Blog / 2015 / Accepting Donations as an Artist

May 7, 2015

It used to be that artists had to find a wealthy patron if they wanted to make a steady living, but that’s no longer the case. Now creatives can have many patrons who provide smaller amounts of money but who, together, support their endeavors.

As I write this, I realize that it seems sort of unlikely, like an impossible dream of a happy land where people like each other and where unicorns abound. You might be thinking:

“People might give to other artists, but would they really give to me?”

I know it’s on your mind because I think the same thing every time I go to ask my audience for help.

Still, artists shouldn’t dismiss donations just because they’re humbling. For one thing, most artists can’t afford to axe a potential income stream. For another, making it clear just how much you need others is probably the single best thing you can do for your career.

Over the years I’ve asked for donations through Kickstarter, by making my book sales pay-what-you-will, and, more recently, via Patreon. Each of these methods has its strengths and each one invites giving in a slightly different way.

tiger illustration with a yellow background
Gwenn Seemel
Tiger
2011
marker on paper
6 x 6 inches

I did a Kickstarter in 2011 to raise money for Crime Against Nature. When I launched the fundraiser, I wasn’t even talking publicly about the details of the project yet, but, even though I referred to it simply as Series X, my request for support was met enthusiastically.

Looking back, this success came from three elements:

  • In return for support, I offered contributors the chance to commission me to do a drawing in marker on paper of an animal of their choosing. This was my first attempt at making my original art more affordable and it allowed anyone who loved my art to own an original.
  • There was a very specific goal for the giving, which is Kickstarter’s particular strength. People know exactly what you will do with the money they donate to you and that may make it seem more worthwhile.
  • I had never asked for that kind of support before, and my guess is that’s why I met my goal in just 80 hours. People knew I needed it if I was asking for it, and they might even have been looking for a way to support me for a while but couldn’t afford to purchase a painting.
Gwenn Seemel’s book You Share Good
Gwenn Seemel’s book You Share Good

I started selling books through my site at the end of 2012. Some of my books are only available for purchase, either because they contain material whose copyright is owned by Picasso’s estate—as is the case for the Subjective catalog—or because most of their contents are already published elsewhere on my site—as with Apple Pie. But I provide free versions of all my other books.

Perhaps it’s because people can read my books for free that my book sales have never been as healthy as I’d like. Still, I wouldn’t dream of taking down the free versions of my books. For one thing, they allow people to browse before they buy, and I happen to think that’s the polite thing to offer. For another, I suspect that it’s my free versions that make the percentage of additional donations I receive so high. Almost half the time I make a sale, the purchaser gives me a few extra bucks.

painting of an emperor penguin
Gwenn Seemel
Papa’s Milk (Emperor Penguin)
2012
acrylic on panel
10 x 10 inches

In February, I started accepting support through Patreon, a service that allows people to set up a gift to me every month.

The rewards play out like so:

  • For $1 or more per month, supporters receive email updates every time I post something on my blog or publish a new artwork.
  • For $5 or more per month, they get an animal drawing as a thank-you, much like I made for my Kickstarter contributors.
  • For $50 or more per month, they get a painted drawing of an animal of their choosing, something in acrylic on unmounted canvas like this piece.
  • Every dollar pledged is also a ticket in the hat for when I raffle off an original artwork, like the one shown above which is the current prize.

Of the supporters I have now, the majority were close friends or people who’ve been following my work for some time and who’ve made their interest in my work obvious. In other words, they were people whose names I recognized immediately.

The rest tend to be people who’ve enjoyed my work at a distance and can now get more involved through Patreon, but some have only just discovered my blog and nevertheless decided to begin supporting my work immediately.

I have learned a lot by asking for help through these different venues, but Patreon is definitely my favorite. It fosters a closer interaction with my audience, and that exchange is ongoing. Via Patreon, the people who want to support me are very much a part of my daily life, and that’s a perfectly delicious state of affairs.

UPDATE

February 11, 2016

The rewards I am offering on Patreon are about to change, and I made this video to explain why.

UPDATE

November 16, 2017

This article delves deeper into how to set it up so that you receive regular microdonations for your art, sharing the expertise of an abstract painter who is particularly good at making money on Patreon.


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