I like fanart as much as the next gal. I think it's healthy, productive even, to memorialize your favorite characters by drawing them. But it's not always the best thing for your art if you have something big that you hope to achieve. It pays to have good, original work, and making fanart all the time leads you down a very narrow path.
But, I hear you say: Wait! Doesn't fanart help others find my work easier?
My answer to that is yes, it does. But what do you want beyond that? What are your goals for your art?
Then you can come up with the answer to that on your own. If you all you want is for people to look at your stuff for its fan base value, then go right ahead and keep making fanart. Keep making it if the fandom just gets your heart racing. Get good at it. Something might spring from it. Someone I know began creating fanart years ago, and her work evolved so much that it has become its own thing, recognizable out of a million other fanarts because of its sheer uniqueness.
Hers is a special case, though. Chances are if your goal is bigger than just getting eyeballs on your stuff, you will have to dig a little deeper to make fanart work for you.
If you're an artist that wants to either...
A) Keep fanart in your life without being controlled by it, or
B) Use a fandom exclusively for inspiration in your original work
C) Just know how a fandom can help you
This is for you. Fanart can be an effective tool if you know how to use it. Here's how.
1. Make fanart a percentage of your work.
The cool thing about fanart is that yes, it has a pre-existing story, and therefore, a pre-existing fanbase. There are literally people who will find your work at random solely because they looked up My Little Pony on Google. It makes sense, then, to capitalize on this phenomenon by creating fanart for others to see.
But here's the catch: unless you really like My Little Pony, you might want to hold off on making art about it. In other words, only make art about what you enjoy in the first place. Don't create art for a fanbase that you do not want rabid fans from. If I don't want to be remembered for that painting of Spongebob, then I will NOT paint Spongebob. However, as a Whovian, I will paint Doctor Who and bring other Whovians to me in the process. Get my drift?
2. Keep it similar to your original work.
Make the fanart recognizable enough so other fans know what they're looking at, of course. But it really works well when you can paint My Little Pony in your own signature style - you know, that one you're supposed to be crafting everywhere else. By being consistent in how you create your art, others will be able to look at the fanart and say, "Wow, that's so different. I've never seen so-and-so depicted that way before."
This also potentially opens up others' minds to looking at your original work, because they'll get curious about what else you do outside of your mutual interest in ponies.
3. Go big (ginormous) or go home.
If you want to show your devotion to a fandom, there are few grander ways to do that than by making fanart. That being said, you want to make sure that your devotion actually shows. And this isn't by making a million half-finished line art traces. This means putting your heart into a select few pieces, which you can promote tastefully and easily with your original work. Like the previous point states, keep this devotion equal with your other work - don't slack. Just make awesome art everywhere all the time, and others will see your soul.
4. Watch your show as you work on original art.
Or movie, or book, or music, etc. This may seem like a given, but thinking fondly of your fandom will bring out some great qualities in your work. Think of the persona of your favorite character and see how you can incorporate a piece of that. Over and over again, artists create their Frankenstein monsters by pulling from what they love; and you have the power to make your monster mean or friendly. If I listen to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack as I paint, victory of the image is (usually) nigh.
Likewise, if you read about your favorite character's heart wrenching story, translate this blubbering into the sweetest, most mourn-worthy picture you've ever made. Let your art be a collage of your interests, not just a reflection.
5. Watch your connections grow.
If you're adequately social (I can't claim to be, but I'm aware it's a thing!), you meet many of your connections through these fandoms. By the time you are rolling out original work, others will respect your stuff enough to stick around even if it does not directly pertain to their own interests. That's a great position to be in, because let's face it - we only like looking at work that interests us in the first place.
If you think about how often you engage with work that doesn't immediately catch your eye, you begin to see the value in having connections. Fanart makes this happen over time, as long as you talk about it.
Knowing how to leverage your interests to get you a bigger audience is a great thing. It is also fantastic when you make lifelong artistic friendships this way.
What are some other ways you can use your fandom/fanart to your advantage? Share in the comments.