What designers can learn from fan art

Creating your own fan art could help you in your career, says Luke O'Brien of Side by Side.

No Man's Sky tribute poster

Luke O'Brien's fan art tribute to sci-fi game No Man's Sky

Fan art of any kind can be an amazing tool for creative people. It allows you to take that inspired feeling you get when watching a film, listening to music or reading, and putting it down onto paper.

I'm by no means an avid fan art producer but whenever something really inspires me, I mean properly inspires me, I feel like it's almost my duty to get it out of my head and down onto paper.

I know when something really inspires me because after I see it I can't get it out of my head. My mind seems to wander to it whenever it gets a chance.

Game for some art

My most recent piece of fan art is for a game called No Mans Sky, which I first got wind of last year. It's a huge exploration game in which the player starts life on their own distant planet.

It made me think of myself when I was a teenager, and all the memories of being a bit of a geeky oddball. And, after watching the amazing trailer for this mysterious game I had an idea to make a few posters to show the world that I had been inspired and what had inspired me.

No Man's Sky tribute poster

"I felt so refreshed because I had got what was tumbling around my head out and saved"

It took me just a few hours to get the posters to roughly how I had pictured them in my head as some sort of 1960s-inspired Swiss instructional thing, and then having put my mind on the page I left it for a few months.

I felt so refreshed because I had got what was tumbling around my head out and saved, I didn't make the posters for any other reason than I felt inspired to, which to me is the real beauty in fan art, it's a self-serving thing.

Outside inspiration

I am always looking for inspiration, not just as a designer but really as a person. Some advice I got from a James Victore: Burning Question (check it out if you haven't), was to look outside of design for inspiration.

Fan art is a great way of channelling what inspires you

I found that in art school you're so pushed towards looking at other designers for inspiration that you forget that there is a world of beauty out there.

Fan art is a great way of channelling what inspires you and translating that thing into design in whatever medium you want. It gives you creative freedom without having to please anyone; there is no client and no directors. It's all you and how you can stand on your own two feet and try something perhaps a little different.

Bigger understanding

What I personally find really empowering about fan art is that it is a small step to part of a bigger understanding of design. This Christmas in fact my girlfriend got me 'Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far' by Stefan Sagmeister and she had him sign it with a quote which sums this feeling up rather well.

It goes: "Actually doing the things I set out to do, improves my overall level of well-being". He is a wise man and what I take from that is that inspiration is only inspiration if you act upon it, otherwise it can be a draining thing.

No Man's Sky tribute poster

Fan art might unlock skills you didn't know you had

Aside from the obvious, a piece of fan art can help to unlock a skillset or an approach that you didn't realise you had. It can help you to explore creativity and interpretation and that can be used and extrapolated into your day to day practice.

Money for fan art

Some lucky people like Olly Moss have even been able to turn that exploration of visual language into their job.

Even if you don't take it that far, it's a great tool for getting your work noticed: chances are the subject of your artwork will be flattered you found inspiration in their work. So put it on your blog, tweet them but don't make it purely just to get noticed, that's not what the cult of fan art is about.

Fan art really helps you to capture a feeling about something and express it creatively and therein lays the challenge. As a young designer it is also a great practice tool for getting some really creative pieces into your portfolio, a little self-indulgent, yes maybe, and don't be fooled thinking anyone cares as much about it as you do but in a way that's what makes it great fun.

Words: Luke O'Brien

Luke O'Brien is a graphic designer at Sheffield agency Side by Side. You can see more of his fan art at www.side-side.co.uk/no-mans-sky-fan-art/ and follow him on Twitter @lukesobriens.

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