Sonoma County artists and businesses enter NFT world of digital art
Kenwood painter Lisa Ledson snaps an image of her black-and-white abstract painting hanging on a wall inside St. Helena’s Christopher Hill Gallery.
She hits her iPhone’s Photoshop application icon and changes the image’s saturation and colors before using another app to shift its resolution.
The end result: An image that art lovers and investors are collecting much in the same way sports fans would collect baseball cards.
The artist is getting ready to turn her painting into an NFT, or non-fungible token, an irreplaceable digital file that’s stored online and can be sold and traded for thousands of dollars in cryptocurrency. The “non-fungible” part means they’re unique and not interchangeable.
NFTs have been around for eight years but didn’t become prevalent in Sonoma County until last year.
NFTs date back to 2014 when Brooklyn artist Kevin McCoy designed the first-known NFT called “Quantum” — a pixelated image of an octagon that hypnotically pulsates in fluorescent hues. Today, it’s worth over $1.4 million.
Yes, $1.4 million. But artists don’t get all that money. They receive royalties instead, a percentage of sales whenever their NFT is resold to a new owner. The average royalty is between 5% and 10%.
“The NFT space gives artists control. They aren’t at the mercy of these galleries who sometimes take a percentage out of what they pay artists,” said Paul Wedlake, a San Carlos crypto NFT consultant. “These artists can earn royalties forever.”
Some say the release of NFTs could potentially compare to the magnitude of when dot-com domain names were first released in 1985 or when social media became popular in the early 2000s.
“It’s an emerging market, so you’re going to see a lot of craziness and a lot of speculative buying right now. Give it a few years, it’ll start to settle down,” said Steven Cuellar, an economics professor at Sonoma State University.
Before I move on, you should know this: NFTs are digital files stored in a blockchain, essentially a digital filing cabinet where receipts and transaction records are stored.
Leveling playing field
Ledson’s original painting displayed in St. Helena’s Christopher Hill Gallery is now listed for over $20,000 on OpenSea, the largest platform for buying, selling and trading NFTs. Ledson shares the listing with her 5,000 art collectors and followers on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook hoping someone will decide to buy it.
The artist has sold seven NFTs so far, and in the future she’s thinking of including an NFT with every purchase of one of her paintings.
Through this process artists are receiving more money for their work than they would if they simply sold them on their websites.
Mike Winkelmann, the digital artist better known as Beeple, sold his NFT, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” at an auction for more than $69 million in March 2021.
The piece is the third-most expensive NFT ever sold by a living artist.
In October 2021, Ledson released 15 NFTs in her first collection — abstract paintings from the past five years. On Oct. 8, Ledson sold her first NFT, “Golden Wave No. 1,” a vibrant yellow and blue abstract painting for nearly $1,900.
She sold the physical painting for $1,000 to a longtime admirer of her work, Ledson said.
“We’ve never empowered artists like this,” Ledson said. “Now, we can hold up artists in our society. We’re leveling the playing field and allowing people to be involved no matter who they are. You don’t need an MFA, you don’t need to go through galleries — you can be anyone.”
“What does the world look like when we are empowering creatives?” Ledson added. “What does our culture look like when creatives are empowered financially?”
NFT fomo (fear of missing out)
When a close friend, an art curator from Los Angeles, reached out to local artist Ricky Watts in March 2021 about an NFT opportunity, he couldn’t resist. His friend asked him to provide an art piece to go with San Francisco music producer Mike Relm’s 15-second music beat.
The NFT, a 12-second video, features Watts’ abstract art piece — an animated psychedelic styled sunset called “Flat Earth Sunset.” The sunset moves as a music beat plays in the background.
It sold for nearly $2,500 in March 2021. Now, that 12-second video is worth over $5,000.
Watts, who has 32,000 followers on Instagram, has since released 19 NFTs of original abstract art featuring vibrant fluid shapes and psychedelic color patterns.
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