This could turn into a monstrous post, apologies. I’m gonna edit and add bits here and there rather than type it all at once, as it is quite a broad subject. Also will answer any questions about NFT’s and Crypto anyone may have. So if you want anything in more depth or need something clarified, do reply with your questions. I know a decent amount about it.
During the last November 2021 Artist Round Table meeting, Jamie Lindholm gave an excellent presentation on NFTs. Serendipitously, a bunch of us present also had some experience with these and it became apparent that it would be of some benefit to share more information here, I will also add a few of my own NFT adventures in there.
A quick and very brief crypto recap to cover the basics. There’s something called a blockchain, which is essentially a public list of any transactions taking place - so if I send you a bitcoin (or any crypto), that transaction gets added to the blockchain like a ledger, and everyone knows that you now have a bitcoin, and I have 1 less. (Although they only know that money has immutably moved between two wallets at that point in time, because we’re anonymous) Now vast amounts of folk that hold bitcoin hold a copy of this blockchain (it is decentralised!) which is always synchronising and checking with all of the other copies so that there are no discrepancies or fake transactions which is how it is so secure.
It goes far, far deeper than that, and this is very generalised, but for our purpose that will currently do from a tech perspective:- so what we now have is a digital currency whereby a bitcoin has a value equal to that of any other bitcoin on the blockchain. They are interchangeable, like you can swap a dollar bill with anyone else’s dollar bill. No matter what the monetary value is, 1 bitcoin always = 1 bitcoin. It is “fungible” - replaceable by another identical item.
So therefore an NFT, a Non-Fungible Token is the opposite. A unique specimen on the blockchain. This can be a picture, a piece of music, a video, a web link, and a lot more… but whatever, it has an owner and can be sold.
So far most people have very limited exposure to NFT’s and only about 5% of the world population even own any digital currency at all. That is still a significant amount though, and increasing all the time.
NFT developments within the crypto community are still very new and full of possibilities. There’s also a good deal of misinformation, fear, doubt and disbelief surrounding crypto in general. I can address these valid and understandable concerns later. For now lets just assume that crypto is good and useful and the future of finance, and NFT’s are one aspect of that. Okay. Good.
I’ve dabbled in crypto a while, a lot longer than I’ve been painting in fact, so I see this from a very different perspective than a fine artist making his first foray into NFT’s. I’ve noted with interest artists like Jeremy Lipking among many others, diversifying their portfolios within this new digital arena, and this is very forward thinking and to be applauded. However, approaching your fine art collector base who enjoy their traditional mediums and saying “would you also be interested in an NFT” does not I believe make any sense to anyone. You’re trying to sell the wrong product to the wrong person.
Whispering Pines by Jeremy Lipking, Sold for 5 Etherium (currently worth around $20k as of November 2021) it could be relisted for sale at any price the seller wished to ask.
Cryptopunk 4992 (one of 10,000 similar pixelated characters) Sold for 450 Etherium ($1,810,000) just last month.
What the…??? - everyone
There is a whole new art market here, it is very wealthy, and it is massive. These new investors aren’t interested in stocks, commodities, classic cars, Bouguereau, Sistine Chapels or 20th century modern art for that matter. It is not their cultural reference. JPEGS are, and memes.
There’s also a big fixation on ‘flexing one’s wealth’ on the internet, it’s the new wearing a Rolex or driving a sports car, but for the internet generation. Profile pictures (avatars) are ubiquitous nowadays, and now via NFT you can prove ownership over this very visible status symbol, so people in the know, will see from social media that you have a very rare and valuable piece of internet real estate. A visitor to your house might see a nice painting hanging there. The folk in the restaurant may see your Gucci handbag. Hundreds of thousands of twitter users can see your profile picture every time you tweet.
Certain collections of NFT’s quickly became popular, captured a zeitgeist, or were endorsed and promoted by rappers and sports celebrities. A guy the other day was offered $9 million for a picture of some cartoon 3d glasses. Absolute life changing money. Because he considered this image to be his ‘brand’, and he’d built a good bit of attachment to it, he refused the offer. People love their art. Whatever we may think of it.
Didn’t you like that crypto punk? How about an MS Paint picture of a rock? These go for millions of dollars too. Someone really pushed the boat out a couple of months back and marketed their version of this; “Invisible Rocks”, uploaded transparent .png files as the NFT image. You can’t even see it. Made a fortune. No joke.
You might hate all this. Believe me I’m not a massive fan either, but it’s the way things are heading and I want a say in that.
