Magic Through Art: Once Upon A Time’s Fan-Art Community

I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things about being a part of the fandom is the fan-art. Who knew that television watchers, that’s what we are after all, were such an amazingly talented group?

Well, it should have been obvious. Once is, in my not humble at all opinion, among the most inventive, imaginative, novel and fantastical television shows to hit the main stream since probably Buffy. Sure there are lots of great shows out there, but most fall into genre boxes that already exist. Then there’s Once, which upon its birth, defied the typical mold by eschewing the easy crowd pleasing genres. It’s not a procedural. It’s not a pure fantasy like Game of Thrones. It’s not a historical fiction. It’s not a crime driven drama. It’s not animated children’s (or adult’s) television. It’s not a space opera or other science fiction piece. Oh, and thank the gods it’s not a reality show. Even if I do have a soft place for cooking shows like MasterChef Junior. Once seems a bit out there on its own. For now (here’s hoping we can get more shows like Once in the future!).

It should have been obvious that Once fans are amazingly creative people because Once, being what it is, would clearly attract out of the box thinkers: those prone to flights of fancy, those whose inner worlds are populated by things on the edges of the bell curve. Yup, I’m a nerd. And I’m not alone!

All this creative energy is so wonderful because artists and writers and imagineers of all kinds come out of the woodwork to show us all they’re amazing stuff. Heck, Adam Horowitz hosts #FanArtFriday on Twitter (seems mostly when the show is running) just to show off how creative his fans are! The tide of positivity coming from the fandom’s artists lifts us all when we’re a part of these communities.

Feeling sad because something happened to your favorite character? Here, look at some art! Feeling excited because your favorite just had the best thing ever happen to them? Someone probably made art about that too. Not sure what you’re feeling and just want company? Visit the fandom and talk to an artist. They want to talk to you! At least I do.

What about the fan-artists themselves? What does the art do for them? Why are people rampantly making art about Once Upon A Time? Those are huge questions and there are undoubtedly a gazillion answers. While these artists are not officially affiliated with OUAT, they are a piece of how we experience Once. As a fan-artist myself, I feel like I’m part of something bigger than I am, like there’s just a little bit of Once’s magic in me. I hope Mr. Horowitz and Mr. Kitsis don’t mind.

Here’s a video about my fan-artist experience:

Read more about this project here.

Sharing something like this with a huge group such as a fandom helps me feel engaged as a fan. But, I’ll be honest, it’s also a little scary because those are some large emotions I just put on the screen for you. That’s probably just as true for any piece of fan-art you see. The artist is sharing their emotional world with you, even if not as explicitly as I just did.

As a potter, I spend a lot of time with other artists and one thing I know for certain about my compatriots: they love talking about art. Their art, other people’s art, your art. Oh, do we love to talk about art! Now maybe potters are just a chatty bunch, but I suspect the same is true for lots of other artists. I invite you to talk to the fan-artists you come across about their work! How’d they come up with the idea? How did they make whatever it is they made? How did their art make you feel?

See what I mean about what fan-art brings to our community? We all love to share it around and talk about that amazing drawing/painting/manipulation we saw. Heck, some corners of the fandom even have awards ceremonies which include art.

But. There is a little bit of fan history I should share that’s not so sunny, so I’ll keep it brief. The creators of books, television and movies weren’t always so supportive of fan work. The phenomenon of explicitly encouraging fan works is actually fairly recent. In the past, if you got caught making something of your own based off someone else’s intellectual property, copyright, you could be sued. For real and for serious, sued. The fanfiction world in particular was vulnerable to this and many older fics will prominently display a disclaimer making it clear that they are not making any money off the work and are not intending an infringement.

Nowadays “fair use” seems to be a bit more broadly protective of fan creativity. Many content originators now encourage fan activities because they actually increase fan engagement with the original work. It took them a while to see that, but it seems they have come around. Because of that, we have our wonderful and massive online communities which share our personal fan work with each other for everyone to enjoy. Yay for progress! (Disclaimer: this is not legal advice!)

So celebrate the fan-art! It’s marvelous to have access to thousands of artists we would never otherwise even hear about because you won’t find their work in galleries or museums. We all love to share fan-art around in our communities, that’s how we see it, but just make sure to keep the artists identifying info attached to the work so they get the credit when it goes viral. We may not be able to legally make money off of some of this work, but fan-artists can transform from amateurs into professionals because of recognition, so it’s super important to nurture that process.

That leads me to the part where I would like to repost all my favorite fan-art works, but I don’t have the permissions or the links I’d need to do this right. That could change if you, a fan-artist, want your work displayed here on this blog. We could definitely talk about that! I’d have to figure out how to make it work, but it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

So, with that happy thought, go forth and keep creating the fan-art which makes our fandoms amazing. And then go thank the content creators (actors, writers, crew, musicians etc.) for their hard work which makes all this possible.

Before you go, you can check out some of my projects! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!


