and then?

All those months ago I took the steps to set up the accounts and figure out what I needed to do just to have the NFT structure in place. Obviously the next step was to offer some artwork and promote it. I did one of those things.

GO,SET,READY by Ed Beals 2016

So why didn’t I promote my work?

By the time I had everything in place, I was already becoming convinced that the NFT space was far too volatile and very few people seemed to be interested in the aspects that made me curious in the first place. All I could see (or all the Twitter gods would show me) was a commodity speculation market investing large sums of money on material that was hard for me to appreciate artisticly, vs many talented, excited, and earnest artists trying hard to be seen and being supportive of each other. Oil and water.

There are a lot of other issues surrounding cryptocurrency and blockchain that are far beyond the scope of my little blog post. Some NFT devotes get all worked up and cranky when you raise these issues and I’m not here to debate anyone.

So I decided to take my favourite action: do nothing. I would just watch for awhile and see how things would progress.

I lurked on Instagram, Twitter and Reddit, following the progress of a handful of artists to whom I could personally relate, watching from afar as they poured their energy into their NFT endeavours and community building. I think they were all producing excellent artwork and trying hard to get things going on OpenSea, Rariable, HEN, and various other marketplaces. I’m no marketing expert and so I can’t comment on whether they were doing “the right things”.

At the time of writing this, to the best of my knowledge, none of this group have ever made any money on these platforms. Of course money is not, and certainly should not be, the only measure of their success here. I believe all of these artists were finding pleasure in the community aspect at the very least. There was even NFT trading going on (I’m not even sure how that worked). There seems to be lots of artist-to-artist encouragement and support to going around.

I’m sure that for at least some of these artists, earning money for their efforts would have been a real boost, not only in their financial situation, but in their sense of doing worthwhile work. A couple of them appear to have given up on their NFT projects, or maybe they are busy with other projects or have moved onto other platforms that I don’t even know about. Most are still trying, but my over-all impression is that within this group there is a noticible drop in enthusiasm, at least as measured by the amount of posts and active promotion they are doing.

The last post I can find from one of them was on Instagram nearly three months ago in which she promised that there would be “big news” about her new NFT drop at the end of the week. The news never came and there have been no further NFT updates on her IG feed.

For some reason I don’t understand, one artist tweeted how grateful they were for a “life changing” NFT sale. After a long string of congratulatory messages, they replied that they were “just kidding.” I still don’t get it.

OK, so those are just anecdotes from me watching a few people on-line and can’t be taken as representative of anything broader. But at any rate, it contributed to my feeling that this was the wrong venue for these people (and myself) to put their efforts. It’s not a reflection on the quality of their work at all.

And right here is where I started really getting worked up and poured out alI my long, rambling thoughts and opinions to clarify and justify my current position. And believe me, I had some strong words, hot takes, and hilarious self-deprecating jokes! I got it all out and onto the page. Then I deleted it. Hooray! Editing rules!

Here’s how my many paragraphs of deleted ramblings can be summed up:

I just don’t believe that the NFT marketplace, at least in its current popular form, is a good place for independent, idealistic, and naive visual artists like myself.

Oh! Do you hear that? It’s the moarnful cries and wailing of investors with money to hurl at me if only I would give them commodities to buy! Well, as much as it pains me to see so many suffer because of my decision, it must be so.

Most of the time I don’t know what to do with my own artwork, never mind what anyone else should do. Like the vast majority of people who produce independant artwork, I don’t really make any money for it. I sell a few sculptrual pieces here and there, and I do design work on more of a volunteer basis for organizations that don’t really have much money to spend. My current situation as a stay-at-home father and sometimes home school teacher (thanks, COVID-19) does not require that I hustle to sell my art, and I feel the inertia that comes from that. It’s strange how it is possible to remove virtually all the barriers between you and your art only to find that the motivation is somehow diminished.

WARNING: the following paragraph can induce severe eye-rolling in some readers. Reader discretion is advised.

Recently I had cause to take a moment and ask myself a few questions, and thinking about the answers did bring a bit of clarity for me (this might be a topic for a future post).

What is your artwork and what do you want it to do? Why did you make it in the first place? How do you decide if a piece of your own artwork is successful or a failure? Another question, one that turns out to be especially import for me is where do you want your artwork to be?

When I answer these questions of myself, I don’t arrive at NFT’s.