The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic. - Oscar Wilde
So I’m of the opinion that we need not to sell out and start making pixel art, but to break into this emerging market from the NFT angle, rather than the fine art one, and sort it out, because we’re all clearly capable of that. I’ve a few ideas how to do it and have already begun in my quest.
The potential of NFT’s
Because an NFT can accommodate very specific and unalterable program data in many forms. It can have many uses.
Appealingly to us, it could deliver a royalty with every sale down the line on a secondary market. You could also build in a protocol to donate a portion of that to charity, or any other number of similar financial arrangements, not only to yourself, but you could distribute 1% of future sales to previous holders for example, as an extra incentive to buyers.
You could unlock extra content online due to your ownership (or a collectors ownership) of that NFT. So your NFT essentially becomes like a digital passport, online subscription, or key to access certain online content or communities. It is not just a pretty picture.
Thomas Nash pointed out immediately the potential of pairing an NFT with an ‘in real life’ painting, so one could denote ownership of the other, or be used as a receipt, provenance and there are a few more facets to this. I think many of us had many similar, semi-fungible if you will, ideas.
The NFT could contain within it’s metadata, a link to a livestream, or YouTube channel, so I’ve no doubt in future you’ll be able to, for example, buy an NFT from your favourite band that will allow you to open it up at a certain time and see a live gig, or an album launch stream or some other exclusive content. NFT’s can be like season tickets. In fact they are already being used as concert tickets and other rights of admission - If you own the correct NFT, you can get into the party. To make things a lot simpler, your NFT could be a QR code.
You can see the wallet addresses of all holders of your NFT (this is a string of letters and numbers, just alpha/numeric data, you don’t necessarily know anything about the owner, just that they exist) and this allows you to drop extra NFT’s directly to those wallets (this is known as an airdrop in crypto) so you can reward holders of your art further down the line. Perhaps with further art or some other content. Another incentive.
You also have the option to produce NFT’s as a series, rather than a one off and mint a whole collection. People really like these. You can own something in the same collection that maybe Elon Musk might buy or another high profile collector for that matter, and NFTs of course can go viral too, boosting their popularity, and price.
NFT’s can now be used as ‘in-game’ items. Your playable character can be your NFT (whether 2d or 3d, you can get animated models as NFT’s too) in fact anything within a game can be an NFT. Previously on RuneScape or World of Warcraft or whatever roleplaying games are hip and cool, you’d mine resources, find loot and trade for things with made up in game currency. Now you can do this for real world valued NFT’s and crypto currency. “Play to Earn” and NFT potential has massive implications for the gaming industry.
So consider NFT’s as objects within the metaverse, Crypto is the currency with which you would buy them.
Alex Jove mentioned that now even Sotheby’s have opened a virtual gallery in the meta verse (in Decentraland to be exact), where you can virtually walk in as your avatar, view the gallery and buy an NFT.
How meta can you get.
There is also a very in-depth financial side to this. NFT’s can be used as a method of storing value. You might have some Etherium (there’s more cryptocurrency than just Bitcoin, a lot more) so you could buy an NFT on the Etherium blockchain. The NFT’s value is now separated from the price volatility to which the Etherium (ETH) cryptocurrency is subjected. It is also no longer a liquid asset!
However should no one else want the NFT you just bought, you can’t easily exchange it back into cold hard cash, which you can do with crypto (you can cash out crypto instantly to your bank via a number of online exchanges) but this is more a consideration if you’re speculating on buying one as an investment rather than just collecting them or creating them, so not something we’re going to consider right here.
There are also an endless amount of technical considerations, most of which I will gloss (Dammar) over:-
There exist now many other cryptocurrencies with smart contracts (allowing NFT creation), with various advantages and disadvantages regarding popularity, transaction times, and gas fees… John Livesey brought up this consideration!
- what are gas fees - you say?
In short, these are the cost paid to keep the network operating. Now this depends on the technology behind the crypto currency. For Bitcoin:- miners create the blocks which are added to the blockchain whenever a transaction is made - so this is to pay for their energy cost in generating that new block. But on Solana for example, the technology doesn’t depend on mining, it goes to pay folk that operate nodes (online blockchain storage) for their energy usage, which is tiny compared to bitcoin. There are a ton of options.
While we’re on the energy usage, there’s been a lot of bad press about crypto not being green enough. Not to be the tinfoil hat guy, but this is a mixture of fear, market manipulation and political agendas. Here’s a quickly made diagram of how much better for the environment Bitcoin is (and note bitcoin is the most energy hungry and non-eco friendly crypto).
