Often inspired by a favorite science fiction or fantasy franchise, fan artists gain exposure for their work on social media sites like Deviantart, Tumblr and Etsy. One of the most popular franchises permeating fan art territory today is the imaginative world of Westeros in George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" book, now an HBO TV series that recently completed it's second season. (HBO is a Time Warner network, as is CNN.)
The result: artistic renderings, costumes, clothing accessories and even food concotions based on Westeros are all over the internet.
But what motivates fan artists to go beyond passive viewing to creating something new (one of the ultimate hallmarks of a hardcore fan)?
Erica Batton of Kansas City, Missouri, has drawn scenes for multiple fan favorite series. She says lots of fan art creators discovered a new-found artistic passion only after being inspired by their favorite shows or books.
Bratton – one of many artists who submitted their work to CNN iReport – pointed to the characters of "Game of Thrones" being "complex but believable" as one source of inspiration.
"The world of Westeros as portrayed in George R.R. Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' books are so vast and immerse it is hard to not feel sucked in when reading them," said Veronica Casson from San Francisco, California.
The show lingers in her mind, she said, ultimately motivating her to create something new.
Shelly Chen appreciates the feedback – both positive and negative – that comes with displaying fan art on social media: "It's nice to know how someone else might interpret your artwork."said Chen of Toronto, Ontario.
Fellow artist Jolene Schafer of Rapid City, South Dakota said fan artists like to take ownership of the characters and shows they love. "By adding their own work dedicated to certain characters," she said, "artists can take stories further than the screen or page and add their own energy to it. Other fans who don't know how to make their own art can see other's art as an extension of their own enthusiasm, and thus be driven to purchase it."
Schafer's artwork extends to anime as well: she displayed pieces recently at the Artist's Alley at the SoDak Anime convention in Rapid City, and plans to take part in a similar fashion at the upcoming SoGen Anime Convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota in July.
"These creations are special in that are literally one of a kind and not mass produced. I think this is a great opportunity for people to see what artistic fans are inspired to create."
Another artist who has taken his work to the next level, beyond displaying it online is Nacho Molina Parra of Eastbourne, England. His illustrations made it into a card game for the series (which pre-dates the TV adaptation).
"It is not surprising that every illustrator has a tribute to his favorite character since they have become the icons of our era, similar to celebrities, kings, queens or even the saints or gods in the past," he said.
"As children, the whole world of these games or series became real in our minds. We used our imagination to feel and imagine these stories in a super intense way. Each villain was the most terrifying and dangerous, each heroine was the most beautiful besides being deadly. Because of this, most of us have continued playing games and a few of us have become illustrators or artists."
Parra's advice is that a piece of fan art should gain notoriety for reasons beyond the fact that it interprets a famous scene or character.
"We should refer to fan art not only as personal reinterpretations of other's characters ... but as pieces of art itself."