My First 5 NFTs

The Short Story: I edited, adapted, and polished up some of my pixel art Jelly Bean images, that I have rebranded as PixlBeans. You can view them right now on my OpenSea.io profile page. Here’s that link again in case you missed it: https://opensea.io/accounts/ed. And again just to be safe: PixlBeans! Link, link, linky link! Look mom, I’m promotin’!

The painfully long story

NOTE: This is not a how-to-guide! This is just the story of my experience so far. I am not an expert, as you will see!

So I’m always late to the party. By the time I find out about anything new, it’s already old and all the cool kids have moved on. So when I heard about NFTs for the first time I just assumed whatever they are, it’s over.

A bit of research got me thinking it was not over, but just in the throws of a massive and most likely unsustainable period of rapid expansion. In keeping with my “buy high, sell low” approach to everything, I figured this was the time to jump in!

This is all I knew at first: The idea of NFTs (non fungible tokens) is that by using the power of Blockchain a person can own digital art in an exclusive way. If I sell you an original painting on canvas you are the exclusive owner of the piece until you sell, trade, or give it away. But how do you claim exclusive ownership of a digital file? Anyone with access to it can copy it. So by making digital art an NFT, you have a built in proof of unique ownership that a normal copy of the file would not have. Does that matter? Well, for now it certainly seems to. Because a digital file can be designated as unique, not only is its sale recorded, but so are any future resales, with a commission going back to its creator. But remember, I don’t know what I am talking about! So here’s another LINK!

So how do I turn a digital image into an NFT?

Find a place to show and sell your work. To get things started I searched “where do you sell NFT art?” One of the biggest platforms for buying and selling NFT’s is OpenSea.io. So I clicked on over and set up an account.

I also looked at Rarible and SuperRare. I did not get around to looking at ExtraMegaWoweeRare. There are pros and cons for each platform and I don’t claim to know which is best. I recommend investigating them more than I did.

Where did I leave my wallet? Very early in the process of setting up an account with OpenSea I learned that I would need an Etherium Wallet to do anything. Very handily, there were some Etherium Wallets being recommended right on the set up page. I looked into a few of the wallets they suggested and chose one called Fortmatic. I have no idea if I made the best choice, but it’s the choice I made. After more clickity-click-click I had a Fortmatic Etherium wallet of my very own. And boy, was it empty!

Connect that wallet. An OpenSea profile page is, effectively, a window into what is in your wallet. OpenSea has to be connected to your wallet. The wallet is a string of 42 characters. After a bit more wear and tear on the ol’ mouse, my Fortmatic wallet was connected to my OpenSea account.

Put something in your wallet. Now I should be able to put things into my wallet, like original digital art. Hey, I have a bunch of that stuff! OpenSea makes putting things into my wallet pretty straightforward. I just had to log into OpenSea (which is in reality logging into my Fortmatic wallet). Then I selected some of my PixlBeans images and uploaded them. Boom. Easy, peasy, lemon soda!

I’ve got gas! There is this thing called gas. Gas is essentially the price you pay to get things done in the blockchain. As I understand it, there is this creepy mine deep underground in Moria. This mine is full of Orcs who toil away day and night so all this crypto-money-contracts-NFT-blockchain business can happen. Orcs don’t work for free. They need that sweet gas.

OpenSea says they allow sellers to list NFTs without having to pay for gas. I likes the sound of that! However (here it comes) you do have to pay for some gas to get things started. Raw, impure data has to be mined and forged into a pure, shiny, golden contract. Again, this is all Orc work and they must be paid! Ok, so give them some gas already. Here, take my credit card! Not so fast, Warren Buffett! You can’t just hand your cash over to Orcs. They need to be paid in Cryptocurrency.

Over the Moon. So next I looked up where to buy Cryptocurrency, specifically Ether, as all this NTF stuff on OpenSea is mostly done on the Etherium system. I landed on a company called Moonpay. Using Moonpay I was able to order some Ether and pay for it with my credit card. Moonpay put the either in my wallet (or maybe I had to transfer it, I can’t remember now).

I bought a small amount of Either. In retrospect this was a poor decision. I should have bought more to better offset the transaction fee. I think the fee was something like twelve dollars, and the minimum amount you could spend was thirty dollars. A twelve dollar fee on a thirty dollar purchase does not sound like a good deal to me, so I bought more than that. But really, I should have bought more than I did.

