Join me in a transformative journey to the center of the Non-Fungible Tokens jungle.
Before I start talking about my experience I think it is important to explain quickly what NFTs are. Feel free to skip the next paragraph if you are familiar with this technology.
NFTs are token minted (like coins) on a blockchain. A blockchain is an unalterable ledger of messages or transactions, so think about it as an accounting book. NFT stands for Non Fungible Tokens. Like the mushroom, a fungible object is an object that can be fully identical with another, also like fungi it is an object that you can divide and multiply without changing its nature. You are non-fungible, but gold is. Non-fungible tokens are like names on the blockchain, each is unique and you can’t make two of them interchangeable or cut them into pieces.
Those properties are great to create specific objects, and the best example is probably a certificate of ownership. There can be only one owner, and you might need to prove who it is. NFTs can have many applications and the one I will talk about today is art.
First a bit about my background: I have always been interested in art. I started oil painting in high school, got a perfect score in plastic art at my Baccalaureate. I went to an Art Preparatory school for a year and studied for a master’s degree in cultural mediation. I grew older and art stayed central in many aspects of my life. When I started to binge paint again 8 years ago I didn’t have the goal to make a living out of it, I knew it was unrealistic to envision myself becoming something else than a starving artist. I must have made over a hundred paintings since but even today I would not be able to live out of my art. Instead, I had the chance to work in plenty of fields and one of them was Blockchain. I fell in love with the idea of unstoppable data and the internet of value. Thanks to my position in a Blockchain accelerator I met amazing people and participated in innovative projects, it was a great yet challenging time.
When I moved on I decided to put more time and effort into my art and it paid. I sold a few paintings, had a group exhibition in Paris, and (on hold because of the corona) will have an exhibition in Seoul. Yet it is far from enough to live by.
I’ve had Instagrams and other art-oriented mediums forever, and a few weeks ago I started a cartoon on Instagram. It is called HungryLazyCat and is a one-panel comic-strip and depicts the unique and funny habits of our furry friends. I must have seen some news or a social media post because, as I was having a walk on Monday, I thought that it would be great to turn my little jokes into NFTs. Not to make money (at least not only), but to promote the cartoon and have fun.
MONDAY — the technology
So NFT cartoons? Is it OK? I quickly bring up google and type “how to create NFT”. There are plenty of platforms. Rarible seems to focus on collectibles, FDN Foundation is hype and exclusive, MakersPlace arts, etc… Crawling through I notice that overall there is an immense variety of items: there are the CryptoPunks pixelated portraits, the NBA collector cards, many CGIs, and abstract jpegs… My doubts stop right there. You are clearly free to publish whatever object you’d like.
The prices are all over the place, from a few cents to millions of dollars, for apparently similar things. It is like art isn’t it? Some of the best art I’ve ever seen was sold for a few dollars and displayed informally on the sand of a garden in Paris so this doesn’t shock me and I actually feel in my element. As I skim through jpegs clearly downloaded from DeviantArt (one of the main and oldest designer’s websites) or even google images. I feel the same feeling you have when entering an open art contest. Some people are serious and expensive, others expensive as a joke or a style, but most are just dirt cheap and unknown.
So what do I get if I buy them? It depends, sometimes I would get the ownership of a media created by an artist, I could use it in a TV advertisement supposedly. The NFT (which is basically a name in the blockchain) is usually linked to a file, so this file could be what I own or could be a representation of it. But it is the far west, there is no law to protect you or the creator. If you own the NFT nobody can steal it from you (except if you were careless with your blockchain passwords), but anyone could use the image you “own”, the creator could create a dozen copies of the media and sell them, maybe he is not even the creator… You have no recourse and should do extensive due diligence if you plan on investing. How to trust in a trustless environment? The best indicator is reputation and it is not perfect.
Anyway, I am now convinced that “minting” my cat cartoon as an NFT is far from weird and decide to move forward. I settle for the biggest one, OpenSea.io; I just want simplicity and accessibility. It uses metamask, a simple browser extension that allows you to interact with most of the web3 websites. Alright so I create a new metamask account, it generates an address on the ethereum blockchain and I can use it to sign transactions the same way I would sign a paper. I sign in on OpenSea, it is smooth and intuitive, no need to enter my information, your address is your identity on the blockchain.
Now I can create a “collection”, basically, a page to display my creations, alright… “Hungry Lazy Cat”… A logo… A description… Done!