A Fan-Art Thank You for Once Upon A Time

Gratitude Project Presentation: 5 February 2017

It’s hard to believe this has come so far! I am very, very pleased with the outcome and consider the Gratitude Project wildly successful. Please enjoy the video!

While I have no expectation that the bell recipients will ever land on this page, it could happen, so I will address them in the beginning of this article. For everyone, after that are my initial conclusions about this project and some of the nerdy details I just couldn’t stuff into a tiny video. Consider this some bonus material included for those interested. I hope you like it.

Bell Recipients!

If you are here because you were mentioned in the video and I have a bell for you, I am SO glad you’re here!!! Please use the below picture to tell me which bell you want! If you comment here on my blog, I will receive it. I might suggest that you tweet a brief video of yourself saying “I want my bell!” and its number to me (@ponamgaudium). It might be easiest to follow me on Twitter so that we can private message back and forth in order to get it to you. Video chat is also an option so we can both be confident of with whom we are making arrangements.

Please note that my travel abilities and resources are limited so I will want to make only one trip up to Vancouver to deliver these. You are of course always welcome in Seattle and I will happily meet with you if you are passing through. Again, thank you so much for what you’ve done for me. I really can’t say that enough.

Which one is your favorite?
Which one is your favorite?

The Drafts

An illustration of progress from right to left.
An illustration of progress from right to left.

Barbara, what are you going to do with the umpteen drafts sitting on your kitchen counter? Um. Well. I may choose to come to filming sometime this spring with a box of drafts in tow and offer then to whomever is working on set that day. I might do that. I make no promises about the drafts.

I hate that I had to choose who to dedicate the final versions to. It’s too bad these are so hard to make that I can’t make one for everyone who works on Once, but sadly, those are the facts. If you are cast, crew, writer, musician et cetera and you let me know you are interested in one of the drafts, that will increase the likelihood that I bring them to set. If I am unlikely to recognize you, you will need to provide evidence that you actually do work on Once because I am uninterested in wild goose chases or dishonest people who think they are entitled to someone else’s gift. Sorry to be that way, but needs must.

These are offered as is and none of the available drafts has a clapper installed. I have a few spare parts which will go to whomever speaks first, but I make no guarantees about these drafts. Please keep in mind that many of these are obviously broken and may have sharp edges. 

Outcome of the Gratitude Project

The journey through this project has been an amazing one for me. At the outset, I figured it’d take me a quarter to do and that would be that. Not so. I learned so much over the course of the year and suffice it to say, my pottery skills have improved. Emotionally, I find I had little idea what to expect. What I anticipated and what I got are quite distinct. A friend suggested I post a blooper reel to illustrate more fully just how difficult and frustrating this project was. But I got so much joy out of it too and that definitely overshadows the challenges. It’s hard to describe the elation of seeing that the finals had come out of the last firing intact and beautiful after all that work. So worth every moment of, let’s call it non-success. 

I got to spend a year thinking about all the ways Once has impacted my life and the final estimation is rather staggering. I could only mention so much in an itty-bitty video, but I spend a lot of time with the Once community online and have loved every second of my writing about Once and its characters. Though I know I am but a spectator, I feel like I’m a part of the magic.

I have to admit, I have had serious second thoughts about posting this project for all to see. If this is supposed to be about gratitude, why am I so nervous? Why am I afraid of sharing this? It should be alright, right? I sure hope so. This feels like sharing an intimate part of my mind with a whole lot of people and that’s a little daunting. But you’ll all be wonderful and supportive, I’m certain.

I will say that I am proud of how this turned out and proud of myself for seeing this through. If I thought I was grateful to Once before I started this project, I’m even more so now. Because of Once I just learned a tremendous amount, I made something I can be proud of and I stuck with a project start to finish no matter the obstacles. I would never have done any of this if not for being inspired by Once.

So? Did it work? Did I experience gratitude? I’d say so. I feel now that I knew relatively little about what gratitude is, how it functions, when I conceived of this project. I am still processing my newly expanded definition, matter of fact. For example, I didn’t know that gratitude and inspiration were so tightly linked for me. Now I do. I certainly did not anticipate that saying thank you for Once would feel so much like continuing to receive this incredible gift. Almost as if the effect of the gift has been magnified. Deciding to say thank you for Once has made Once even more a part of my life than it was before and has generated even more reasons for gratitude. Maybe it’s like a positive feedback loop, the more I notice my gratitude, the more the reasons for that gratitude become apparent.

I intend to do a more formal write up of my experience after it has percolated for a while.

New Skills!

In addition to the emotional journey, I have definitely grown as an artist and a potter. I experienced tenacity and determination I hadn’t planned on needing to see this through. In a way, I think this project changed my appreciation of Once as itself, a piece of art. I had thought of Once as art before I started this, but now that I have been to filming twice, made my own art project, filmed it and put that video together, I have, shall we say, a more nuanced perspective.

