Inquiries of Art: Elisa Swann Part 2

In part one of our interview with Elisa, we focused on how she got her start mainly in the FFXIV community as a creator and artist. Elisa has been a creator in fandom circles long before XIV, however, and in part two of our interview, she expounds on her shift from artist alleys to online creative circles, and how creating fan merchandise has shaped her growth and perspective as an artist.

We’re also hosting our second giveaway: one of Elisa’s stunning Warrior of Light standees! For details on how to enter, check out the Aetherflow Media Twitter, and please enjoy the final installment of Elisa’s interview!

In a previous Discord interview now featured on your website, you discuss how you got started in fan merch through convention artist alleys. How has your experience producing merch through social media and Etsy compared to your work in artist alleys?

Elisa Swann: I haven’t been in an artist alley in several years, although am still active in the support community. Please take my statements with that caveat in mind.

There’s a big difference in promoting your work in a live marketplace environment where people interact with you in-person versus being an anonymous voice in the middle of the vast internet. It is actually really hard to create interest online because of the infinite number of creators out there who all have something to show. On the other hand, being mostly online you are allowed and encouraged to hyper focus on specific niches.

While conventions tend to have themes that are more inclined towards nerd niches, in a convention artist alley environment you have to display work that reaches a broader universe of fans who attend a specific show in a specific geographical location.

If I were fully active in the artist alley, I’d have to really spend more time exploring a lot more fandoms and interests. I would have to keep on top of the newest shows and fandoms. Online, I’m allowed to just focus on Final Fantasy XIV.

How does interacting with fandom and fellow creators in online spaces differ from your artist alley experience? Have you found there are pros and cons to each interaction?

Elisa: I miss the collegiate atmosphere of alleys. You often forge bonds through an artist alley experience. These are tough places to work at for many reasons (little sleep, little food, conditions beyond your control). I’ve gotten to know some people really well by working alongside them over these long weekends. The kindness of others is a lot more tangible and easier to grasp in person.

That said, it’s easy to engage other artists in an online space irrespective of where you are geographically. However, due to the impermanence/set up of social media, I don’t think it’s as easy to become close to other fandom creators or to maintain that relationship. Creators are busy making content and trying to earn a living [so] that online you don’t always have time to focus on forging strong bonds.

That said – it’s not impossible to make meaningful interactions something more lasting. All of us who have met friends through MMOs can certainly understand it’s possible, but often difficult.


Do you think you’ll ever go back to artist alleys, or are you anticipating only maintaining your online presence?

Elisa: I had a good ten years in the artist alley and knew as the environment became increasingly sales-oriented that I was not benefitting from it. My work life is pretty busy and unpredictable and the increased number of days for some conventions made them untenable. However, I also realized at some point I didn’t want to be on the cycle of always making new things to sell. I was falling into the trap of creating for sales versus creating what I was personally interested in.

As I have the financial means to do the art, when I resumed making art, I decided to keep creating things I enjoy versus making something simply because it’s likely to be popular. While I value the opportunity to have time with other artists in a convention environment, I want to remain free to create what I want.

I think that goes for creating something for the internet audience as well. I’ve been creating content for more than two decades as a professional fan. One has to always remember not to get caught up in what others want all the time lest you risk personal creative burnout.

Given your extensive experience with various merchandise, from stickers to standees to acrylic charms to pins, how has your focus on creating art for merch shaped your artistic process?

Elisa:  I’m a fairly whimsical creator.

Sometimes I will research making a new piece of merchandise because I like figuring out the process (from identifying vendors to identifying their limitations). Whether I make a new piece of art or repurpose an existing one really depends on the merchandise parameters themselves.

And then sometimes I just make something in a topic that interests me and if I see a possible endpoint for it, I’ll run with it being applied to merchandise. This is how I ended up with something like four mug designs at one point! It also explains a lot of the standees I put together.

On the rare occasion I will take input from people around me about something they’d like to have made. This past year I can think of four or five pieces of merchandise that started its development based on a conversation with another FFXIV fan. Mind you, sometimes these efforts were financial failures, and so I have since put more constraints in around fandom-requested experiments!

Why do you think fanwork has served as one of the largest inspirations for your art in recent years? Would you like to transition into more personal work in the future?

Elisa:  Over the 20+ years of being a fandom creator, I have been cycling back and forth between personal vs. fanwork type projects. I find I’m driven to pursue content that I find most inspiring and entertaining. Part of the enjoyment with making fanwork is that there’s a built-in community for it. I loved sitting at my table at conventions and commiserating with those who came to look at my display of prints. I was notoriously into obscure artsy things as well as some controversial fan pairings.

That said, I’ve largely been into smaller waning fandoms and Shadowbringers is the first time I’ve been present as the fandom grew exponentially. It has been very inspiring to observe the passion of others throughout these past few years. And when others are inspired, it’s hard not to catch their enthusiasm and their drive to create your own work.

Admittedly I wonder what will happen as Endwalker releases and people react to it. I wonder how much I might be personally inspired to create something based on my experiences with this game and this story.

But looking beyond, I also want to return to my own storytelling (whether writing or art). Being a Final Fantasy XIV player probably put quite a dent in my own personal writing and world building, and admittedly I owe some people a proper follow-up to my original stories!

Tell us a bit about yourself in-game! What is your main class, and what is your favorite way to spend your time in Eorzea?

Elisa:  I play two characters extensively in game. My main, for which my social media and websites are currently aligned to, is a bard (raid) and a white mage when I’m just randomly entering any 24 man content I can find. I also double as little lalafellin paladin when I feel the urge to re-experience the story (or just emote like a fool).

I’ve been in this game for seven years – and I’ve focused on different things over the years. I enjoy leveling (and learning game content), raided for a while, and even focused on house decorating for a time! These days though I’m more casual and just make sure I balance out all these things in favor of engaging with fandom and friends outside the game.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share about your experiences as an artist and creator?

Elisa:  As for the last bit there. I’ll just wrap up and state something that I hope will be helpful to other creators.

Over the years in all the fandoms I’ve been in, ironically it seems creators in bigger fandoms are less happy. Small creators see larger, more popular ones, and wonder if they’ll ever be in that position. It’s easy to feel anonymous and lost, particularly when you share something online and no one responds. It may be a real struggle to feel motivated to keep going – they doubt their style, their subject matter, or their technique. For you as a creator, please remind yourself, those numbers don’t translate to the value or merit of a work, and more importantly you as a creator.

Be proud of what you have done, because it is a part of who you are and were while creating that work.

And to those out there who are part of our community and view content – you are equally important. Even one or two of you interacting with a creator and their work – you can make a huge impact on their progression and their willingness to persevere.

I hope as our FFXIV community continues to grow that we develop a culture that is truly celebratory and respectful of all creators – big and small. I think it’s not just about interacting with the creator and art, but also sharing that art you like, and who made it.

Thank you so much for your time and insight into your work! You can find Elisa @Elisa_Swann on Twitter, her work through her Etsy and website! And don’t forget to go to the Aetherflow Media Twitter for details on entering to win one of Elisa’s stunning Warrior of Light standees!

You can find Elisa in-game on Faerie (Aether) as Elisa Swann, or on Twitter, and her website.

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