The most frequent question we are asked at Artnome is, “How can I get my artwork on to the blockchain?” Finally, with the development of what I am calling blockchain art 3.0, we are seeing the new tools that enable artists to tokenize their own art and sell it on their own marketplace.
In this article I am going to show you how I set up a blockchain-based marketplace in less than an hour without coding. But before we dive into a tutorial on how to use these new applications and speak with the teams behind them, we first look at the evolution that led up to this point.
If you are eager to just learn about the new applications, you can skip the history and go to the part that describes these new offerings and how you can use them to create your own tokenized artwork on both the Bitcoin and Ethereum blockchains.
How We Got To Blockchain Art 3.0
Before we jump in to blockchain art 3.0, let’s take a look at the evolution of blockchain art that got us to where we are today. While people have been making art “about” the blockchain since its inception, I consider blockchain art 1.0 the period where folks first started exploring “digital scarcity” and gave birth to the idea of selling art on the blockchain.
A big problem with producing and selling digital art is how easily it can be duplicated and pirated. Popular opinion is that once something is copied and replicated for free, the value drops and the prospect of a market disappears. Most collectors feel that for art to have value, it needs to have measurable and provable scarcity.
Blockchain helps solve this for digital artists by introducing the idea of "digital scarcity": issuing a limited number of copies of an artwork, each associated with a unique token issued on the blockchain. This provable scarcity is the same concept that enables tokens like Bitcoin and Ethereum to function as currency.
Blockchain art 1.0 was the Wild West, as there was no real blueprint yet for artists and technologists to work from. Though often overlooked by the mainstream media, there is no question for me that blockchain art 1.0 started with Joe Looney’s Rare Pepe Wallet. You can read my in-depth description of Rare Pepe Wallet in this earlier post, but for now all you need to know is that Rare Pepe Wallet pioneered the possibilities of buying, selling, trading, editioning, gifting, and destroying digital artworks on the blockchain. Joe and the Rare Pepe community not only conceived of the first such market, they were to first to prove it could work at scale, selling over $1.2 million worth of digital art.
On the immediate heels of the success of Rare Pepe Wallet, we saw the development of several other experimental projects, each trying new things. Crypto Punks, Dada.NYC, and CurioCards were all very different from each other (and from Rare Pepe Wallet), as no real template for how art on the blockchain should work had fully been established. It is noteworthy that all of these blockchain 1.0 solutions were driven by the “decentralized” ethos, developed more as creative communities than by a real business model for making money. For me, this is the Golden Age of blockchain art - the era that attracted the OGs, the weirdos (said lovingly), and the truly creative mavericks in the space who were motivated more by creative experimentation than any obvious financial benefit.
Blockchain art 2.0 started after CryptoKitties exploded and people saw that there was actually an opportunity to make money with digital art on the blockchain. A half dozen or so blockchain art marketplace startups launched with fairly similar functionality to one another. They were almost all based on Ethereum, featured slick professional interfaces, and streamlined the tokenization of art.
These 2.0 marketplaces were run more like businesses than the experimental grassroots community projects from the blockchain 1.0 days. They often have investors, legal advisors, advertising budgets, and corporate titles within their organizations. However, it seems to be the ones that are capable of building communities and providing a collector base to lesser known artists through unified marketing that are the most successful. Blockchain 2.0 offerings include SuperRare, KnownOrigin, Portion, RareArtLabs, and DigitalObjects. In blockchain 2.0, the offerings were similar enough on the surface that it was really the artists these startups were able to attract that separated them from one another more so than the tech.
There were several approaches to recruiting artists. The most successful seemed to be dropping gallery commissions for primary sales and adding a commission for artists on the secondary market (SuperRare), and consistent grassroots recruiting (Known Origin). Recruiting collectors, on the other hand, has proven a bit more difficult, as the launch of these blockchain art 2.0 offerings has coincided with the decline of the cryptocurrency markets. Most people have either temporarily jumped out of the cyptocurrency market to stop the bleeding or they are holding on, waiting for the market to recover before spending their currency.
That said, there are certainly more than a handful of highly dedicated cryptoart collectors, and the artists themselves have formed a tight community and frequently collect each other’s work. This is not unlike the behavior we have seen between artists in movements of the past, where bartering and trading artworks was common among them.
Launching a Blockchain Art Marketplace
Throughout the development of blockchain art 1.0 and 2.0, many artists have wanted to tokenize their own work and offer it on a blockchain market where they can control the look, messaging, and user experience. This makes sense, as artists work hard to brand their own image, and the promise of the blockchain was supposed to be that they could sell their own work without having a middleman or intermediary.