I could also make a facetious comment about how much the US military costs the average citizen and indeed the environment in securing the dollar. But I wont.
Incidentally, in the diagram “corn” is like slang for bitcoin, which you might hear more and more as it becomes more universal. (like how cash can be ‘dough’ or ‘Benjamins’ or whatever) and ‘sats’ is similar - this is short for “Satoshis” after Satoshi Nakamoto, the anonymous originator of Bitcoin. A Satoshi is the smallest unit into which a Bitcoin can be divided. If you can’t afford 1 bitcoin at $60k or whatever, you can still buy a fraction of it.
We’ll come back to more environmental information in a bit, but some more background and technical stuff first:-
Etherium was the first cryptocurrency to have a built in ‘smart contract’ - this enabled applications (sets of instructions) to be built into the blockchain. This is how you can build in a royalty mechanism behind the scenes into your NFT so that a protocol (royalty) is initiated with a certain trigger (resale). However, because Etherium is so massive now, and so popular (busy network) - you can spend hundreds of dollars on gas fees, which doesn’t make sense if you wanted to simply send someone $10 worth of it. Etherium 2.0 is being implemented to combat this, but in the meantime there are many newer and faster networks stepping up with booming NFT markets.
Unless you’re making very decent money, essentially you’re now priced out of Etherium (ETH) as an NFT artist.
The main second choice here is Solana. Its very fast (transactions are near instant), gas fees are very low (a few cents at most), more than half of active blockchain development is taking place on there at the moment, its the 4th largest crypto currency by market cap and is still relatively early in development. Also, it has a massive NFT community.
There are other blockchains such as Avalanche (AVAX) which have great things going on too and will be worth looking at in future, but for now Solana (SOL) is where the NFT opportunity is.
We can also revisit the eco-friendly viability now:-
A single Google search uses 1080 Joules of energy.
A single Solana transaction uses 1837 Joules.
An Etherium transaction, 126,000 Joules.
An hour watching TV on a 40" screen 540,000 Joules.
(You can read the current Solana Energy Use Report here if you’re interested.)
Some considerations and ideas about NFT creation as a traditional artist.
By capitalising on your existing work - you might have a stash of alla primas which you think are great but not very saleable. Or a bunch of studies, why not NFT them. You could have them as companion pieces to another work, or simply offer them as works of art in their own right.
Suppose you painted a great picture of a balloon dog (I’m thinking of Diane Davich Craig as inspiration here). Get in photoshop, now each has a different coloured balloon, different coloured background, etc. x100 You have an NFT collection ready to go.
I can get into the technical details of exactly how you would go from a painting to an NFT later. For now, you just need to know that it’s really not very hard and doesn’t cost you much money at all, particularly if you’re using Solana.
My idea was to take an NFT first and make a real world painting out of that, so I’m looking at the whole process in reverse. I also wanted to very directly reference the traditional art culture and draw more attention to it, which, well you’ll see from the picture…
Have you ever had a portrait reference like this?
I approached the team behind a new NFT series, they had been involved with previously successful mints and were doing a derivative mint of what are known as ‘Thugbirdz’, their take on it being that instead of this time doing a pixelated cartoon of a birds face - this time they’d now turn it around and do one of the back of it’s head. Yes. Insane. But also the NFT utility behind the scenes was going to do some clever stuff with fractionalisation of NFT’s (which I’ll come to later) some backstage access to more stuff and rewarding backers with airdropped tokens of these.
I said, “hey, crazy idea, how about I produce a physical painting of one of these, you know, as a proof of concept, we can NFT it, auction it or airdrop it, whatever, something different, see what people think about that juxtaposition”, the response was something akin to “what, you mean like an NFT, but existing in the real world?! that sounds mental, lets do it!?!”
So, like the thugBack NFT I wanted to do more than just produce a derivative of a derivative. So not simply a straight copy of the back of a pixelated birds head. To hint at the ‘fractionalisation’ aspect of the NFT, I utilised a “fraction” from one of the most expensive paintings in the world (also relevant because Van Gogh was producing very unusual art in his own time, not really understood by people, etc…)
And of course, my subject is looking to the moon - a very big crypto reference. If something ‘moons’ - it’s price skyrockets. Lot of moon talk in crypto, memes and turns of phrase and cultural reference. Then, for extra ‘back of the head/backward thinking’ - I painted this on the back of the panel. Its inside the cradled back. Because at this point, why not, right?!
