Navigating New Territory: Getting Started in Crypto Art as a Traditional Artist

The Inclusivity and Opportunity of Crypto Art

Crypto art by author-artist Sophie Sturdevant
Tokenized artwork by the author, available via Rarible.

I am analog in every sense of the word — I still read the newspaper, I scour new cities to find old bookstores, and when it comes to my artistry, I’m “pen to paper” all day, baby. (For context, this has nothing to do with my age; I’m a millennial, 28 years old living in Chicago and working for a digital marketing agency. The irony still strikes me on occasion.)

You won’t find me in Procreate (at least, not yet), and I’m only dangerous enough in Photoshop to compose my face onto the bodies of people like Bob Ross for nothing but sh*ts and giggles.

This matters, because I need you to know that a term like “crypto art” wouldn’t pique my interest, normally. In fact, I’d run in the opposite direction, seeking solace from the stale but familiar Starbucks inside my nearest Barnes and Noble.

But, I need you to know this, too: As a traditional artist (or a traditional art collector), crypto art isn’t just for the 3D renderers, the metaverse creators, and the digital art pioneers.

It’s for us, too, and the more of us that show up here, the more there’s space for us to succeed — all of us, together. Traditional and digital artists alike.

Artwork by author-artist Sophie Sturdevant via Sturdevant Studios
“Keep Your Color: A Note on Growing Up” by the author.

A Quick Note on the Crypto Art Community

Here’s my obligatory disclaimer: I am very, very new to the space. My Clubhouse bio right now says, “…and baby crypto creator, trying to figure it all out.”

What’s funny, though, is that this space is so new, many of the crypto art OGs are fresh, too — having just begun their journey within the last few months. We’re all figuring it out, but that’s what makes this exciting — we’re not up against long-standing gatekeepers that hold decades of information the rest of us can’t unlock.

And the OGs are ready and willing to share everything they know about crypto — what works, what doesn’t, and where we’re going (probably. Because who knows anyway, right?).

A few of my personal favorites include iartsometimes and vainpsn, both of whom have been instrumental and highly valuable crypto creators and pioneers for artists, myself included, looking to venture into this space.

A Few Crypto Art Need-to-Knows

From a distance, crypto art feels very, very daunting — especially for someone who, otherwise, isn’t technologically savvy or inclined (hi, it’s me). But if you understand the language, and just a few key need-to-knows, the mysticism around crypto art dissipates quickly, and it’s really simple behind the curtain.

Or, at the very least, not *as* scary as it sounds.

Crypto art, or crypto media, describes the digital or digitized artwork and media tokenized on the blockchain, a decentralized technology that, according to builtin.com, “records the provenance of a digital asset.”

It’s where cryptocurrencies live, like Bitcoin — the most widely recognized form of cryptocurrency — and Ether, the cryptocurrency that allows for artists to “mint” or “tokenize” an artwork and assign it an eternal value.

Once an artwork has been minted on the Ethereum blockchain using Ether, and has been given that value, it’s considered an NFT, or a non-fungible token.

(Note: Artwork isn’t the only thing that you can mint. Crypto creators have created NFTs out of video snippets, poetry, novels, Tweets, selfies, and whatever else you might consider a form of media that has inherent value. Which is everything, depending on who you ask.)

Unlike traditional work, you can’t sell your NFTs directly via your website; it must be hosted on a marketplace on the blockchain specifically for the exchange of crypto media. And there are two types of marketplaces: open and closed.

Open marketplaces are comparable to Etsy, maybe; anyone can sign up and anyone can sell work, but it might feel a little bit like a sh*t-show because of that. (Examples are Rarible and OpenSea. My work is currently minted on Rarible as I make connections with collectors, experiment with what works for my art and its audience, and get acquainted with the space).

Closed marketplaces require applications and are curated specifically by the platform. (Examples include NiftyGateway, KnownOrigin, and SuperRare).

There’s not a right or wrong way to go about it, and you can mint work on multiple marketplaces — both open and closed — but it’s taboo to mint the same piece on different platforms, as it reduces the value and its scarcity factor.

A Case for Why You Should Get Started in Crypto Art

There are a few reasons that artists of all backgrounds and mediums would benefit from transitioning, at least in part, into the crypto space.

Firstly, when you mint an artwork on the blockchain, that piece is inextricably linked to you forever, unlike the traditional or physical space. For example, if I sell an original (or a print, for that matter), to a collector, I sign the piece and ship it off and I will most likely never see it again. And as I garner more attention and notoriety as an artist, they could very well sell it years down the line for 15 times the price at which they purchased it, and I wouldn’t ever see a dollar from that resale.