Until now I pointed artists to a half dozen marketplaces where the artist had no control over how their work was displayed and which artists their work was displayed next to. While some were fine with this and embraced the experiment, the lack of artistic control was a deal breaker for many other artists who cared greatly about the context in which their work was shown. As an example, if an artist is producing what they consider to be serious generative artworks, they may not want their work sandwiched randomly between floral still lifes and a thousand digital images of Bitcoin/Ethereum symbols. For many artists, this type of context matters a great deal.
With blockchain art 3.0, artists can take control over the entire process aided by tools that make it easy to tokenize artwork and do not require coding skills or technical knowledge. I cover two such tools in this article:
Pixura Platform (beta) - Allows anyone to issue and sell virtual items on the Ethereum blockchain, including art and rare digital collectibles
Freeport.io (pre-alpha) - Allows people to collect, create, and trade cryptogood assets issued on Counterparty using the Bitcoin blockchain
Far from competing with each other, we are lucky to have two complementary solutions that function on the Ethereum and Bitcoin blockchains respectively. What makes these two tools stand out for me is that both were developed by people who have already experienced success at scale in building their own active blockchain-based art marketplaces. It also helps that I know the developers behind both solutions personally, think highly of them, and am comfortable recommending their tools.
If you favor Ethereum and you are looking for something you can use starting today, Pixura is for you. They do charge fees, which may not scale as well for some use cases, but with those fees comes the support from a responsive team of experts working on the project full time.
If you prefer Bitcoin, want to pay zero fees, or want/need a completely open-source solution, FreePort.io is for you. There is some functionality already built in to Freeport, but it might be another month or so before it is fully functional - so that is another aspect to take into consideration.
We go into more details below. Feel free to jump to the solution you think might best apply to you.
Pixura - Tokenize Art and Launch a Blockchain Art Marketplace With Ethereum
The Pixura Platform is the same team and codebase behind the SuperRare marketplace. They have been fast to launch, eager to solicit user feedback, and quick to add meaningful features. As a result, SuperRare is among the fastest-growing platforms from the blockchain art 2.0 era, and artists have earned roughly $100K in the first year of the platform’s existence.
According to a recent interview with Pixura/SuperRare CPO Jon Perkins:
Pixura is a wide open platform – anyone can launch a smart contract and create their own NFTs without writing any code. We’ve already seen a bunch of interesting projects get created in one week, and I expect to see hundreds more by the end of the year. We are also working on some exciting collaborative partnerships, which will be announced later in the year.
I decided to launch my own marketplace on Pixura to see how easy/difficult it would be. I was pleasantly surprised - the entire operation from start to finish took less than an hour (including visual customization) and cost me under $30.
I put together this short tutorial to walk you through the process. The tutorial assumes you already have a MetaMask wallet account and at least $27 in Ethereum in your wallet.
Here are the steps to launch your own blockchain art marketplace on Pixura:
First go to the Pixura mainnet link: https://platform.pixura.io/
Then click on the “Launch a Collection” button
Choose “Ethereum Mainnet” to launch a functioning marketplace
Sign in to Pixura via your Gmail account
Connect to MetaMask
Launch your smart contract
Pay the $25 fee (plus gas) to launch your marketplace
Confirm smart contract deployment
You can check Etherscan for the transaction details
Click on your project (on the right side of the screen)
Click on “Add New Collectible”
Name your collectible and add an image
Add as much custom metadata as you like (this is a nice feature)
Price and launch your collectible
Customize the look of your marketplace
You can see the results of my marketplace here. I have a bunch of ideas for what I actually want to do with my marketplace, but it is just a couple of test images for now.
Hopefully you found the Pixura interface for creating a marketplace to be as user friendly as I did. I think its simplicity is its strong point. I am also a big fan of the ability to add new properties, and I know that the Pixura team provides great tech support.
While I like that Pixura gives me more branding autonomy than putting my work directly into SuperRare, there is still a sense that my marketplace is one of many marketplaces within Pixura. This is similar to how I might have my own Etsy shop, but it still lives next to all the other Etsy shops on the Etsy parent site. In some ways this is a plus because people coming to see other Pixura marketplaces have a higher likelihood of stumbling onto my marketplace.
But what if I want a marketplace with 100% branding control where nobody else’s logo shows up and I am not clustered with other marketplaces? Pixura assured me a feature to run a completely white labeled version is on the road map in the near future. But there are some other options as well.
If you are a little more technical, looking for complete autonomy from branding, want to avoid paying any fees, prefer an open-source solution, and can get by without a lot of tech support, then you may want to wait a month or so to explore Freeport as an option.
Freeport.io - Tokenize Art and Launch a Blockchain Art Marketplace With Bitcoin
At the time of this writing, Freeport is pre-alpha and has about a month to go before it will be ready for marketplace creation. I decided to include it anyway because it offers a really nice counterpart to the Pixura platform.
