Nice Shoes’ Ninaad Kulkarni tells LBB’s Laura Swinton about his experience minting digital art and the broader implications for the creative industries
It’s been hard to move for news about NFTs – or non-fungible tokens – in recent weeks. At the beginning of March, the artist Beeple sold their collage ‘Everydays – The First 5000 Days’ sold at auction for a record $69.3m and ever since there’s been a digital gold rush.
But all it is rather old news for Ninaad Kulkarni. In his day job, he’s creative director of XR at Nice Shoes, but as an artist he’s been exploring the potential of NFTs for some years now – and has even bagged a few sales for his 3D moving artworks.
His curiosity was piqued in 2015 when he was pursuing an MFA in Computer Art at the School of Visual Arts. He jokingly laughs that he was first turned on by the prospect of ‘making money’, but in truth it was a combination of a fascination with blockchain and a growing frustration with the plagiarism artists suffer in the digital world. “In the world of digitization I think most artists have experienced some amount of plagiarism, forgery, or outright theft of their artwork without seeing any compensation,” he says. “NFT is one way to truly secure ownership and credit over your original artwork. Once your art is ‘minted’ it becomes a part of one the most secure ledgers. There is no disputing ownership as it permanently sits on record.”
More recently, that interest and curiosity turned practical as Ninaad was invited to join the creator community on the platform foundation.app
and started the journey of minting his first NFT. ”Over the years I have created so many digital art pieces but it was important to first understand the marketplace, align with the trend and then determine what the community would respond to the most. My first NFT was an exploration I did in Unreal Engine called Earthling
. Earthling carries the essence of planet earth and I can see it acting as a reminder for future humans who travel to other planets, enabling them to carry this wonderful memory of where they came from.”
Ninaad has already sold three pieces of work. Of seeing people clamour for his art, he says it’s ‘a very humbling experience to receive love for my work’. With the first piece, he saw buyers enter into a bidding war in the first 24 hours – and Earthling was ultimately bought by an anonymous collector.
“I am excited to see what they do with it. I am hoping it keeps re-selling in the marketplace. That's the benefit as an artist: I never have to be worried about losing my creator rights on my artwork and every subsequent resale will reward me with a 10% commission. An artist has full control over the life of their digital artwork as well as their compensation,” says Ninaad.
Ninaad describes the current hype for NFTs as a ‘renaissance’ and a ‘big bang moment’ – he believes that they provide a solution and a control that digital artists have been craving for some time. “For many years artists, digital creators from various disciplines have been creating original creative expressions in various forms of digital art on social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and other showcasing platforms such as Behance and Artstation. These artists worked tirelessly to build followers to get their art recognized by as many people as possible, but the ultimate reward for all that work was social media interactions that are subject to the manipulation of platform algorithms. In short, they were often put in a position where they’d have to pay social platforms to advertise for further growth, instead of profit from their art and hard work marketing themselves.”
“Then this new tech renaissance of NFTs became accessible where artists get true value for their efforts. It really isn’t surprising that this has taken off the way it has for artists,” he says.
Beyond the thrill, there are several useful applications. As an artist in the digital realm, NFTs help to ensure that one’s work is perceived as being as unique as an oil painting – which has philosophical and commercial implications. “The idea of an object or an asset being unique is what drives demand around it. A painting made by an artist expressing themselves using oils on a canvas remains a unique object and cannot be recreated. NFT tokens are unique, and when attached to digital art help to make that artwork as unique as its physical counterpart. The recreation of the token is impossible,” says Ninaad.
“As I mentioned earlier, it has always been difficult for artists to prove ownership or credit digitally. Art has been copied by meme accounts that bring in ad dollars without paying or crediting the creators. Some larger companies have been called out for copying or not crediting artists as well. Providing artists with a way to take more control over how their artwork lives online is filling a huge need, while also giving collectors an opportunity to own something unique.”
