Funding Your Art without Kickstarter

Guest Blogger: Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson

Crowdfunding is helping artists everywhere get their projects off the ground. It’s increasingly popular to use sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to raise money for exhibitions and art production.

ArtPrize in MichiganI want to tell you how I crowdfunded my participation in ArtPrize – without the use of a crowdfunding site.

ArtPrize is an independently organized international art competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan with an unprecedented $200,000 top prize decided entirely by public vote.

Any artist in the world can compete; anyone with property in downtown Grand Rapids can turn their space into a venue; and any visitor can vote for their favorite artwork.

This is an amazing concept, this is an amazing opportunity, and this is amazing exposure. In the first year, 2009, there were 1,262 artists from 41 states and 14 countries represented. Since then ArtPrize has continued to grow.

I wanted to be part of it.

Light Bulb Moment

After being turned down by a regional funding agency, I struggled to find a way to get my work to Michigan.
I am a triathlete in addition to being an artist, which means long hours of swimming, running, or biking in training. I often come up with my best ideas for future paintings and artistic or marketing concepts while training.

Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson painting her 12x12s on the fly.
Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson painting her 12x12s on the fly.

One early morning bike ride as I was appreciating the golden sun cascading across the road in front of me, I had an idea. What if I created one HUGE image for ArtPrize out of multiple small panels? This would offer ease and economy of shipping, handling AND creating.

What if I made a 3×5’ image out of 15 12×12” panels? How EASY would it be to ship a box of 12×12’s to Michigan versus shipping 3×5 feet? And, how easy would it be to work on this project while traveling to teach workshops if it were broken down into two or three 12×12’s in my suitcase every trip?

Then, in the second half of that morning’s ride, it hit me harder.
If I could come up with a composition that allowed most or many of those 12×12’s to be stand alone images, I could sell prints of them to raise funds for my trip. I could pre-sell a limited number of signed giclée prints of each 12×12 panel. Some Facebook fans might even want MORE than one. Heck some might want ALL 15!

Economic means of shipping the work, combined with a great concept for sponsorship and that morning’s 30-mile ride proved to be inspirational on many levels!

I had found the solution and my proposal was eventually accepted.


I started right away. I order the 12×12-inch panels and nailed 15 of them together.

I shared the image and the story on my blog which then posted to my Facebook page via Networked Blogs so that fans from both social media platforms would see the story. I created a Facebook album to keep all the images in one easily accessible place.

Once accepted by an ArtPrize venue, I set out to earn sponsorship money with the same proposal. People who are familiar with my work from following me online were confident enough with what they saw in the proposal to pre-purchase their 12×12” giclée prints based on a numbered grid I provided.

Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson

In general, I found that my fans and followers were happy to help me reach my goal of getting to Art Prize. People wanted to be a part of something exciting even though pre-purchasing prints meant they were committing before they really knew exactly what the art was going to look like.

Asking for $60 vs. $395 (price of a 12×12 original) made sponsorship more attainable for most. I received many well wishes on my fund raising, my project, and my goal. The project was beginning to take on a huge positive vibe.

Fulfilling Orders

For everyone who emailed me and said “give me a print of A-4 and B-6” I would send them an invoice via PayPal that outlined exactly what they were paying for. Once the invoice was paid, I saved it on my computer in order to refer back to once the art was finished, photographed, and the prints were made.

All of my sponsorship funds went into my PayPal account. All of the fees for shipping and printing the giclée’s went out of my PayPal account.

Roger McNicholas at RT Art here in Orlando prints my giclées one at a time with fantastic color and quality.
He printed all of the 12x12s I ordered, stacked them in his studio and called me the day I needed to come down and sign them. Once signed, Roger put each print in a cellophane sleeve and drop shipped them for me all over the country.

The Bottom Line

In the end, I raised enough money to cover the following:

  • Entry fees for ArtPrize
  • Shipping the work to Grand Rapids
  • Roundtrip airfare to Grand Rapids for opening weekend
  • Printing 5,000 postcards promoting my work and voting for me in the contest
  • Accommodations at the Amway Grand Hotel
  • Spending money to cover food and incidentals
Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson postcard
Elizabeth's postcard for ArtPrize.

I can envision expanding this fundraiser to include multiple levels of sponsorship opportunities.

What if I offer the print as the entry level and raise the stakes from there? What are some things that might motivate patrons to purchase more than giclée prints?

Perhaps . . .

  • Sketches from initial concept for the work (a la Christo and Jeanne-Claude)
  • Hand-made collage postcards from the trip to Grand Rapids
  • An original 8×8, 10×10, or 12×12 koi collage inspired by the ArtPrize piece
  • Acknowledgment as a supporter on my blog and Facebook page
  • Handwritten letter about the experience of ArtPrize with photos from the installation
  • T-shirt with koi art on front and ArtPrize Seal (with approval from ArtPrize)

There are so many possibilities and I am most excited about building stronger relationships with my followers.

What ideas/items could you add to this list?

