While Kevin McCoy created his first non-fungible token (NFT) in 2014, the medium really exploded among artists in 2021. Over the past year, NFTs have engaged the vastly differing worlds of creators and collectors: we’ve seen established and emerging artists alike generating sought-after collections valued in the millions, big brands and celebrities creating NFTs, and prestigious art institutions like Christies and ArtNet getting in on the action.
What’s driving this boom? As an art advisor and website design blogger, I’ve asked myself this question a lot over the past year.
Artists are seizing this opportunity to create NFTs and get in on the ground floor. But like many industries evolving toward the imminent crypto-revolution—the hype around the NFT movement is met with growing skepticism.
In this article I’ll talk about NFT basics, presenting some discernible benefits and pitfalls of adopting blockchain technology. Plus, we’ll go over the process of how to create an NFT of your own and get it onto a marketplace, regardless of whether you've already decided how to make a website or not:
What are NFTs?
Digital art is not new—even established artists embrace digital mediums, like painter David Hockney, who at 84 years old often creates digital work on an iPad. But even though there are manifold formats for displaying these digital works, there’s no way to establish their original value.
When it comes to a physical artwork, authenticity (and market value) is affirmed through careful observation and connoisseurship. This is hard to do with a basic digital file. A JPG, for example, can be commissioned and sold—but once it leaves ownership of its creator, there’s no distinguishing factor to tell the original from its copy. It can be easily re-downloaded, copied and pasted, and interchanged.
Enter NFTs that make the transparent authentication—and therefore monetization—of digital files possible. An NFT is a unique digital unit of data whose location is stored on a blockchain. In layman's terms, when you have digital art that is an NFT, it’s branded with code that authenticates its location on a blockchain. Although NFTs can hold any number of forms, today they’re most commonly associated with image, audio and video files.
Why do NFTs attract artists and collectors?
Since an NFT’s authentic location is stored on a blockchain, there’s no mistaking its value, or who owns it. Non-fungible means non-interchangeable, and any minted NFT is authentic, and will never be verifiably duplicated.
Sure, you can copy any file you want (even if it is an NFT), but only one person can own the NFT’s location. Downloading an image without purchasing the NFT is like buying a print of the Mona Lisa in a museum shop: You’ll enjoy the imitation, but you can’t claim ownership to it.
NFTs mean we can pinpoint the ownership of an original work of digital art, and give it a discernible value. This intersection of proof of ownership with intelligent computational processes has encouraged many collectors to turn to the NFT market, and inspired many freelance artists to create there—especially with the popularity surrounding an imminent, decentralized web3.
Not ready to create your own NFT? Submit your art to DeviantArt and receive alerts if and when someone tries to mint it as an unauthorized NFT on a public blockchain. As of writing, the AI-powered technology has scanned more than 270M+ NFTs.
How to create your own NFT
A new freelance art venture like creating an NFT requires a few steps and a solid strategy. I tested out the creation process and summarized the preliminary steps below. (Although my NFT isn’t for sale, any potential takers can certainly shoot me an email.)
Pro tip: NFTs are new and dynamic. While their fledgling nature can benefit some, I encourage you to research and keep abreast of industry changes if you choose to create and sell your own NFTs.
01. Set up a digital wallet
Before you create an NFT, set up your blockchain foundations. This includes having a digital wallet to store cryptocurrencies.
A digital wallet is a software system that can be used to complete transactions within the NFT market. Digital wallets store currencies (including crypto-assets), NFTs and payment information securely, allowing for quick, worry-free purchases online.
You’ll sign up using an email account and receive a secret recovery phrase. Your digital wallet software will never help you recover this super secure twelve-word phrase, so jot it down, save it in a secure password storage app, lock it in a safe, etc.—just make sure you don’t lose it.
02. Add cryptocurrency
Your cash and cards are no good in the NFT marketplace. Instead, you’ll use cryptocurrencies—the secure, decentralized payment form based on blockchain technology—to purchase, mint, and sell NFTs. The primary cryptocurrency exchanged within the NFT market is Ethereum (ETH), which can be purchased directly on Metamask.