The reason I didn’t buy more was based on what I had been reading up to that point, specifically that the cost for gas was no more than a few dollars. It turns out that the things I was reading were a bit dated. The NFT world was blowing up and gas prices were climbing and fast. I should have been reading user discussions on Discord and Reddit for a better sense of what was happening right now, not a month or two ago. I was in for a bit of a shock. NOTE: I’m writing this on Thursday, March 11, 2021. This could all be seriously out of date by Friday, March 12, 2021.

Good luck, Sucker! Armed with my wallet, my shiny new ETH, and my Newbie cluelessness, I jumped onto OpenSea and selected the my first PixlBean to get the NFT treatment. I clicked on sell, set a starting and ending price and an closing date and then clicked to proceed (you can just set a fixed price if you want, or do an “English Auction”. I was setting up a “Dutch Auction”, but now I’m not so confident that was the best way to go. More on that in later posts).

After a few seconds of pretty spinning icons so you know something is happening, I was presented with a breakdown of what the gas fees would be for this first transaction. I was expecting a couple of bucks but it said it was about $46 CAD. Yikes! My first thought was that I had made a mistake at some point, so I cancelled the transaction and went back a few steps and tried again. The second time the price was even higher! This was when I realized just how volatile the whole NFT thing is right now.

I need more data! I held off listing my NFT for about a week. During that time I kept logging onto OpenSea at various times of day and going through the motions of listing an item for sale just to see what was happening with the gas price ( I know now that there are easier ways to track gas prices though various apps and web sites). I watched the prices go up to more than $170 and back down to around $50, but I never saw that low of $46 again, gol durn it!

I’ve since learned that there are systems that allow you to state what you want to pay for gas, and then, if it can be done for that price at some later time, it will be. You could wait hours or days. If your offer is too low it will be rejected and you will have to try again. The high prices I was seeing were the “I want it now” price. In my time zone (Atlantic Standard Time), the lowest prices seemed to be between 12:00am and 6:30am. But the low prices were continuing to creep up and up. I realized that I was either going to have to wait for everything to calm down (maybe never?) or I was going to need more Either in my wallet.

Frustration setting in. Now here is where things got weird for me.

Remember how I bought some ETH through Moonpay? That worked for me the first time so I just went back there to buy a bit more (see? I told you I should have bought more the first time!) But this time when I clicked to buy, I was informed that “the order could not be processed”, but no reason was given. Did I enter something wrong? Was it just a time out due to network traffic? I tried again and it failed again. I checked my online banking to make sure I hadn’t somehow missed a credit card payment, but everything was fine there.

Peak Frustraton. I tried Moonpay a few more times over the next couple of days but it never worked again. I was about to call my bank to see if they had flagged my activity as suspicious. It was, after all, a new behaviour for me and perhaps some algorithm was not having it.

On a hunch, before I called the bank (I hate calling the bank), I searched Google for “credit card companies blocking cryptocurrency purchases” and BINGO! It turns out my specific credit card company was indeed automatically blocking the purchase of cryptocurrency, at least in Canada anyway. What’s more, other credit card companies are charging higher fees to customers buying crypto, and considering the purchases as cash advances. Oh that’s nasty! So it’s actually rather weird that my first Moonpay transaction worked. Maybe it only worked because I’d spent so little money?

This was when I reached maximum frustration and was ready to call it quits. But my wife talked me down and she thought I should keep trying. She found a post saying that a compnay called CoinBerry was a good way to go for Canadians trying to buy crypto.

Peak Paranoia. CoinBerry has much stricter procedures to try to prevent fraud and money laundering. To get set up you need to do much more to prove your identify. I set up yet another account and jumped through all their hoops to prove my identity. It was a somewhat frighteningly thorough process. I sure hope it’s all to discourage criminals, because I just handed over everything a villain would need to steal my identity but good! The stress!

Ok, calm down. Take a deep breath. We made it this far.

I was able to buy more Either on CoinBerry but not with my credit card. Instead I had to make a direct Interac e-transfer from my account to theirs. So like an ever obedient drone, I did as I was told.

CoinBerry sent me a message that my new ETH was in my account after about 12 hours or so, and I think I then had to wait another 12 hours before I could do anything with it as another fraud protection measure.