The second painting in my series. You can see where I’m going with this now I’m sure.
I’ve a lot more ideas lined up, but this is still all very much work in progress at the moment, so time will tell as to how this all develops. But I’m very excited to be able to share this with you all and will keep you updated as and when cool stuff happens.
So, apart from making your own original art into NFTs, there are now already other traditional media artists just beginning to appear, some of whom are making a living doing commissions of collectors’ NFTs!
These are watercolour commissions for an NFT collector, by an artist called Beth C.
Note well that profile pictures (and most NFT’s) are generally square in shape (aspect ratio). So definitely keep that in mind if you’re interested in painting something destined for the NFT sphere.
But you’d be surprised how many people own a digital image and want a real world version on their wall, many done the old fashioned way. Most of these deals are done through social media, particularly Twitter. There’s a whole new market right there ready and waiting, so you wouldn’t necessarily even have to know how NFT’s worked, own one or even know much about crypto to tap into this…
Part 5 - Lets create an NFT!
You’ll need some crypto, in a wallet (which is nowadays often like a browser extension) the acquiring of crypto and setting up of a wallet I’ll cover later if anyone is actually inclined to give this a shot. But I want to mainly illustrate the NFT side of things within the scope of this post…
When you create an NFT, you ‘mint’ one, much like the Bank of England ‘mints’ a coin, the NFT is a transaction on the blockchain and exists essentially as a piece of cryptocurrency in its own right.
There are many ways one can do this, there are dedicated NFT marketplaces and platforms that cater specifically to this such as Opensea which is one of the bigger ones. I’m going to go a bit specific though, in order to make things as simple as possible, and also due to the fact I want to use the SOL network (super cheap transaction costs).
So in this example I’ll use a site called Holaplex, this is quite a new thing (isn’t everything to do with NFTs?) and essentially allows you as an artist, to create a store front, a bit like Wix or Etsy one of those all in one website creation things you can sign up for.
The first thing I did was click on “create your store” this then prompts you to connect your wallet to the site. Now this is generally how you allow websites to interact with your crypto wallet, which is how you can purchase things or pay for the fee involved in minting an NFT (on Solana this is around $2). Now your wallet to all intents and purposes is your login credentials, there’s no need for a username and password, as the simple fact that only you actually have access to your wallet, enables you to use it to verify your identity. Be careful which sites you connect with though, stick to trusted ones, as there are scams out there in crypto too, just as in online shopping or phishing emails.
Obviously, you can go all out creating a storefront here, in which case you’ll need a banner image, a logo, and even a favicon! (If you already have a website, you can probably utilise already existing graphic design stuff here.) I just put a load of placeholder stuff in for proof of concept. Other sites where you simply mint NFTs don’t need you to do as much setting up, but if you want more control over your ‘brand’ and a shopfront to promote this is a decent angle.
So we get to NFT creation, for every stage in the process you’ll need to ‘sign the transaction’ so this is essentially you giving permission for your wallet to authorise this portion of the creation process and then initiate the payment to immortalise your uploaded picture in the blockchain. You can see what the cost will be before you go ahead.
You can also add ‘attributes’ to your NFT - so these are like tags, or hashtags if you will. It is a good way of differentiating between similar pictures, if you’re creating a collection or series, you’ll want to use these. But they’re also cool just for adding info. They will appear as properties of the NFT in whoever’s wallet owns it.
Very interesting, now royalties for secondary sales…
Holaplex takes a fixed cut of to cover its costs, and you can too!
I could also add another wallet here, and split the royalty with someone else, a charity or co-creator of the work.
Obviously don’t set your secondary royalty too high, as this may discourage sellers from listing it for resale in future, but what a way to earn passive income on your work
Then you’ll get an overview of what you’re about to create, with the various attributes and royalty mechanism.
Just for experimentation, I’ve made this study of an eye I did a while ago, a 1/1 edition here, ultra exclusive, if I were to make a limited edition, I could choose how many to mint (sorta like making prints of your artwork) this number is then fixed, you cannot add to the edition, you would have to re-mint it to get any more.
Then you can list it for auction on the site at whatever reserve price you like, go and promote it via your social media, however you want to do it.
The process really rather quick and easy.
In fact it was so straight forward, I made another one, quite the stirring sight when one opens one’s crypto wallet I’m sure you’ll agree. It is currently not listed for sale. Because it is priceless.
PART 6 LATER…