But, on the blockchain, every transaction is public, which gives the artist the ability to request royalties when minting every piece (standard is 10–15 or 20%, depending on the marketplace), which means that if one of my collectors resells a piece they’ve purchased from me, I see that money come back to me forever, no matter how many times it’s sold. It’s brilliant, and it gives the artist agency and leverage over their work in a way that the traditional space doesn’t.

Further, cryptocurrency is appreciating — and quickly. Since I’ve ventured into the space in the last few months, ETH has nearly doubled (at the time of writing this article, 1 ETH is worth about $1,300 USD). This means that, if I sell a piece for 1 ETH today, and hold on to it in crypto form, I get to sit back and watch it appreciate over time until I’m ready to “cash out.” Kind of like the stock market.

Ultimately, it’s an avenue by which artists can sell work in accord with the renaissance of the digital age, and it’s a long-term play. Good in the short run, good in the long run.

How to Navigate the Space as a Traditional Artist

I want all artists to understand the purpose of entering the crypto space, but for the purpose of this article, I’m speaking to my traditional artists (2D creators and photographers, namely, but this would also apply to writers and poets, too, as artists working within a “pen on paper,” even if digital, context.)

Here are some things to consider, based on my background as an artist and a copywriter who spends all her time thinking about effective messaging and positioning in the art space.

  1. Know that you belong. (I’m a mindset freak, and I gotta start here.) Know that you belong. Understand that, as a 2D artist, you’re not going to see a lot of work that looks like yours. Believe that’s a good thing, and lean into that advantage of being different. But know, first and foremost, that you belong and there is a space for you in crypto art.
  2. Show up like you belong. If you move and speak like you don’t belong, it’ll read that way. Show up and stake your claim. It’s yours just as much as it’s anyone else’s.
  3. Be encouraged that you are on the cutting edge of this digital movement — a renaissance. Nobody knows what they’re doing, and we’re all trying to figure it out. It’s part of the process of being a pioneer. Isn’t it fun?
  4. Understand your competitive advantage. Just like in the traditional space, there are artists aplenty. Know that what separates you from the pack is your advantage; leverage it, and don’t shy away from sharing and exploring what makes you stylistically and narratively unique as an artist.
  5. Don’t try and look like everyone (or anyone) else. Of course, if you’re interested in exploring a different medium or you want to try 3D rendering or you’re shaken with inspiration by other crypto artists, explore that! But don’t get stuck in comparison and think that what you see is the *only* way.
  6. Be intentional about the work that you mint. Create NFTs out of your best work; respect the space, and respect your work. It’s taken you a long time to get here, and you’re worth intentionality and strategic positioning.
  7. Have realistic expectations. Don’t put all your eggs in the crypto basket; integrate this into your existing marketing strategy, add it as an avenue to create brand awareness, and see this as potential stream of revenue. It shouldn’t be your bread and butter immediately. Work up to it, if that’s how you see the trajectory of your career.
  8. Tell your story, and continue to tell your story. Just like the average consumer today wants to know they’re purchasing jeans made sustainably and with ethically-sourced materials, art collectors want a peek behind the scenes. They want to know who you are, why you make art, and why you made that piece specifically. What’s your genesis story? Who inspires you? What drives you to create? Talk about it, and don’t stop talking about it. People buy into the artist as much as they buy into the art.
  9. Invite your existing collectors into the space. If you already have a client base “in space,” tell them your work is available for investment as crypto collectibles, too. If they’re not ready to buy crypto art, that’s cool. If they are? Even cooler.
  10. Engage with the crypto art community. I’m not the only one that would attest to the empathy, compassion, and support of this group of people. Share your NFTs on Twitter, tag me, explore the crypto community, and build friendships in fellow artists and in collectors. The greatest thing that separates this community from any other (especially art-wise) is the encouragement, the love, and the tangible support. The mentality is “when one of us wins, we all win.”

If It Works For Me…

As of today, I have 4 minted pieces available on Rarible, 3 of which currently have bids ranging from .1 ETH to 1 ETH (today, worth from $132 USD and $1,300 USD). I’m an unconventional crypto artist, and something is working.

How and what, I’m not sure, but I am sure of this:

There’s room for you, too. And the more traditional artists that enter the space, the more traditional collectors follow. It’s kinda the wave, and I want you to get out here and ride it with me. Come on in…the water’s fine.

Questions? I’d love to help, or at least point you in the right direction. Find me on Twitter or Instagram, or check out my work via Sturdevant Studios.

Or, if you’re an artist looking for help messaging and positioning yourself, reach out to work with me — whether you’re navigating the traditional or the crypto world.

Chicago-based artist-writer, talking about creativity as our greatest responsibility. Expert in copywriting for multi-million dollar brand launches.