Entering the World of NFT Blockchain Art

I admit it. I have Beeple envy. 

Say what? For those of you who missed the news cycle in early May, Beeple is the digital artist whose digital work sold at Christie’s for $69 million. This caught many people who had not been following the world of crypto art by surprise. 

I was one of those, even though I was dimly aware that CryptoKitties kittens, another form of crypto art, had been selling for six figures. 

Entering the World of NFT Blockchain Art
CryptoKitties lets players “breed” kittens and then sell them as NFTs.

Crypto art is simply artwork that has something to do with the blockchain. It can take a lot of different forms. One reason why the blockchain is so interesting to artists is that it provides a new form of security, particularly for digital art.

I never imagined that I would be using the blockchain to protect my artwork, but I was wrong. Within the last few weeks, I discovered two specific ways I can use it and benefit. Both have to do with non-fungible tokens or NFTs.

Why someone used the word “fungible,” for NFTs I have no idea. Nobody knows what it means. What I can tell you is that it is not about fungi, but about interchangeability. Something that is non-fungible cannot be changed or replaced. And that’s what is spurring the connection between art and the blockchain. 

Digital artists want to be able to show and sell their artwork without the risk of it being copied or altered. Traditional artists want a way to authenticate their work and pass that security on to their collectors. Both digital and traditional artists can do this by linking their art to a blockchain record. Since I work both digitally and in traditional media, I was very interested in finding out how all this worked. Here is what I learned.

Creating a Blockchain Authentication Certificate

The first thing I wanted to try was to create blockchain-based authentification for artwork I had recently sold. I found the Blockchain Art Collective and Verisart. The Blockchain Art Collective was interesting to me because they offered a sticker with a blockchain chip embedded in it. The blockchain contained information about the provenance of the artwork. The sticker could be attached to your artwork. Good idea, I thought, but they never got back to me.

I turned to Verisart. Their website was very user-friendly and although they did not offer a sticker, their process allowed me to create blockchain authenticated certificates which they then sent to people who had bought my artwork. The process was very straightforward. It was also free. I highly recommend it to artists and art owners.

The second thing I wanted to do was create an NFT. This turned out to be much more convoluted than creating an authentication certificate. 

A Verisart blockchain authentication certificate.

Minting an NFT

Creating an NFT is called “minting.” I decided to mint an NFT for a piece of digital art I created and put it up for sale on a digital market. There are several sites that offer an NFT-minting service as well as a digital marketplace. Among these are OpenSea, Rarible, and Super Rare. I chose Rarible because I liked the interface and it seemed user-friendly. 

I quickly found out that there are many hurdles to creating an NFT. The first is you need Ethereum. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency that seems to be favored for creating and exchanging NFTs at the moment. This can be purchased with a credit card or bank transfer at many cryptocurrency exchanges, such as Coinbase.

Once you have Ethereum, you need a “wallet.” A wallet is a software that holds your cryptocurrency and serves as a way to make purchases, on an NFT site, for instance. Watch out, though, I made the mistake of setting up a wallet on Metamask, which has a cute red fox logo, only to find Rarible doesn’t recognize that wallet. I ended up using My Ethereum Wallet, which has a cute monkey logo, instead.

In order to set up an account on Rarible, which I did on my laptop, there was a bit of back and forth between my laptop and my phone. My Ethereum Wallet, which is a phone app, is used to verify and open my Rarible account. It does this by reading a QR code that Rarible puts on my laptop screen. Then, by some magic the phone tells the computer, everything is OK and Rarible gives me access to my account. They seem to have a good relationship since I was then able to use My Ethereum Wallet to pay Ethereum for the creation of an NFT. 

The NFT I “minted” was a 30″ x 50″ digital piece I created for the HEMI-MICA (Johns Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute/Maryland Institute College of Art) Artist-In-Residence program. This is a very high-resolution piece of art about molecular structures that contrasts quite a bit with much of the other art I see on the Rarible market, where there are lots of cartoons.

Polymeria 1, a molecular level view of sticky polymers, is my first minted NFT.

I truly wonder if I am in the right place. So much of the art in the digital marketplace seems meaningless. I’m an advocate for art that has a purpose. And not just purpose, but does something to further the human cause, even if it is only raising awareness.

How was I to price my NFT? Many pieces of art on Rarible are priced at a fraction of an Ethereum, such as 0.11. That would be about $200. Other art is priced very high. This piece of paper, entitled Genocide 1915, is priced at 100 Ethereum, or $180,000. I decided to keep things simple and price my art somewhere in between, at 1 Ethereum.

Genocide 1915. This NFT could be yours for about $180,000.

You can set a fixed price for your art or put it up for auction. You can also do something that does not happen in the traditional fine art market, which is that you can receive a royalty if and when the art is sold to another person in the blockchain. I signed up for a fixed price and a 10 percent royalty. 

One of the several surprises in my NFT-minting experience was what Rarible calls “verification.” I stumbled onto this because I was wondering why, after setting up my NFT for sale, I could not find it on the market. It turns out that Rarible promotes only “verified” artists. I guess the others sink to the bottom. 

According to Rarible, “Verified badges are granted to creators and collectors that show enough proof of authenticity and active dedication to the marketplace. We are looking at multiple factors such as active social media presence and following, dialogue with community members, number of minted and sold items.”

My first attempt at verification was declined. I had even been forced to open a Twitter account in order to qualify! The judges said I was not verified because I did not supply a photo of myself, but uploaded my logo instead. Oh well. Until I have another chance I guess I’d better keep pounding the social media sidewalk and mint some new NFTs.

Speaking of minting new NFTs, meet my latest. 

“Mad Monkey” is my response to the many CryptoKitties I see on the market (and maybe to the Rarible judges who didn’t verify me). I couldn’t see myself minting kitties, so I opted to create an animation of one of my extinction paintings. This one is a northern white-cheeked gibbon. There are less than 500 left in the wild. I thought to myself, What would the gibbon on the brink of extinction have to say to humans in the digital blockchain market? I think he would stick out his tongue at us and blow raspberries. That is the inspiration for “Mad Monkey.”

“Mad Monkey” is a verey short, looping video NFT of a northern white-cheeked gibbon that is very unhappy about its looming extinction. He’s also angry because gibbons aren’t monkeys. 

I’ll be minting NFTs of this new art piece and placing it for auction the Rarible market. If you dare to explore the new world of NFT Blockchain art, you should be able to find it there. Bidding starts at 0.11 Ethereum. Going once, going twice. Did I hear $69 million?


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