What would motivate you to sponsor an artist in achieving a project that they not only dream about, but one which would help them to grow as an artist both professionally and personally?

Elizabeth St. Hilaire NelsonAbout Our Guest Blogger

Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson is an Orlando-area artist who creates painterly, impressionistic collages from teeny, tiny, torn tidbits of hand-painted papers. Follow her work and daily studio happenings on her Facebook page.

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26 thoughts on “Funding Your Art without Kickstarter”

  1. Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson…So, do you think maybe that Saint Hilaire means that you are the Patron Saint of Hilariousness? I’m sorry but it is just too funny! Your goal was to avoid paying shipping on a 3 x5 foot piece so you cut up the work into 15 bits! I am still chuckling…Birds of a feather laughs mostly…Thank you for sharing, Sari

  2. Great idea Elizabeth. The series existing as a whole or stand alone Abstract Expressionistic Art Pieces! I am working on 12×12 of 12 series as well, but they connect two at a time not all together like the way you did it. If I was an Abstract or Impressionistic Artist I would definitely would have taken a shot at it. Nevertheless, a great share indeed. Good Luck!

  3. Sari, to save postage yes, but more so that I could work on it on the go in order to meet the deadline for connecting with a venue with a completed (or very close to it) project. Plus the idea of selling the 12×12 sections as prints encouraged people to buy more than one at a time. I am pretty funny, and growing up I’ve been called St. Hilarious plenty of times! Thanks for commenting.

    1. Elizabeth, So, breaking down the project into a grid enabled you to focus on one grid section at a time mentally, which made the project which was huge, bite sized…Could you have pre-sold the originals as well or did the venue not allow for sold work to be displayed in the competition? Did you win the $200,000.00 U.S. ? & are all the panels now sold? if you didn’t win the 200K, did you get renumerated for showing in any way? Like, what did you get out of participating?

    1. I will keep that in mind and definitely try it. I mostly create Chess Art and it may just work for some of my compositions…Stand Alone as well as the Total effect. Like Sari Grove mentioned above “breaking down the project into a grid enabled you to focus on one grid section at a time mentally, which made the project which was huge, bite sized” sounds very appealing to me for that very reason. I always wanted to work on a huge painting, however, storage, shipping and framing it always kept me from doing that. This is quite liberating indeed. Thank you for sharing it. I am rooting for you.

  4. Fantastic! Thank you so much for sharing both the concept AND breaking down the major steps in implementing your ideas. Creating a large work with smaller panels, not just a triptych, is a wonderful way to engage your audience and at the same time reduce your overhead – something we don’t always want to admit we need to do, but something we must do.

  5. Sari, I am not breaking up the originals, the image is one image, it goes together as one. the show has not taken place yet, it’s in September through October. It’s tough competition, it’s great exposure and it was a good push to create a stellar piece. I will let you know how it goes!!

    1. Sorry, went up to the country farm for four days on an imaginary book promotion tour(I ‘imagine’ it was like a real one, but Canadian style meaning no frills nor frame of reference), some r & r, & see family & horses, rabbit, 2 crows, barn cat, dog & newly saved weeping Willow tree…But I, & I am betting I speak for others in saying we all really really want to know more about this Art Prize thing & how all it works from your perspective, plus what does Michigan look like now seeing as they have been having some troubles of late in the news…So please do us another guest post like this one if you can after…

  6. Josephine, as Sari mentioned, it made the project more bite sized and less overwhelming. Plus I was able to take one panel at a time on the go and work in lots of fun places that I never could take a large piece to. It was a great way to engage the audience for sure!

  7. I love the ideas here, and they really work. My wife has used this approach several times to raise the money to record, edit and manufacture her piano CDs, by offering special deals to those willing to “pre-order.” I also like the way the challenge of shipping led to a creative solution which turned the piece into something even more apecial and interesting to many people, by allowing them to actually be involved in its creation.

  8. Wilberg Vetimore

    This is an awesome confirmation; I am currently in the process of working on a similar concept to establish a Gallery Project that I have been working on for few years now.
    By allowing the people (Crowd) to participate in creative projects is not a new concept….this concept was used by many classical artists to fund their projects….I am happy to see the contemporary crowd beginning to embrace this concept in a major way.
    Thanks for your post…

  9. Pingback: 2 Guidelines for Requesting a Donation « Art Biz Blog

  10. This is such a fabulous idea! I’m taking this blog post apart and writing each step down. Thank you what a great idea! 🙂

  11. What a great idea and congratulations to you for doing this!
    It’s quite fabulous how the internet enables people to be very creative in achieving their goals. I am inspired Elizabeth!

  12. I too really enjoyed your post, thank you! Good luck in the show, it’s a lovely piece of work.
    I’m raising money for an art show for Art Basel, would love to read more stories about successful sponsorship if anyone has them/can suggest where to go for them?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      There are some Kickstarter successes out there, Lauran. But I kind of like this direct route if you have the contacts.

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