03. Choose a marketplace
Getting in on NFTs means choosing the right marketplace to sell yours. Popular marketplaces include Rarible and OpenSea—but freelance artists can take advantage of any of the dozens of available platforms.
Both of the marketplaces mentioned above offer “lazy minting,” a good set-up for curious beginners which allows users to pass the minting fee on to the buyer. If you decide to step into the market, you will have to pay a one-time initialization fee (which ranges between $30 and $400). When you sell, the marketplace will likely take a percentage, too, (usually ~2.5%).
04. Connect your digital wallet
To sign into your selected marketplace, you’ll need to connect your digital wallet. Once connected, you’ll be taken to your marketplace dashboard where you can begin to explore NFT collections, and most importantly—create.
05. Upload digital artwork
Once you click that “create” button, the digital art world is your oyster. From there, you’ll choose the blockchain currency you want to use to mint your NFT and decide if you want to create a single or multiple copies. Finally, you can upload your selected file.
06. Put your item on the marketplace
Before you turn your digital file into a sellable NFT (a process known as minting), you must make a few preliminary decisions:
Choose a price: To put your NFT directly onto the marketplace, you can choose to set a fixed price, allow users to bid or set up a timed auction. When pricing, consider the conversion rate of USD to ETH.
Add additional content to unlock once purchase: While not mandatory, many artists choose to send their collector a full, hi-res image of artwork or additional material after purchasing.
Choose collection: If you plan on adding more artwork files to this series, consider creating a collection of your own to manage. Otherwise, stick with your marketplace's default collection.
07. Select minting type
At this point, it’s time to “mint,” or authenticate, your NFT. You must either pay a gas fee—the charge you pay the Ethereum blockchain to complete the creation process—or lazy mint.
If you choose to complete the process, know that gas fees fluctuate depending on the market. Lazy minting, however, stores your work in the marketplace and hands the gas fee over to the purchaser.
08. Add a name, description and royalty fee
No work of art is complete without a title. Include a name and description for your NFT for collectors to officially see it in the marketplace.
After minting your NFT, you can attach an ongoing royalty fee to your NFT (up to 50%). This benefit of creating and selling NFTs means every transaction is recorded on a blockchain, and creators can not only keep track of their sales history, but also be compensated every time it sells.
09. Sign and share
Once you’ve fleshed out the details, your NFT is ready to market. After the digital file uploads, approve the transaction with your digital wallet. Depending on your platform, you might be required to pay an initialization fee.
10. Create a portfolio to showcase your NFTs
While you can rely on the natural hype of the NFT marketplaces to generate interest around your work, there are more strategic ways to gain attention and sell your art online. One popular method, for example, is to create a digital art portfolio for showcasing your work. This is also one potential way to monetize your website.
Mike Winkleman, also known as Beeple, ushered in a new age for the art market with the sale of his NFT Everydays, The First 5,000 Days for $69 million on Christies. Beeple utilizes Wix’s design features to foster a high-quality viewing experience of his online portfolio, which includes an impressive range of works. Although visitors can’t purchase NFTs directly from his site, Beeple includes a link to his marketplace in the menu (under the attractive label “collect”), seamlessly transporting interested visitors to Beeple’s NFT collection.
Are NFTs worth the hype?
It’s clear the accessible nature of NFTs has filled a vacant gap in the creative world. By fostering an easy, secure and decentralized market for selling unique digital collectibles, artists might find that the future of NFTs presents an opportunity to profit in new ways from their talents.
That being said, let’s uncover some relevant pros and cons of this unique phenomenon:
NFTs show an increased market value
Besides being coined “word of the year” in 2021, the NFT market exploded from a value of $100 million in 2020 to $40+ billion in 2021. Some of the most expensive individual NFT sales topped $30 million.
As promising as these numbers sound, no one can predict how future demand will affect this immature market. Still, the momentum is strong at the moment, and even social media platforms like Instagram discuss introducing NFTs to their users in the future.
