‘NFT’ stands for ‘Non-Fungible Token’– or in layman’s terms – a unique, one of a kind ‘digital asset’. These exist in the form of a unique string of digits that link back to an owner, a type of digital certificate of authenticity. These can be bought and traded on the Ethereum cryptocurrency blockchain, via platforms such as Foundation, Rarible, OpenSea, SuperRare, Makersplace and Zora.
NFTs exist in a number of different formats – artwork, animations, photographs, music, game assets, collectible cards, digital 3D objects – the list goes on.
Some may ask what the difference is between owning an NFT, as opposed to saving a digital file to their device.
Although the latter would suggest possession of the file, when buying an NFT you are paying for a ‘digital certificate of authenticity’, making you the legitimate owner of the asset.
It might seem bizarre to some, but we can think of this as being similar to in-app purchases in phone or console games. However, instead of a one-time purchase of a digital asset, NFTs can be collected and traded for profit whilst allowing you to invest directly into independent artists.
As an artist, a concern may be that selling your work as an NFT would involve surrendering the rights to the art itself. Fortunately, this isn’t the case. In fact, the artist retains all creative rights, only transferring the right to sell or trade ownership of the artwork, with a pre-agreed commission percentage on each resell thereafter.
Beeple – ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days'
If you’ve come across NFTs before you might be familiar with the digital artist Beeple aka Mike Winkelmann, most notably known for his recent $69m (£50m) sale of 'Everydays: The First 5000 Days', being the first piece of digital art sold at Christie’s. This marks the third highest price ever paid for the work of a living artist at auction, a groundbreaking moment for the new generation of digital art. This piece is a collage consisting of images he created every day, over the course of thirteen and a half years.
Lisa Odette – Dahlia
Lisa Odette is a 3D artist, illustrator and animator based in Madrid. She describes herself as a “3D artist who loves to explore the female essence through shapes and colors.” Working with stylized forms and a clever use of cloth simulation, her elegant 3D characters paired with vibrant colour palettes have proved a hit in the NFT world.
Mark The Habibi – Habibi Workshop
Mark The Habibi is known for his series of loveable hand-sculpted looking characters – Habibi’s. Growing up in a culturally Egyptian, Arabic speaking household, Mark explains that his work is a personal expression of his upbringing. The word Habibi translates to, my dearest, my love – but as he explains “we have lots of words that encompass these things in English, but Habibi just does everything. So I wanted to create a collection that was… my interpretation”. On his website, Mark touches on the cultural intimacy of the term, of which the essence can only truly be understood by those who share the culture. This NFT series is his take on conveying that idea.
In addition, Mark creates narratives between artworks within the Habibi universe by rewarding a collector with a unique ‘couples’ version, consequently rarer than a 1 of 1. This happens when uniting two Habibis, the idea being to connect people together.
Lirona – Boiz/Gurlz
Lirona is the New York & Los Angeles based artist who has taken the NFT world by storm with her highly sought after boiz and gurlz collectibles. Abstract portraiture mixed with hyper-real textures give an almost mouthwatering effect, no surprise that these pieces have been catching the eyes of some of the worlds most renowned NFT collectors.
Hailing from Istanbul, Turkey, voxel artist Mari K is known for her mesmerizing isometric dioramas. The intricate details within Mari’s pieces have the ability to keep you examining the environment for hours, discovering new nooks and crannies with each viewing. She dedicates many of her pieces to cities – real and imaginary. Below is a depiction of ‘Diomira’, an imaginary place from the novel Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino.
CryptoKitties by Dapper Labs are collectible cats that can be bought and traded on the Ethereum blockchain. The concept allows owners to breed their collection to create original cats with new features, based on the traits of the precursors, each cat acting as it’s own NFT. In September 2018, Dragon, a cotton candy pink CryptoKittie, sold for a staggering $172,000 (£124,000). Although it has gradually slowed down in popularity in recent years, CryptoKitties had hit its peak in 2018 and was the driving force behind Ethereum transactions.
First launched in 2017 and developed by an American Game Studio, Larva Labs, CryptoPunks were innovators in the NFT sector. Each ‘Punk’ consists of a 24x24 pixel headshot image, algorithmically generated to feature an array of distinctive characteristics. The rarer those features, the more desirable the Punk. Only 10,000 unique Punks will ever exist, all of which have been generated and sold already. Trading punks now takes place on the Larva Labs site over at Punks for Sale or on NFT marketplace ‘OpenSea’. In March 2021, Punk #7804 sold for a eye watering $7.5m (£5.4), making it the most expensive NFT ever sold, only to be knocked off the top spot the very next day by Beeple’s ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days’ $69m (£50m) sale.
Axie Infinity is a collectible card trading and turn-based battle game hosted on the Ethereum blockchain. Similarly to how CryptoKitties works, Axies act as NFTs that can be bought, traded and bred to create new ones. The difference here is that you can fight against other users to win credits in-game, which can then be traded for real world currency through Ethereum. Despite still being in early access, Axie Infinity is currently sitting at the #1 spot for Ethereum games, generating over 6,400 ETH in revenue so far (£9.2m) as of December 2020.
NBA Top Shot
In 2021, following their success with CryptoKitties, Canadian based studio Dapper Labs secured a $305 million investment and a contract with the NBA to create a virtual card trading site. NBA Top Shots allow fans to collect, trade and sell video highlights from real NBA basketball games.
What does this mean for artists?
The rising popularity behind NFTs is allowing independent artists to be paid for their work, more than ever before. In the age of COVID, with galleries, venues and exhibitions shut, artists have had to find alternative ways to display and sell their work. NFTs provide a way to do just that – with the added benefit of creating and trading within this growing digital era, as well as the exposure to a new community of people around the world.
It's important to note that blockchain technology requires energy to operate, meaning NFT's have a carbon footprint.
Find out more from Justine Calma, science reporter at The Verge on YouTube
Read about Tezos' Clean NFTs on medium.com