NFT artist with six-figure sales: How to profit from your digital art

"You need to not only produce creative, compelling work, but you have to be able to sell yourself."

Courtesy Franky Aguilar

For Franky Aguilar, also known as Frankynines, creating and profiting from digital art is nothing new. The onetime graffiti artist turned digital illustrator began selling art online in 2012 and working on the blockchain — the technology behind the new wave of digital art pieces known as nonfungible tokens — back in 2017.

NFTs exploded in popularity earlier this year, making some of the internet's most popular artists overnight millionaires in the process. While Aguilar hasn't quit his day job, he's made good money from NFTs, selling 60 pieces for a total of 64.454 ether (the cryptocurrency associated with the ethereum blockchain NFTs run on) since the start of 2019, according to NFT sales aggregator CryptoArt. At today's prices, Aguilar's coins are worth just under $155,000.

Digital artists across the globe have undoubtedly began to wonder if they, too, can cash in. But if you're looking to earn cash from the new demand for digital art, turning a profit isn't as easy as taking pictures of your canvases and uploading them, Aguilar says. It pays to have some familiarity with the evolving NFT marketplace, the blockchain technology your art is being sold on, and the types of art that NFT collectors value.

Read on for Aguilar's advice for making it in the world of NFT art in his own words. (This as-told-to interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Mainstream recognition has changed the NFT art space

The NFT art space originated with a niche group of digital artists on Twitter — [it was] not prominent on Instagram or in galleries.

When I started to notice it was going to be really big, I was already in on the ground floor with [digital collectibles company] Dapper Labs, working on pitch decks for big brand deals. Then Nifty Gateway [a platform for NFT sales] blew things out of the water. They started doing ridiculous sales and drops, targeting and onboarding digital artists and brands. That's when [the] press started catching on.

Some of the first collabs I saw, with Deadmau5 doing stuff in the NFT space, DJs like 3LAU and RAC — when I started to see those guys get into it, I started to think, "This is going to keep going." Then, as it started to catch fire, more Western and Instagram artists exploded into the NFT space. It was like, "Oh s---, now Shepard Fairey is in the game."

In the beginning, it was definitely a lot more fun. Some of us were making a living, but for the most part, we couldn't do anything with the ETH we were making. We could cash it out, but it was so volatile, going up and down.

'You have to be able to sell yourself'

For people looking to get into [selling NFTs], it's definitely about understanding that this is a new method of being able to create revenue from your creativity, the same way Etsy and Amazon changed the way we can earn money from things we create.

People have been selling canvases and doing commissioned artwork for thousands of years. In the last 50 years, you've had digital art. Now, we have a way to sell digital art that's not in the traditional sense – whether it's a commission or gallery show. This is a new medium, a new marketplace, a new way to monetize art, and not only that: a new way to create it.

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It doesn't take supplies, it's easy to do. You can do it in your living room. [It's] not some crazy thing – [you] don't need supplies and a huge studio.

Do your research on the marketplaces and be good about preparing yourself to become a marketer. You need to not only produce creative, compelling work, but you have to be able to sell yourself.

Know the types of NFT buyers

There are a few different buckets of collectors. Some people are interested in a particular artist. They want to own that piece of art and have no intention to sell. They might have a digital display in their home. Another type is more of a hoarder-collector, who is looking to own their favorite pieces.

There's also the person who is looking to flip something. They go on Nifty Gateway when new stuff drops, and then when it sells out, they list on a secondary market. Some of the people who come afterwards might be those enthusiastic collectors. They didn't necessarily want to stand in line.

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Some people want to buy a new wave of coins that have utility usage. I was lead creative on Gary Vaynerchuk's NFT project, which had a very interesting collector base. The tokens he [offers] grant access, they have utility. One is a breakfast bat. If you buy it, you can exchange it and he'll have breakfast with you.

People are buying for utility use. There's also speculation on these kinds of tokens as well.

Art that's partially generated by the blockchain sells best

I see a lot of animated, 3D-rendered art. A lot of computer generative art. Cryptopunks and autoglyphs are so expensive because they're procedurally generated from math.

Consider utilizing the blockchain to be not only the canvas, but the creator of the piece. That's the encryption layer – using that little code sequence to determine the color, variant, the shape or randomization of something is always interesting. That's going to have a high value, versus someone taking a picture of a watercolor they did in their living room, which is going to draw the least amount of interest.

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