When Tommy Hills, owner of NMI Laser in Traverse City, designed a laser-cut acrylic chess set featuring characters from the classic arcade game Space Invaders, he originally did so on a lark – as a fun fan project for himself.
But when Hills looked at the completed set, a lightbulb went on in his head: This was something other people might want. He decided to test his theory by turning to a website known for funding creative projects: Kickstarter.com.
Founded in 2009, Kickstarter is a crowd-funding website, one that allows visitors to invest in projects they find compelling. Creators post videos explaining what they plan to make, and investors pledge whatever dollar amount they'd like to back the project's execution.
In Hills' case, his first foray into Kickstarter offering the Space Invaders chess set became an overnight Internet sensation. Fans around the world rallied around the project – but the attention came with some unforeseen consequences.
“Square Enix (the company that owns the Space Invaders brand) sent a letter to Kickstarter asking them to take us down for copyright infringement,” he explains. “Thankfully, we hadn't made any actual money off the project yet, so we were legally in the clear. Now we're in talks with them to license the Space Invaders brand and bring the chess set back.”
In the meantime, Hills has launched another Kickstarter project that's recently begun to take off: a 2D abstract chess set, also laser cut from acrylic (view the project online here).
It's not just adults that are finding success on Kickstarter. Empire resident Sonya Shoup, age 11, is in the process of funding her debut CD “Standing Tall” through the website. The album is a combination of original songs and covers of well-known Michigan artists including Seth Bernard, May Erlewine and Rachael Davis. Singer-songwriter Joshua Davis, himself a Kickstarter veteran, is mentoring Shoup on the album's production.
With three weeks still left to go, Shoup has already exceeded her funding goal, blowing past the $1,100 benchmark to hit $1,960 and rising. Extra funds raised will go toward studio time and improving the album's production. (View Shoup's Kickstarter page here)
For local artists who've already created their products and are ready to bring them to market, Etsy.com is the inevitable next step after Kickstarter in online creative commerce. The website is essentially a virtual craft fair featuring pages instead of booths where artists can sell handmade or vintage items, as well as art and craft supplies.
Kelly Nogoski, a Traverse City graphic designer, has run two Etsy pages since 2009: a vintage shop called The Best Things and a personal page called kngo. Her love for recycling and repurposing products led to creating a series of popular recycled mugs for sale on Etsy, which she customizes with cheeky pop culture references such as “Ain't nothing but a tea thing” and “What would Charles Ingalls do?”
Nogoski says it's possible for artists to make a living at Etsy, “if they're disciplined and committed.” For her part, however, the artist maintains a busy freelance business in graphic design. But, she says she reaps supplementary income – as well as creative satisfaction – from managing her Etsy stores.
“I don't think I'll ever stop doing it, until I'm old and gray or Etsy goes bankrupt,” she laughs.