A Beginner’s Guide to NFTs: Crypto Art 101 (for Artists)
Crypto Art, NFTs, and the New Wave of Art Collecting
If you’re here, I’m guessing you’ve heard the phrase “NFT” once or twice — or 18 times — this week alone. And you might be wondering what this wave is doing, crashing into the art scene like a tsunami, or you might be ready to mint your first piece.
We’ll start here: with a brief overview of crypto media (also known as NFTs, short for non-fungible tokens) and a step-by-step manual to minting your first piece.
If you’re not quite ready for this, or you want a more robust foundation before diving in, check out this article: “Navigating New Territory: Getting Started in Crypto Art as a Traditional Artist.” (Although I’ve written it specifically for my traditional artists, it’s relevant, and a good starting point, for anyone that has questions about this space.)
Before I go any further, I have to say that I didn’t learn this or figure it out on my own. Artist and pioneer sirsuhayb hosted a spectacular Clubhouse room (a 5-part series) in late 2020 and walked a group of us through this process. He knows much more than I do, demystifies this process in a wonderfully eloquent and digestible manner, and deserves all the credit here. Similarly, iartsometimes has taught me so much about this space (including how to unwrap Ether, which we’ll get to), and champions new artists with a passion and fervor like nothing I’ve ever seen. Check them out or miss all the way out.
Crypto Media and NFTs: A (VERY) Brief Overview
You’ve heard of Bitcoin, and maybe even Ethereum (?). Ethereum (ETH) is similar to Bitcoin in that it’s a cryptocurrency, a digital asset used for exchange and transactional purchases on the blockchain, a decentralized technology (meaning it isn’t owned by one particular government or one particular entity, which is good news for the people en masse).
Unlike Bitcoin, though, Ethereum is the cryptocurrency most predominantly used in the transaction of crypto art (otherwise, and increasingly known as, NFTs). These creative digital assets (artworks, animations, poems, songs, recipes, selfies, Tweets, blog posts, and anything else you might consider “content” or “media” or “art”) can be minted on the blockchain and sold to a collector in exchange for cryptocurrency (ETH) which can then be transferred into fiat (tangible currency, like the USD).
What makes crypto art so spectacular (and an intriguing, highly incentivized move) for today’s artists is that it gives the creator power and autonomy over their work in ways that traditional art fails. For example, an artist or creator looking to mint their work on the blockchain doesn’t need a gallery or an agent or even a large social media following to make money — and lots of it.
Further, this artist receives royalties on every sale after the original purchase of their work (the standard asking price for royalties is between 10 and 20%, and depends on either artist’s discretion or the platform with which they are using to mint their work). And, finally, because Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, it’s appreciating in value over time. Selling a piece today for 1 ETH (which, at the time of writing this, is about $1524 USD), might prove exceptionally more valuable over time if 1 ETH a year from now is valued at $3600 USD. (It’s like the stock market in this way, and something to consider as I encourage fellow artists to look at crypto art as a short-term AND a long-term play.)
(We’re going to move on to the actual process of minting your work, but seriously, there’s more where this came from. Click here if you want it.)
How to Mint Your First NFT, a Step-By-Step Instructional Manual
- Download MetaMask, the mobile app, to use as your “crypto wallet.” I know you want to dive right in, but in order to mint an NFT, you’ll need to make sure you can cover gas fees. (Gas fees are what artists pay to mint an NFT, and fluctuate quite a bit. I’ve seen gas fees for $3.00 and for $250+, so if you see a high gas fee, give it a little while as it could very well decrease substantially).
- Add the MetaMask Chrome extension to your laptop. This way, you’ll have access to your “crypto wallet” on both your phone and your machine, which makes the process of minting, checking sales, and engaging with the community a little bit easier.
- Make note: MetaMask will provide a “seed phrase” to you, which is a string of random words that will allow you access to your crypto wallet in the case you forget your password. Memorize this, or write it down in at least 3 places. It shouldn’t be found anywhere digitally, but should be kept instead in tangible places (like a journal, a planner, a safe, etc), to reduce the risk of getting hacked and stolen from. (Personally, I find this to be ironic, considering the new wave of digital media. But very important, nonetheless.)
- Link your bank account (either a checking account or a debit card) to your MetaMask app. Purchase $50–100 in ETH to have the funds to cover your first gas fee. (Inside the MetaMask app, you’ll see a button that says “Buy ETH.” Follow the instructions for linking your account, and then make your purchase. If you don’t see it go through immediately, don’t stress. It can take 20–30 minutes to process before you see those funds show up in your MetaMask wallet as Ethereum.