So far so good, I pick an image and click on “publish an NFT”, there are only a few fields to fill up, to create one you just need a name and an image. So I insert my cartoon and write a quick description. Now is the only time I will need to pay something to create future NFTs, I need to say on the blockchain that I am creating NFTs at this address and that people can buy directly from OpenSea. This costs a bit (0.045 Ethereum, about 80 dollars for me), and after spending some money to my address and paying I realized I could have waited for the blockchain to be a bit less crowded, it would have been a bit less expensive. But it is done!
My first NFT is online and anyone around the world can now buy my cartoon, it feels good!
Of course, minting something I created into an immaterial and pseudo eternal piece seems special to me, but it doesn’t mean it has any value or any interest for someone else.
In fact, what I had already done was the easy part. I had just dived into the NFT hole.
Drawing the cats is both a pleasure and a challenge for me. It does take time, on average one hour, to finish one cat. But, it takes much more to bring any value to an NFT.
So I had just posted my first cat when I noticed the little “!” sign next to my collection. I have to get my collection “approved” to be able to sell freely, without this stamp people won’t be able to discover my works on the websites. I type my id in the research field, OK, I can still find my account, but my work has zero chance to actually appear on someone else’s screen without the validation.
Let’s get approved. I start the process and it takes me to my collection page and I have to fill up the requirements to get reviewed.
Listed at least one item for sale -CHECK
Added at least one social channel — CHECK
Uploaded a banner image — CHECK
Note that a Twitter handle significantly increases your approval speed. If you add a Twitter handle, you should also link to your collection in your bio or a recent tweet, tagging @opensea. — OUPS!
Right ok, won’t be just the second time I open a Twitter, not gonna link too directly to my old one for my “experiment”. I set up the new little bird, quickly post a few pictures, update the bio, and finalize the approval procedure.
So… Now what?
I am patient but how long should I wait? I ask Reddit, and people have waited a few days, a week, some have been for over a month… It all depends on how much traction you have and if they basically notice you. The process is really opaque.
I have just spent eighty dollars to create my NFTart but I have little social media presence (250 followers on Instagram) and I realize it will not be enough.
Don’t make fun of the NFT millionaires. After some items have been sold for hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars it seems like it is raining money in the NFT Community. But if some have been genuinely lucky or had a genius idea, most of the profitable accounts have poured blood, sweat, and tears to get there.
On the first day, I had posted seven of my cats, a dozen tweets…
TUESDAY — The creativity
As I wake up with a few Twitter notifications and love, I feel motivated to draw a cat, then breakfast.
My day goes as usual, with the addition of constant twittering. And I’m not the only one.
I discover amazing artists and funny memes. Many have produced a video or have drawn something that just blows my mind. So much creativity, so much talent, and so much work.
Artists often live in a bubble, it is so difficult to put yourself out there in real life. Here many find reasons to keep or restart their production. There are actually many artists who sold enough creations to generate revenue, but you can feel the impact even one sale can have when you read or watch the reactions of the artists. For some they are actually their first art sales ever, it means the world to them.
It is at this point that I fall in love with NFTs.The fact that it encourages so many people to create and innovate justifies the hype it receives in the news.
I write down the full intro, publish it on Github. I explain my perception of what buying my cat NFT means. You “adopt” the cat, you own the specific cartoon, I keep the right to post it on my social media but the owner of the #NFT can use it the way he wants and I abandon any right over it. If I want to sell the image I would “need” to pay them royalties. All of this is a legal grey area and relies on trust but should be, in my opinion, disclosed.
My collection is not approved yet, so I stay active, create a Facebook page to drive traffic, a telegram just in case, and set up an Airdrop/Giveaway for one of my cats: become visible is the only path forward. If you are not an influencer, a renowned artist, or a figure in the crypto space you won’t sell at first. Even with a great concept you just can’t get instantly rich.
On the second day, I must have tweeted a hundred times, I set up a giveaway for one of my NFT cats. I was just happy to try new things.
Wednesday — The Bounce
Tuesday’s cat was quite simple yet got one of the best organic feedback I’ve had on Instagram so I am thinking. Every time I draw something slightly complex the reaction is lukewarm, so I draw another simple one. It’s ok. Back to the routine
After feeding my brain hundreds of NFT art pieces over the last 48 hours I see patterns everywhere. We can separate the current NFT market into two main categories
This is in no way a scientific estimate but about 50 percent of the accounts produce non-digital art or photography, classic art NFTs are related to the physical object but independent. Owning one doesn’t provide any direct incentive.
