Material Art to Crypto Art: An Overview of NFTs - by Stacy Neale
What is an NFT? Why should I turn my art into one and how? Artist Stacy Neale answers all of your NFT questions below.
What is an "NFT"?
“NFTs”. You may have recently noticed an influx of this word buzzing around the internet and elsewhere. The emergence of NFTs is certainly proliferating the art world, for example with artist Beeple having recently sold an NFT on Christie’s for sixty-nine million dollars. That’s right, million! Even with this impressive and unprecedented event, you may still be asking yourself, what on earth is an NFT? Well, hopefully, this article will shed some light on NFTs for you, and perhaps you will be inspired to try your hand at creating some yourself!
A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unique digital asset that is minted into existence using blockchain technology. In short, blockchain technology is essentially a digital ledger of transactions and recorded information that is difficult or impossible to hack, cheat, or change. What makes an NFT unique is that it is non-fungible: the data contained in a single NFT is unique and is not interchangeable with another token. In other words, an NFT is unique and non-divisible. This is perfect in conjunction with artwork or collectibles because artwork and collectibles are also unique.
Why would an artist want to turn their art into NFTs?
An artist might want to turn their art into NFTs for a variety of reasons. Once an NFT is minted, it becomes available for sale globally on decentralized marketplaces. Artists are often trying to discover new avenues for exposure and this is one that can potentially proliferate quite far and wide. Selling on a decentralized marketplace means there is no centralized entity (middle-man) taking a cut of the profit.
NFTs also solve the provenance issue of artwork because the originating creator of the NFT is known through their wallet/account name, which is accessible for anyone to view. We can always reference this to prove an artwork’s authenticity. There are a lot of “screenshot billionaires” who plagiarize artworks. With NFTs, when the website marketplace finds out about the existence of plagiarized NFTs, measures can be taken to hide those items from the marketplace.
There are many other reasons why artists might like to “mint” their artwork into NFTs, depending on what the artist is intending to accomplish. Some of the many additional functions NFTs can serve include:
- Directly rewarding patrons/the community without a middle man taking a percentage
- Minimizing the gap between the artist and the patron
- Rewarding patrons with NFTs as gifts, badges, and memberships
- Rewarding members with NFTs for recurring contributions
- Creating digital collectible series that can be bought, sold, and traded on marketplaces
Photo: Above is a material art piece I painted; below are the digital versions I minted into NFTs
My personal journey into the world of NFTs started by creating physical art pieces and then recreating them using digital software and minting them into NFTs. I created my NFTs as thank-you gifts to patrons who entered a drawing I was holding to win a painting. In the future, I can send additional gifts or discounts to patrons who hold my NFTs. The reasons why artists may want to enter into this space are far and wide, and we’re sure to see those reasons continue to expand in the future.
How can I turn my art into an NFT?
A good place to start is to have digital representations of the artwork. Whether this is a digital scan or photo of an art piece, or a fully digital creation, having a digital representation of the artwork is necessary to move forward into “minting” those digital representations into non-fungible tokens. Once an artist has digital representations of their work, it is then time to select on which platform (and it’s hosting blockchain) an artist wishes to host their art.
There are a number of platforms on which you can mint your art into NFTs and feature it. I work closely with some chains and not others, but to have a more well-rounded idea of this massive concept, it is necessary to understand there are a variety of platforms and pathways one can take.
Once a chain and platform are selected, artists will then follow the minting processes of that particular platform. The processes among varying platforms will likely be similar, though not identical, depending on which platform is used. Once minted, NFTs can then be listed for sale on one or a variety of platforms.
Photo: the minting process I used on Atomic Hub
Is one platform better than another?
Two of the most prominent chains currently hosting NFT marketplaces are Ethereum (ETH) and Wax (WAX). Ethereum and WAX are both blockchains that have corresponding cryptocurrency coins, which is also the currency used to buy and sell NFTs. Currently, marketplaces on Ethereum have the highest sales, and marketplaces on WAX have the highest volume of NFTs and total users. On each of these chains, there exists a number of marketplaces. On Ethereum, there are such marketplaces as OpenSea and Rarible. On WAX, there are Atomic Hub, Waxplorer, and others.