- Decide where to mint your work. There are two kinds of marketplaces: open and closed. Open marketplaces are like Etsy, in which anyone can share and distribute work. This is extremely valuable for getting started, as you can begin today, but it does mean that the technical or stylistic value of the work minted on that platform can be inconsistent. Examples include Rarible and OpenSea (OpenSea has gas-less minting, so if you’re tight on funds or are worried to “pay to play,” this is a great option for minting.) Closed marketplaces require applications or invitations, which may mean you have a wait time to receive acceptance onto the platform. (And it also might mean a rejection, if the platform itself is making those decisions, as opposed to existing creators inviting other creators onto the platform.) Examples include Foundation (my personal favorite!), Zora, SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, KnownOrigin, and MakersPlace. Async Art is also an incredible platform for artists who create layered work, in which the layers can be turned on or off to change the look of the piece by the collector. (Full disclosure: I LOVE Async. The team, and its innovative work in the space. As of recent, I’m an Async marketing advocate, so if you’re looking to mint work on Async and need help with messaging and positioning, connect with me: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
- I’d encourage new artists without an invite (yet) to a closed marketplace to begin on Rarible or OpenSea. It’s helpful for gauging your audience, gaining some traction, making friends with collectors, and carving out a space for yourself before applying to a closed marketplace. Once you’ve chosen yours, sign up for an account to create your profile. Make sure to add a profile photo, a bio, a cover image, and links out to your website and social media. Due to the influx of new artists entering the space every day (and increasing exponentially), you’ll want to complete all of these steps. Show up like you mean it, and complete the process, because it will make a difference!
- Link your MetaMask wallet to that platform. (Almost always, there’s a button in the top right corner of the page that says “Connect” or “Connect Wallet.” Follow the instructions to link your MetaMask and NFT platform accounts.)
- If you’ve made it to Step 8, congratulations! This is huge! You’re ready to mint your first piece. (Or, you’re 7 steps closer, at least.) For this instructional manual, we’re going to use Rarible as our platform of choice, so I can use my own work as examples and because it really is a great place to start testing the NFT waters. In the upper right hand corner, again, click “Create.” Choose whether you’d like to mint a single work, a 1 of 1 (comparable to an “original” in the traditional space), or multiple editions of the same work (comparable to “prints” in the traditional space).
- Upload your digital asset according to the specs of the platform (they all differ, so this is something to check out on your end).
- Move the toggle to “on” for “Instant Sale Price” if you don’t want to leave you work open for bidding, but instead want a collector to purchase your work for one set price. It may take longer to sell (and you may not get the price you’ve asked for), but people can still bid on your work below the asking price.
- Consider that, if you mint a 1:1, you can ask for a higher price, as generally the value of an original is greater than that of a piece with multiple editions. For example, if you choose to mint a 1:1 piece at 1 ETH, a reasonable way to price a 10:10 (10 editions of a single work) would be .1 ETH (1/10 of 1 ETH). Consider, too, that a 1:1 is likely to sell for much more in the secondary market if you take off as a prolific artist and launch your career, but there is certainly validity in minting editions.
- Note: You can have a 1:1 NFT AND a 1:1 original in physical space. I sell mine as two separate products. A collector who purchases a 1:1 NFT from me doesn’t also get access to the physical original; I sell those directly from my site. I do, however (usually) include access to a physical open-edition print with the purchase of an NFTs, as an incentive and special “thank you” to collectors. Though there isn’t a feature to include this specifically, I type it out in the description of my piece for those NFTs that do include a print with purchase. Check out the description here for an example, beginning with “Along with the NFT…”.
- Move the toggle to “on” for “Unlock Once Purchased” if the purchase of your NFT comes with the high-res digital version of your piece. This is something you might want to include (via an AWS or Google Drive link, for example), as it allows your collector to display your work in their home via an LED or digital display, or in a virtual gallery. (Note: The purchase of an NFT doesn’t mean the collector gets access to this file automatically. As opposed to a tangible asset, an NFT is comparable to a certificate of authenticity or proof of ownership, much like the infamous Art Basel Banana. Of course, a collector can’t actually take home a banana duct taped to a wall at Art Basel, but their certificate of authenticity is what matters. I know…art it weird. That’s why we love it.)
- Fill out the Title and the Description. Don’t skip over this. I can’t stress enough the importance of storytelling when it comes to your art. Bring the viewer into your story — the “why” of the piece. And always remember: People buy into the artist as much as they buy into the art. If you prefer to remain mysterious and obscure, lean into that story…but whatever you do, don’t leave this blank. It’s valuable real estate. Use it. (Need help storytelling? Lemme plug myself for a second: I help artists message and position themselves strategically for sales. Contact me if you’re stuck.)