Freeport is the brainchild of Joe Looney, the developer behind Rare Pepe Wallet. Joe is creating Freeport as a completely open-source solution (MIT License), so if you are technical, you can use all the code to do whatever want with it. But Freeport is specifically designed with less technical people in mind. With just a little Bitcoin, from a single interface you will be able to:
Create your asset (CounterParty)
Upload your art (Imgur)
Attach it to the asset (CounterParty)
Search a directory (DigiRare.com)
Put orders up to sell through the DEX (decentralized exchanged)
Joe has brilliantly structured Freeport to use several existing best-in-class, off-the-shelf solutions, including Imgur, CounterParty, and DigiRare. These decisions were born out of necessity to simplify maintenance and upkeep (Joe is building Freeport for fun in his free time), but this strategy may turn out to be Freeport’s greatest strength. As Joe puts it:
The Bitcoin blockchain is good at creating scarce digital assets (via Counterparty) and then allowing the uncensorable transfer of them. It is not good for storing images. Even with IPFS, any projects utilizing it are generally running their IPFS node for storage. The only way to guarantee that images stored via IPFS are available is to maintain a node and host them yourself, and at that point what are you really even doing? With Freeport, as the developer I don’t need to run any additional software to host images because an image hosting service (Imgur initially) will be hosting them for me. My plan is to also include options to use other hosting services and eventually allow artists to specify custom image locations.
Since I am building Freeport in my free time, I don’t want the responsibility of curating questionable content. One of the problems with something like IPFS or self-hosted storage is that you, the developer, maintain that responsibility. To eliminate that additional work, I’ve leveraged a hosted storage that has its own code of conduct. It also demonstrates that “decentralized storage” is a fun thing to have, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Immutability is achieved by including a hash of the image as well as the image location (Imgur URL) as part of the asset information stored on the Bitcoin blockchain via Counterparty. If Imgur were to become unavailable, the artist has the ability to update the image location, however the hash remains unchained. This means if the artist changes the contents of the image, it is obvious from the record that it’s not the original. Imgur is great at providing the means for everyone to see the image initially and the foreseeable future. However, over time, it becomes the responsibility of the issuer and asset holders to retain the image themselves.
Looney also takes advantage of CounterParty on the back end for token issuance and Bitcorns creator Dan Anderson’s excellent DigiRare site which is designed to provide a directory to view all art and collectibles on the Bitcoin blockchain.
While Freeport is still a few weeks off from launching, you can install the beta as a Chrome browser extension and be among the first to use it when it is ready for prime time.
To install Freeport.io:
Download the Chrome extension
Go to chrome://extensions/ in your Chrome browser.
Make sure “Developer Mode” is selected and click on "Load Unpacked"
Select the directory "Chrome Extension"
Be sure to follow Looney on Twitter at @wasthatawolf for updates on the additional functionality in Freeport as it becomes available.
Hopefully you found this article/tutorial helpful and you are off to the races building your own marketplace and tokenizing your own art and collectibles. I don’t think you can really do wrong by going with either Pixura or Freeport. Hopefully I have outlined the differences between the two enough that you know which one is right for you. Here is a quick summary:
Pixura is live and you can launch a marketplace today
Freeport is in alpha and will be ready in roughly a month
Pixura lives on the Ethereum blockchain
Freeport lives on the Bitcoin blockchain
Pixura provides support to paying customers
Freeport: Joe provides support when he can (this is his side project)
Pixura charges $25 to launch a market, $1 to launch a collectible, and takes a 3% fee for all transactions on your marketplace
Freeport is a community project with zero fees
Pixura utilizes the same proprietary code used on SuperRare
Freeport leverages a combination of solutions (Bitcoin, CounterParty, DigiRare, Imgur) and is open source under the MIT license
It is a really exciting time for those of us that have been following the development of art and collectibles on the blockchain. You no longer need to understand the complexities of writing your own smart contracts to launch your own art digital collectibles marketplace, and that should be huge in driving mainstream adoption for creators.
However, I believe the next big problem is going to be growing the number of collectors. One of the great advantages of participating in a marketplace like SuperRare as an artist is they do all the marketing for you. I think some artists may realize that putting their art “on the blockchain” does not necessarily translate to more sales. You still need to find someone interested in buying/collecting your work. And the number of people who know how to buy art using cryptocurrency is even smaller than the number of people who know how to buy art with fiat (regular currency). An increase in the number and variety of digitally scarce objects we can collect could bring in new collectors to the market, but it could also flood the market and reduce demand.
I’m optimistic that an increase in “scarce digital goods” in the gaming market could help drive adoption and understanding for the blockchain art market as well. At least in the short term, I think we’ll see a spike as people explore these new tools and innovate in ways that nobody has thought of yet. And hopefully we’ll see a bit more of the weird blockchain 1.0 spirit come back to the community.
Thanks for reading, as always if you have questions or ideas you can reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.