Artists are inspired by heightened creativity and collaboration
There’s a strong momentum of innovation to back up the adoration for NFTs. Creators run the gamut from gamers, artists, celebrities, big brands and more—all who bring refreshing approaches to the digital medium.
Artists and creatives can seize this opportunity to create vis-a-vis an endless range of topics and formats. The diversity brought to life in the NFT marketplace presents a unique potential: from photos and unique illustrations to GIFs and Tweets (check out this example by Cent, who sold a Tweet for $3 Million in 2021).
With many big brands collaborating with designers, we may see smaller brands follow suit. This also opens the doors for graphic designers, illustrators and digital artists to seek opportunities for creating bespoke branding assets that’ll be minted into original NFTs.
The NFT marketplace can help reach new audiences
In physical and digital art markets alike, developing a professional network is an invaluable part of the job. From critics, gallerists and collectors to your public following—it takes time to build this entourage of art enthusiasts to support your work. Especially at the foundations of a career, this is just as important as sales.
Getting NFTs onto a marketplace might pique the interest of collectors who otherwise wouldn’t see your work. Even if you don’t sell, adding collections of NFTs to your portfolio and social media accounts will show people you’ve got your finger on the pulse of the trending art world.
Most platforms have fluctuating gasing fees
From minting to selling, every transaction on a blockchain like Etherum requires gas fees which fluctuate drastically. This can surprise many creators who believe they can enter the market without any costs. While many platforms allow you to pass fees onto the purchaser, it’s important to be cognizant of them.
The NFT market is not a static one
Despite what you might have heard, don’t expect collectors to swarm in and invest in your NFTs for the future. Although the market’s numbers are impressive, it is still volatile and immature. This makes it hard to rely on trading NFTs for profit, and has many collectors increasingly wary of their own investments.
There’s controversy around the environmental impacts
Most NFT marketplaces run on the Ethereal block chain, which leaves a pretty substantial carbon footprint on the environment. That being said, there are many platforms and creators making the case for clean NFTs. There is hope that these concerns will be addressed and resolved, especially as proponents discuss the evolution of the internet into the virtual web3 and metaverse era.
5 NFT examples in the marketplace
We’ve dived into the NFT marketplace, having a look at some of the most popular works of art and transactions from the past year.
01. Ponderware, Mooncat #21, 2017
MoonCats are the oldest NFT art built on the Ethereum blockchain, and were launched in 2017 before the term “NFT” was created. This particular work is one of the first MoonCats ever minted. By 2021, the MoonCats collection has reached 25,440 minted works, and holds significant market and historical value for collectors.
02. Rewind Collective, Double Exposure - Frida #1, 2021
Another NFT sold on ArtNet’s premier NFT auction in 2021, Double Exposure - Frida #1 reflects on artist Frida Kahlo’s identity struggles by playing with the photographic concept of “double exposure” and includes a physical component. The creators at Rewind Collective are a group of artists and curators whose mission is promoting women and minority artists within the digital art realm.
03. Pak, Mass Banner, Merge collection, 2021
Merge by Pak was the most expensive NFT sold in 2021. For a total value of $91.8 million dollars, Pak distributed the NFT across 266,445 units bought by 28,000 buyers on platform Nifty Gateway.
04. Finestrares (Jason Rosenstein), Salvadore Pepe - Series 13- Rarepepe, 2017
Rosenstein’s Rare Pepe collection consists of 20 works valued at $20-40 million. Salvadorpepe-Series 13, a homage to surrealist art, was part of Art Net’s first official NFT auction, Art NFT: The Beginnings, in 2021. It’s also the first NFT featured in a modern art museum.
05. Beeple, Everydays, The First 5,000 Days, 2007-2021
The NFT that changed it all, Beeple’s Everydays, The First 5,000 Days was the first NFT sold by a major auction house. Beeple, also known as Mike Winkelman, made the unique digital collage by combining 5,000 pictures which he created and posted, day-by-day, since 2007.