars. It's too played out, right?

So why were people still asking for George Lucas characters? This leads us to the second reason I avoided Star Wars. I would have no voice. These are characters, some of them now 40 years old, which have been copied, re-imagined, and sometimes brutally abused by a billion artists. My work would get lost in a galaxy far, far away. So why? Why do people still ask "Do you have Star Wars?" Well, partly because of the first and last categories; copied and brutally abused. We see so much plagiarism with fan art. "Now hold on" you say. "Isn't ALL fan art plagiarism?" No. It's not. It becomes such when an artist directly copies an existing image, line for line, and makes little to no changes. Just adding a Photoshop filter to an image you Googled isn't your work either. True fan art should be made from scratch. Yes, you are still representing someone else's character but this way YOU did the real work. Reference photos are fine but you should use multiple images and make sure your pose, highlights, and color choices, are different. Fan art should generate a NEW piece of work, not a copy or rendition of an existing one. But I digress.

This, conversely, leads us to the brutally abused part. Sometimes fan art comes out, well, looking like Sarlacc chewed it up and spit it out. Now before you go Tweeting how Bryan Collins is an insensitive jerk, please understand me here. One of my main goals as an artist is to inspire and encourage other artists. The point I hope to make is that not everything you create should be offered for sale. It should be your best work and when taking it to a comic con, it should be strong enough to compete with the work created by other artists.

The third reason is that I was struggling with the balance of making fan art and my own original creations. I wanted to express my own visions and ideas because after all, that's what drives us to be artists. Somewhere around an 80% original content to 20% fan art ratio seemed acceptable. Now it's more like 35% fan art and that percentage is going up. The reason? I write down every single print and original I sell at shows. Every one. People take fan art prints at a rate of 8 to 1 over my original content. That is a statement so loud I can't ignore it. Fellow artists tell me to ditch fan art and do my own thing but the people who put my work in their homes and offices say otherwise. I can say with absolute confidence that I will never stop creating original content. My soul aches to express new ideas. Along side of those ideas, I will create more of what keeps me able to create full time. I'll create more of that 8 so the 1 can still happen.

I used to get my feelings hurt, like a Wookie who wasn't allowed to win, every time someone asked for fan art that I didn't have. I felt like they didn't want MY art. I now know that this is just the nature of the beast. People never ask me for fan art at gallery shows, but we are taking comic cons here. They go to cons because they are fans of pop culture (and still sometimes underground culture) and they hope to find that certain treasure which will enhance their fandom. I now understand that the requests are compliments. They like the work they see and hope I have a unique version of the thing they already love. So, after so many years of saying NO to the mega monster that is Star Wars, I have joined forces with my fellow artists who have already figured this out long before me.

Are you one of the people who have asked me for a Star Wars commission or print? If so, I apologize for saying "no". Commissions are not currently being accepted, as I am booked up with creating new art for shows and Clean Currents Apparel but you will start seeing what you've been asking for. Let the Wookie win!

Boba Fett available at

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