Real Artist Case History: Walter Mason

Walter Mason's 238 meter marble run at Modulor. Photo via Kickstarter.

Walter Mason, a Berlin-based artist, sees the world in a unique way. His art uses elements of nature, deconstructed and reordered in a characteristically human way. Whether it’s an intricate mobile of carefully cut leaves or something as simple as lines in snow, Mason’s art lends an unexpected order to the chaos of nature. His materials are as vast as the natural world, rocks, ice, vegetation, the elements themselves, nothing is off limits. It is perhaps because of his aptitude for creating order that Mason’s career took a turn.

After becoming a parent, Mason became increasingly obsessed with a particular toy–the marble run. He searched everywhere but was ultimately unable to find one that satisfied his quality standards. And so the artist took matters into his own hands. He constructed a marble run for his son. Mason’s first marble run was designed to be easily hung anywhere. The modular wooden track could translate into countless scenarios. This child’s toy was about to lead Mason in a completely new direction.

In 2011, Mason launched his first Kickstarter campaign. The aim was relatively simple, he intended to create one of the world’s largest marble runs. The campaign was a success and Mason installed two marble runs; one at Modular in Berlin, the other at Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg.

Mason’s Kickstarter not only helped him fund his work, it opened up doors. It was through this project that Mason met Axel Stab, an engineer who built him a CNC Router.

With the Router, Mason started his own custom form cutting business out of a co-working space. Formcut works with materials as diverse as MDF, plywood, hardwoods, plastics, non-ferrous metals and more. Virtually any design is possible.

While building up his still relatively young form cutting business, Mason never stopped pondering marble runs. He wanted to use his CNC to improve the design of his original marble runs. Those were beasts, stretching over 780 feet, spanning three staircases across a huge industrial space. In improving his runs, Mason would also scale them down.

The Boa and The Anaconda are Mason’s answer to home marble run kits. Each completely modular set allows for all sorts of designs. Tracks come with wire for easy hanging just about anywhere. The small Boa consists of over 200 pieces while the larger kit packs over 320 modular marble run components.

Mason’s second Kickstarter campaign knocked it out of the park once again. Hoping to raise around $12k, Mason instead found himself raking in over $15k. His incentives were a no-brainer. Backers received their own version of the Boa or Anaconda. Depending on what level they backed him at, Mason offered kits of all sizes. For higher contributions, a personalized marble run complete with engraved name, signature, and number.

Having a great project is, of course, a good way to ensure success when it comes to Kickstarter. Mason’s success was in part rooted in his specificity. He mapped out his endgame from the get go so that potential supporters knew exactly what they were involving themselves with. His Kickstarter page is a veritable gallery of marble runs, replete with full-color photos and videos of the runs in action. Visitors can’t help but be impressed watching large marbles roll over dozens of feet, bouncing off tracks and back on, swerving around tight corners and corkscrews, all while suspended high in the air. Mason offers well-designed irreverence to brighten any space.

There are plenty of stories like Mason’s that support Kickstarter as a great way to move a project ahead by leaps and bound. What makes a successful campaign is determined by what’s put into it. The best Kickstarters are those that connect with their audience and involve them in the success of the project. Mason’s marble runs do this by offering a limited, well-designed product.

We live in a world of cheap plastic junk. Toys and trinkets are meant to be a single serving, often breaking before they’re even broken in. Handcrafted items like Mason’s marble runs speak to a dying art form that we all long for. The phrase, “they just don’t make it like they used to” goes a long way to informing how we feel about today’s market for junk. Kickstarter is a perfect platform for telling the world that you eschew these low standards in your work.

While not every Kickstarter is a wild success, the ones that are, almost always have elements in common. A clear mission, a product that isn’t available elsewhere, and a concerted effort to connect with potential backers, bringing them into the inner circle of the project. Representing your work to the world requires quite a lot of thought and effort. Believe in your campaign and express your mission clearly. Stay focused and in touch and maybe you’ll be the next Kickstarter success story.

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