In case you were wondering, making film is hard freaking work. There were times I thought I might die of video editing having gotten bogged down in just trying to figure out what to say with all this emotion, all these stories, running pell-mell around my head. A year’s worth of pottery class videos is a lot to scrub, by the way. I couldn’t show the whole process as no way was I out to make an hour or two’s worth of explanatory film. Yikes! Maybe they call that a documentary if it’s done by someone who knows what they’re doing. Anyway, just trying to narrow the scope into something digestible was a challenge from the sheer amount of material I had to work with. Hopefully it is understandable and even enjoyable.

For the pottery nerds out there, here’re a few more details. When all was said and done, I ended up using Coleman’s cone 10 porcelain for my clay-body having rejected a cone 10 Laguna B-mix and a cone 6 Dove porcelain- the latter of which I hated. Hated! I wasted most of a quarter on that cone 6 debacle.

For the white bells I used a clear glaze which isn’t really clear; it ended up being a subtle, transparent, icy blue which I found lovely on that clay body. A happy surprise. The gold is a gold luster overglaze. Yes, it is actual gold in an organic solvent- toxic! Wear your PPE! The blue surface design is a simple underglaze, probably designed for low fire and cone 6 but still usable at high fire. It deepened beautifully from a royal blue to a lovely marbled navy. I’m very happy with that too. The blue bell, or the Dark Bell as it is in my mind, uses a cobalt-heavy glaze which I think is probably fairly common to most potters.

A word about the Dark Bell. I love that cobalt glaze and have used it on many of my pieces in the past. I can’t remember exactly how the idea came to me, but once I imagined an inverted color scheme for the bell, it stuck and I couldn’t not make one. As with the others, if I could have, I’d have made many more of the Dark version as well as the white bells, but I suppose there’s some kind of poetic rightness that among the finalists in the project, there is only one Dark Bell. It has a special place in my heart, maybe because I know what it’s like to be different and I think it’s wonderful. I wonder who might choose that bell.

When I conceived of this project one of the early challenges was that I did not want any raw clay showing. No rough edges, no unglazed surfaces apparent. That’s impossible, right? So I designed the bells to be fired on stilts such that the clappers would be glued in over the raw area, as you saw. I’m both pleased and lucky that the thin tops of the bells could support their weight during firing. It is evident when this was a near run thing. I also had problems with the delicate nature of the handles. They tended to warp and melt badly in the firing and even one of the finals is only just useable due to this issue. Lucky me!

The clapper is a wooden bead which reminded me of Rumple’s Dark One eyes suspended with an 18 karat gold wire. Before anyone freaks out, yes it’s gold, but it’s a tiny amount, same with the gold luster. Comparable to the cost of going out to lunch, say.

While we’re on the taboo subject of cost, someone probably won’t have noticed the disclaimer in the credits and is wanting to buy their very own. Folks have already asked me about this before I even finished the project. Thank you very much for the compliment, but under no circumstances will I sell one of the bells or any of the drafts. They are not for sale. No. You can’t put a price tag on gratitude. Please don’t ask me this.

Even if I hadn’t made these for a gratitude project, art that is this involved is pretty much unsellable anyway. Anyone who makes things by hand will tell you that handmade stuff is expensive because the artist wants to eat. The hourly rate for most artists is pretty abysmal or more people would have quit their day jobs already in favor of arting. Save us both the time and don’t ask me to sell you a bell.


That said, I love making stuff and commissions are a possibility. I’m not yet set up to sell online, but if interest is sufficient, I could probably find my way to Etsy or elsewhere. Now, please, again, I will not make you a bell; these bells are only for Once and only to be given away. Sorry. I also will not make other fan-art to sell. I’m not looking for trouble.

I can make nice things, dishes and the like. Most of my work is utilitarian in nature, but I can figure out how to make all kinds of things. If you have something in mind that you think you might like, ask me. We might be able to work something out. My sculptural abilities are limited at this point, but you can always ask. Remember, I’m a student, I’ve been at this a while, but this is my hobby and in no way am I a professional potter. Please also keep in mind that a commission is like a deal with the Dark One, it is an agreement made between two people and magic always comes with a price. Expect to pay what’s fair. I’m nicer than the Dark One, but I still expect all deals to be honored.

I can’t believe this is actually finished!! I made it! I did it! Maybe it’s ok that self-satisfaction is part of gratitude. What do I know anyway? More than I did to start with that’s for sure, but I still feel like I have a lot more to learn about gratitude.

Thank you so much, Once, for this incredible gift you’ve given me. To quote Wicked, “I have been changed, for good.”

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!

Thank You Once Upon A Time

There must be a way to tell those who work on Once Upon A Time how much their art means to me. Not that I am alone in having these sentiments. Here are a few simple memes I have made for sharing far and wide. Which is your favorite? Tweet the creators of Once and show them you love their work!

So, Once, thank you.

(These are large image files, please be patient if they take time to load!)

Before you go, you can check out my research project! I have conducted a study of OUAT viewer preferences and you can check on my progress here. Yay for science!