The second category is divided into abstract works, computer, and user-generated pieces, collectible cards, and miscellaneous digital items. They usually only exist as NFT.
The latter is definitely what is the most traded at the current moment. You can buy land in a virtual world (for example from Decentraland), soccer player cards (for example from Sorare), not to forget the pixelated portraits of the CryptoPunks I mentioned before or music like Kings of Leon.
If you browse various NFT marketplaces you will have the impression that the people buying have quite “geeky” tastes. This is to be expected in the crypto space, we do speak a hermetic language. I believe that, as investors follow the money, the tendency is here to stay. At first sight, it seems very repetitive but is in fact as rich as any other art tendency. It could actually be the emergence of a new art movement.
I browse, I tweet and I’m getting slightly frustrated that my collection is still unapproved, I feel stuck, curbed. Why is there nothing sold after so many tweets and social interactions? I have lost all objectivity, 4 days ago I didn’t plan to have any revenue ever with my cartoon but now I have the impression I should have gotten something out of it already. I guess my brain neglects to take into consideration all the struggling artists when I see people who have sold all their NFTs in an hour or so. I need to move or step back.
As I contemplate my “failure” an idea comes up. Quickly, I start browsing, does it already exist? No…
Alright, here we go again, I set up a new collection (no need to pay an extra fee if you use the same address), I set up a new Twitter, I start minting, one, two, ten, twenty digital objects…
It is now the evening and I bombard Twitter, this is a new concept, I need to generate momentum.
Thursday — The grind
As I wake up I see that my new Twitter has been suspended. I guess I was a bit too “efficient” yesterday. I’m quite tired. Added to my regular week this NFT life doesn’t leave me much sleep, but now is the time I need to keep up. Don’t give up when it is hard, give up when it is worthless. I smile… I just had a great idea for a cartoon. I draw.
My day is quite free, I need to reach my objective of a hundred items today.
The success of an NFT collection is mainly driven by three factors: the volume, the concept/design, and the existing community pushing the project. On Twitter you can interact easily with investors and collectors, from what they say they are looking for the following traits: a consistent creator who will continue to mint new products at a steady rate, a price on the uptrend, and an idea that matches the characteristics of NFTs
I keep this in mind as I deploy the technologies.
My new collection concept is simple, I call it technology. I could grab a proper URL and name so I’m quite excited even with the setback of the morning. I mint technologies one by one all day. Anything that enters the scope of technology goes in. I start with the obvious like fire and steel. It should be unique and personal so I don’t overthink it, I just push whatever future past and imaginary NFTech I think off through the press. I put a generic gear design on all of them and a nice cap red title on each. Obvious, simple, authentic… From 4 AM, I’m in the flow. I finish minting the first hundred.
I step back, I look at what I’ve been working on all-day.
Time to announce what this is all about. I decided to make technologies, but not to mint the final design right away. You can actually change the image associated whenever you want. A nifty feature! I am not “pulling the rug” but use it as a way to gamify the purchase of my technologies. Collectors can buy technologies before the final design is revealed (the NFTech “discovered”) or wait for it.
I boot illustrator and set up the workplace, my hundred technologies are undiscovered. I am relieved, now I can stop chain producing. I work at my own speed on the design of each technology.
I “develop” a dozen of them, it’s 11 PM now and the day went in a blur. I lift my hand from the mouse. I leave some on the new Twitter account. Same for the cat. I close my eyes.
Friday — the Happiness
I wake up at 4 AM again, I’m not sleepy at all. Turn on the computer, pour the coffee.
My heart freezes, what is that? one of my cheapest NFT, the HYPERLINK technology doesn’t have a price anymore. I’m dumbfounded, SOMEONE ACTUALLY BOUGHT ONE OF MINE. I haven’t felt that since my first gallery sale, a total stranger bought my work!
I got less than a dollar myself but…
To buy a collectible like mine you need to pay around twenty dollars of fee for the transaction. So someone liked my idea enough to pay over 20 dollars for one of my works.
I can’t draw a cat, I am just too pumped.
Design, tweet, design, mint, design… Don’t forget to sleep.
It is now Saturday as I finish writing this. On Friday I sold not only one but two NFTs. It didn’t pay for the registration just yet but I feel like I got more than my time’s worth of happiness and other emotions. This week I felt alive, even more, purposeful.
I had the occasion to share something with so many people. I can’t transcribe what it was so I will just say that: If you want to live something unique and boost your creativity, you can join the NFT Community. Collect or make art and ideas. Dive in.
But be wary, once bitten you’ll never be the same again.