- Choose your royalty percentage. THIS is exactly what makes crypto art so valuable for creators. Standard asking percentage is between 10–20% (I always ask for 20). This means that, if and when your piece is sold to another collector from your first collector, and so on, you will always get 20% of the money made in that exchange.
- Include information for the properties if the collector receives a print or the high-res digital file with the purchase of your NFT.
- Finally, click “Create Item.” The pop up next will walk you through each step of minting your work on the blockchain (and this is also where you’ll approve the platform taking gas fees. If it’s too expensive, copy and paste the Title and Description, leave the page, and come back later.)
- Once your piece is minted and listed on the platform, share it! Tell your friends, tell your momma, tell your collectors (if you have any in the traditional space), tag me on Twitter. Share the link to all your social channels. Do it 5 more times over the next few days. Don’t stop talking about your work! Bring people in to your story! Scream with excitement! If you’re not hype about it, why should anyone else be?
- Though, technically, we’re finished with this step-by-step instructional manual, I’ll finish here: Keep creating, and keep minting. Don’t mint anything you’re not excited about, because you won’t want to share it, but don’t be afraid to get out there and actually create (and show off a little, too! You’re worth it, you beautiful f*cking thing.)
Once You’ve Made a Sale: How to Unwrap Ether (A Quick Overview of WETH)
NOTE: You can skip this section if you were paid in Ethereum. This is for you, though, if you see you have “WETH” in your account as payment for your NFT.
Let’s say you’ve made a sale. Congratulations! Now, you might be asking the question, “What is WETH?” (It stands for Wrapped Ethereum.)
In Rarible, you’ll see in the dropdown under your icon in the upper right hand corner a button to choose “Manage Funds on Zerion.”
- Click that button. It will take you to a super exciting page that shows you’ve made money (Etthereum). YAY.
- Click on “Show All Assets.” In the box on the left in the next page, click “Buy.” In the dropdown under “Pay With,” select “Wrapped Ether,” and choose your amount. You can transfer all of your WETH into ETH if you’d like.
- In the dropdown under “Receive,” make sure “ETH” is selected. Click “Buy.” Now, your WETH is unwrapped and you have ETH, which leads me to the next and final section: How to get paid in actual dollars so you can pay rent and even buy yourself a nice pair of shoes.
How to Transfer Your Funds (and Get Real Life Cash Money, Baby)
Now that you have Ethereum, you’re probably wondering how to get that money into your actual checking account. Great question.
- Firstly, download another app on your phone called Coinbase. (I never promised this was simple, but we’re almost there. Stick with me.)
- Link your bank account (checking account or debit card), to whichever account you’d like to receive your funds.
- Under “Watchlist,” click “Ethereum.”
- Click “ETH Wallet” to check your balance and receive funds.”
- At the top, you’ll see a QR Code. Click “I Understand” when the pop-up prompts.
- It’ll bring you to a page that reads, “Receive Ethereum” with a QR Code. Click “Copy” to copy the address to your clipboard, or click “Share address” to send your unique Ethereum wallet ID to yourself. (This ID is a series of numbers that’s always changing, so you’ll need to do this every time.)
- Head on over to your MetaMask wallet. From there, click the button that reads “Send,” and under “Search Address,” paste the address you just copied into your “Add Recipient” box. Choose the amount of Ethereum you’d like to send yourself, and confirm the transaction. Give the blockchain some time to pend the exchange, and within 20–30 minutes (or so), you’ll see that money in USD (or parallel fiat) in the banking account you linked to your Coinbase.
- There you go. Cash money, honey.
I know that every artist’s trajectory is different, but this is a great starting place for anyone interested in getting up and running. I’ll also say this: Don’t be afraid to experiment, both creatively and strategically. Test your price points, apply to platforms you’re interested in (research them, follow them on social media, read their blogs, etc), leverage different platforms for varying drops (for example, I’m minting a poetry series on Zora right now, I share my favorite artwork on Foundation, and use Rarible as my playground for testing and experimentation.)
There’s no one right way to do this, as what works for one might not work for another. Lean into your unique style, your competitive advantage, play the long game, support other artists, befriend collectors, and have a blast and a half doing it. That’s the point of it all, anyway, right?
If you feel stuck, you need help in messaging yourself as an artist (traditionally or digitally, on the blockchain or on social) or you just want to say “hello,” check out Sturdevant Strategy.
If you’re interested in my work as an artist outside of crypto and NFTs, this is for you: Sturdevant Studios.
Or, if you’re good with this but just want more art and NFT talk, come find me on Twitter. And know that my door is always open.