What may influence an artist to host their artwork on one platform over another include:
- Cost: on Ethereum, costs to mint artwork into NFTs and host them on corresponding marketplaces are much higher than on WAX, for example. If an artist wants to enter this arena and is working with a limited budget, they may choose the WAX chain over Ethereum. If budget is not a problem and an artist wants to try their hand at charging high prices for their work, they may choose to host their work on Ethereum platforms.
- The function of the art as NFTs: as mentioned previously, Ethereum currently has the highest sales for artwork NFTs, meaning NFTs on Ethereum’s platforms (OpenSea, Rarible, etc.) are generally sold at higher prices than WAX, for example. That being said, WAX and its marketplaces are currently the leading hosts for artwork collectibles and game pieces. If an artist wanted to make a collectible series, they may choose WAX chain and marketplaces due to their high volume of users, low costs, and precedent hosting collectibles. Alienworlds.io is a good example of a blockchain game leveraging NFTs as game pieces, some of which are artist commissioned works.
Photo: NFT artist collaboration with Alien Worlds blockchain game
- Accessibility for patrons and supporters: for many artists, when the cost of minting their art into NFTs is high, the cost of their art is likely to reflect that as well. This might limit the audience of supporters who can afford to buy an artist’s NFT. If accessibility is important to an artist, they may either choose to mint their work on a chain/platform that has lower costs and a higher number of users, or they may choose to charge less for their NFTs and just eat the high costs for minting on a particular chain/platform for the sake of getting their work out there. Each artist will have to weigh those options and determine what is the best fit for their objectives.
- Ecological impact: without going into too much technical detail, the energy consumption of some blockchains far surpasses that of others. One of the main distinguishers of heavy energy consumption is whether or not the blockchain uses a proof-of-work system, or proof-of-stake. I have seen many artists who were getting ready to release their artwork NFTs on Ethereum, for example (a proof-of-work-based blockchain), who chose not to, due to learning about the massive amounts of energy used in the process. Out of the two blockchains and corresponding platforms I’ve highlighted in this article--Ethereum, and WAX--Ethereum is a proof-of-work based chain, and WAX is a proof-of-stake based chain. Therefore, the energy used to mint and host an artist’s NFTs on WAX is going to be far less than that of Ethereum. Ethereum is said to be working on transitioning to a proof-of-stake system, but it has not happened yet.
Photo: OpenSea marketplace on Ethereum
There are many reasons an artist may choose one chain or marketplace over another, but transaction costs and proliferation potential are among the most common. Because this world is new territory for many and can oftentimes appear technically abstruse, I invite artists who are considering transforming their art into NFTs to first reflect on their intentions and objectives for doing so. If you just want to play around with the idea and get a feel for what it looks like to create NFTs, process-wise, perhaps use a chain that has lower transaction and minting costs associated with it. If you’re a well-known artist with a large community waiting for you to expand into the digital world, perhaps try your hand at minting them on a chain known for high sales.
Whatever the reasons may be for an artist to transform their work into NFTs, the convergence of the art world and blockchain technology is resulting in unprecedented territory for artists to proliferate their work, expand their practice, and engage with their communities.
In my case, I made my NFTs on the WAX blockchain using Atomic Assets. WAX is one of the leading blockchains using EOSIO software, and EOSIO is known for fast and low-cost transactions. This made it cost-effective to mint and distribute my NFTs, as well as cost-effective for my patrons to set up a wallet and hold my NFTs in it.
Photo: Atomic Hub marketplace on WAX
If this all still sounds confusing to you, you’re not alone. I’m going to leave you with some helpful links and resources to explore further if you wish. I know this was a lot, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. If there is anything you would like to have clarified further, please reach out to Strathmore, and I would be happy to write additional clarifying articles guided by your questions and needs.
Wishing you all the very best in all of your artistic endeavors!
Stacy Neale is a creator of fine art, digital art, and crypto art (including NFTs), as well as a writer on topics of blockchain technology, and wellness. Her NFTs, under the artist name “wa.xy”, are available on the Atomic Hub Marketplace on the WAX blockchain. Her fine art can be viewed here on Etsy. Her articles and written works can be found on Voice Social and Medium. Additional links to social media and other press can be found here.