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How this woman used Kickstarter to become the highest crowd-funded artist in Australia

Cat Machin is Australia's highest crowd-funded artist. Images: Cathrin Machin, Yahoo Finance

Itch (noun): informal A restless or strong desire to do something.

For example: ‘An itch to create artwork drove a former video game designer to leave her job and pursue a career painting the stars.’

The itch is something most people who aren’t already fulfilled will experience at least once in their life, artist Cathrin Machin believes.

It’s what led her to leave her high pressure job in the games industry and what ultimately set her on the path to becoming Australia’s highest crowd-funded artist, who has now created works for space agencies in California and is making a chandelier of the Milky Way.

“[The itch is] that internal feeling that there's something more that's meant for you,” she told Yahoo Finance.

“I think most people get it around their thirties, some earlier, some later. But the idea is that you… are asking the question, ‘Is this all my life is going to be? Sitting in meetings and writing emails?’”

The nebula

When Machin got the itch, it coincided with a nervous breakdown from her massive workload.

Exhausted and miserable, Machin hadn’t realised she had lost a sense of purpose in her work. Instead, her life began to shrink to her job’s deadlines. As a child, she’d wanted to be an artist but had been put off by the financial reality so had entered the games industry.

“But because I wasn't really being fully creative, I thought that what I really wanted was to be at the top, so I obviously climbed the corporate ladder. But, once I was at the top, it was no more fulfilling,” she said.

One of Cat Machin's artworks, Orion. Image: Cathrin Machin

“In hindsight, having a nervous breakdown was probably the best thing I've ever had in my whole life. I would seriously recommend that everyone has at least one, one major one if you can make it.”

If nothing else, it opened up her time to finally pursue her creative passion: creating artworks about space.

But there was a problem - she hadn’t done anything artistic since childhood.

“It's amazing what you can find on YouTube though,” she said, explaining that she used the video service and hours of practice over the weekend to take her to the level she wanted to be at.

Eight months later, she launched her first Kickstarter campaign.

Wait - what’s Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform which aims to help creative projects develop. In exchange for backing an artist financially, fans will receive rewards like smaller prints.

The comet

Today, Machin describes her first campaign as “somewhat of an accident”.

“It was the thing that sparked my art career, but I hadn't intended it to be that,” she said.

“My friends had basically said that they'd want to do an exhibition and I thought, ‘Well, at this point, I've left my job… oh well, there's nothing much to lose. I might as well give it a go.’ Being out of a corporate high paying wage for so many months, I thought, ‘Well, we need to fund it somehow.’”

When she first launched the campaign, she vomited from the nerves and the pressure of displaying her work.

Machin working on a painting. Source: Yahoo Finance Video

“I thought, ‘No one has ever bought a piece of art from me before’. I didn't even think they were that good. I didn't even think I was that good.”

The Kickstarter hit its $4,000 goal within just 48 hours but didn’t stop there.

It kept climbing until it hit $70,000.

“Holy shit, I've basically made a full-time wage in 30 days,” Machin thought.

It came with another realisation - she’d been job searching while painting, but had unwittingly found herself her new job.

“I thought, ‘Wow. Okay. So I've got a job now.’ That was kind of fun.”

Thrilled with the success, Machin nevertheless thought it was a crazy fluke - there was no way she’d be able to repeat it.

Her second campaign was to raise funds to ship a huge painting to a rocket company in California. It was a “mammoth” four by two meter painting of the galaxy.

Machin wanted to raise $12,000, thinking that to aim for $70,000 would be ridiculous - her previous success was a fluke, after all.

She was wrong.

“The second campaign raised $298,000 in the space of 31 days, and it utterly changed my life.”

Cat Machin painting. Image: Supplied

The Milky Way

Transporting the painting to the rocket station in California put Machin in touch with several members of the space industry. She’s now painting for the world’s largest retailer of telescopes, and her third Kickstarter campaign is aimed at funding a colossal chandelier that mirrors the Milky Way as a spiral.

Eight meters in diameter, the chandelier will be constructed using data transmitted from the Gaia Mission from the European Space Agency, with pieces of resin suspended from thousands of fibre optic cables.

Once built, Machin hopes to have it displayed in museums and art galleries - “somewhere it’ll be seen by a lot of people”.

Concept art for Machin's Milky Way chandelier. Image: Cathrin Machin

But to have it appear in a feature film or a music video would also be seriously cool.

Essentially, Machin wants to remind people to look up.

“We've all seen Hubble photos, and these beautiful nebulas, and galaxies, and all these incredible colours, and shapes and swirls. It's beautiful, right?

“But if you go into major galleries or museums, almost everything you see is not space related.

“But then space, which I think is the most beautiful thing in the universe... is hardly ever covered. You never see anything. I don't even understand why that is because we have access to telescopes and images these days.”

And the lack of appreciation for the beauty of space goes to a bigger issue.

As cities expand and light pollution increases, the ability for people to go outside, look up and truly see the stars is diminishing.

“Most people can't see the stars anymore,” Machin said.

Another of Cat Machin's artworks, Stars over Sapa. Image: Supplied

“There’s this huge issue, and it's not just from a philosophical, ‘Let's look at the stars and think about how important it is,’ but also, it's also about inspiring the next generation to be interested in space. There's nothing more impactful than going out into a really, really dark area and seeing a huge expanse of the Milky Way.”

And as humans become a more space-faring race, she believes the world will need to begin encouraging the youth to take a bigger interest in what’s out there.

“That's why I have been building all this stuff, so that hopefully it inspires people. Because, as a child most of the time when you are inspired by something, it's actually the vision of something that inspires you. Whether that's a movie, or a novel, or a painting, whatever it is. It's a form of creation that I think is a starting point.”

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