However, NFTs are not all about l’art pour l’art. Potentially the technology ‘narrows the gap between the digital and tangible’. For example in the world of gaming, they could turn rewards, trophies and unique skins into items with real world value – and in the world of XR, where Ninaad plays, there’s a growing interest in augmented reality fashion. NFTs could give those digital outfits a real designer price tag.
Closer to home, in the world of production and commercial creativity, Ninaad theorises that there may even be uses for NFTs when it comes to managing assets and tracking licenses. “It could be. There’s metadata in files that helps with tracking and copyright protection, but it could make things easier for usage of content across multiple companies or artists - people and companies run into a lot of usage issues due to a myriad of reasons, and adding NFTs to license out content for promotion could be a huge aid,” he muses.
It's not all beautiful art and sexy futurism, though. NFTs have been singled out for being voracious energy-sinks with enormous carbon footprints. That’s something Ninaad is sensitive to, particularly at a time when the production community is trying to reduce its environmental impact and devise more sustainable practices. “Yes, this is one of the biggest drawbacks of blockchain technology at this early stage. The carbon footprint being left behind is significant and the energy consumption it takes to validate a transaction on blockchain is taxing,” he says, though he’s hopeful that things will change.
“That said, a lot of innovation continues to happen in this space and blockchain researchers are building new efficient ways of validating transactions on the blockchain. Miners are also moving towards renewable, sustainable forms of energy to support their mining rigs. I am optimistic that in the near future we will see a better balance between the two.”
As someone straddling the fence between artist and technologist, witnessing the flurry of excitement and, indeed, being a part of it has given him a dual appreciation. “From the perspective of an artist it is an exciting and wonderful opportunity to be part of this wave, reap rewards for years of hard work and get the first mover's advantage. From a technologist's perspective this is still extremely new and while everyone is jumping into it, there is an understanding that a lot of development needs to happen. This is the very beginning. Finally from a crypto investors perspective, it just reaffirms the value of investment and the future of the growing crypto decentralized economy,” he says.
For artists who may be a little less tech savvy, Ninaad says that the process of minting an NFT is less painful than you might imagine (check out the end of this piece for some helpful tips).
And while Ninaad is sure that this initial bubble is likely to settle down once the multi-million dollar headlines disappear, he is certain that there’s a longer road ahead for creators and NFTS. “The excitement around NFTs is certainly huge, especially given the amount of money changing hands, but just like any new trend it will eventually settle down. That being said, we’re at the very beginning of what is possible,” he says.
“Artists can design unique online experiences, interactive applications, websites and much more for their collectors. Decentralization of the art world fully empowers artists to get rewarded for their contributions, while unlocking endless possibilities for how they share their unique points of view.”
NFTs: Ninaad’s Fine Tips for minting your digital art.
I understand why a lot of people might get intimidated while trying to make their first NFT, there is a lot of new lingo that comes along with the process. But given the boom and speedy expansion we are witnessing, there is a lot of hard work being put in by platforms such as foundation.app and Rarible who are constantly working with the art community to improve and streamline the process of getting started.
Here are the absolutely basic steps to begin.
- Create a digital wallet to securely store your crypto currency. One example of a digital wallet is MetaMask.
- On most platforms you will need to invest a small amount of crypto currency into something called gas fee. (Gas fee is the computing energy required to process and validate transactions on the blockchain. This can fluctuate based on the time of day and traffic.)
- Create a Creators account on any NFT auctioning platforms such as Superrare, Nifty-Gateway, Rarible etc. (Note some these platforms require you to be invited or submit an artists portfolio before you are accepted on the platform)
- Once your account is ready you can start uploading your artwork on your creators board and choose which art you would like to mint (make part of the blockchain) and list (offer a reserve price and open your artwork for public bidding) For each step you will need to incur a small gas fee.
There you go, you have successfully minted your first NFT!
Where things get really interesting is you can choose to add a condition, digital contract or a hidden access link to each artwork you mint. For example, my second NFT was a clip from my short film called KCLOC which was showcased at MoMA, NYC in 2018 and hidden behind that NFT was a private 4K link to watch the entire film.