CoinBerry is not a wallet. It’s a platform for buying and selling cryptocurrency. I could have left it there and waited for the price of ETH to go up and then try to sell it. But that’s not my game. I needed to transfer that ETH to my Fortmatic wallet. The transfer was not complicated, but, of course there is a fee for the transfer. Yeah fees! Fortunately during the 24 hours I waited, the value of my ETH went up enough to absorbed the fee I was about it pay. Woo-hoo.. I guess? Whatever, none of it feels real anyway.

Back on track. And now, at long last, I had enough ETH in my wallet to cover the cost of gas to mint my first NFT on OpenSea (now that is a sentence that would have held no meaning at all to me just two weeks ago).

But just because I was set to go, didn’t mean I should. The gas prices were higher than ever, so it was back to waiting and watching again.

Push the Button, Max! Finally, after another day or two, I went for it. I’m pretty sure the gas price I paid was still a ridiculous amount, but at least it was half as ridiculous as some of the prices I’ve seen lately.

My first NFT was finally minted. I mean, I guess it was. It all seemed to work and it says it is for sale. It was all quite anti-climatic after such a long a frustrating process. I guess I wanted some digital confetti to fall on my screen or something.

Having made and paid for that first transaction I could now list more PixlBeans without any more upfront gas fees, so I did. I listed my first five (note that for some users there will be a second fee for gas, which I think happens if your NFTs are being put on OpenSea from some other place like Rarible. Please let me know if I have this wrong).

So now I have some NFT’s, but who cares? Well, no one cares. PixlBeans are not going to show up in the lists of available NFTs on OpenSea because my account has not been “verified” (getting verified is a whole other deal that I will write about in future posts as I go through that process). The only way anyone will find out about PixlBeans is if I promote them and try to generate some interest in them myself. If you are famous and have a legions of adoring fans you will have no trouble with this part. Just send out a tweet to your said legions and you are good to go! I’mm looking at you, Grimes!

I don’t have legions of adoring fans. I don’t even have a small group of adoring fans. What I have is more like a micro-following of mildly supportive well-wishers. I’m looking at you, Rev Hank!

So if anything is going to happen with my PixlBeans I’ll have to make it happen. So for my efforts so far, I would say my chances of actually selling an NFT have gone from 0% to approximately 3%.

Good Golly, Miss Molly, that was a long post.

More logging than a Nova Scotia Clear Cutter! One last thing. Each time I logged into OpenSea, CoinBerry, or directly into my Fortmatic wallet, I had to jump through the two factor authentication hoop. I had to enter my username and password, then they would send me a text or an email with a six-digit code that I had to enter to finally get into my accounts. This process can be made a bit easier (and more secure I guess?) with a 2FA (two-factor authenticator) app. Like a good little sheeple I download the Google Authenticator to my phone. Ask your doctor if 2FA apps are right for you!

Please comment if you think I have misunderstood something that has you all worked up or you have some relevant advice for newbies. I can’t answer all your questions, nor should I. My knowledge is clearly and I am learning as I go. I going to make mistakes and I don’t want to drag you down with me.

-ed

Like Beans, But Pixelier!

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Pixel art images of things shaped like beans!

I made my first pixel art Jelly Beans way back in 2006 for an art show at Argyle Fine Art called “Sweet Tooth”. At that time I had created these Jelly Beans as an exercise to practice pixel art. The were presented as prints at the show, but I should have made the prints much larger. The local audience at that time was highly skeptical about digital art in general, and there was a lot of misunderstanding about what pixel art was and how it was made.

PixlBeans: Asteroid

I’ve always believed these little beans deserved a second chance and now the public seems much more accepting of many forms of Digital Art.

The idea of NFT’s has me very curious and I am going through the steps to make some available, but I am taking my time, trying to figure out the best way to proceed. I have created an account on OpenSea.io, but I am not convinced yet if this will be the best place for this project, so currently I have nothing for sale there, just a small collection of PixlBeans you can look at.

I’ve also been looking at Rarible, and another site called SuperRare. SuperRare seems to have a far stronger focus on the quality of the art work. Some of my more ambitious pieces might be better suited that platform should I have the opportunity to join. Currently access there is limited.

So for now NFT’s are still a bit of a mystery to me. I can see the utility, for sure, but at the moment it’s unclear to me how it will all shake out. It looks like there is a bubble of financial speculation going on.

My first NFT?

I am an absolute beginner in the world of NFT’s but I am quite curious about their potential. I’m going through the steps of NFT creation, but it seems the more I learn the more questions I have. Stay tuned!