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A beginner’s guide to cryptoart

Cryptoart, or NFT art, is a fascinating corner of Web3, at the intersection of art, technology, and investment. This guide will take you through a step by step overview of foundational concepts.

SuperRare Labs,
May 15, 2023
1 min read

A beginner’s guide to cryptoart

SuperRare Labs,
May 15, 2023
1 min read

Cryptoart, or NFT art, is a fascinating corner of Web3, at the intersection of art, technology, and investment. This guide will take you through a step by step overview of foundational concepts and tools so you can begin your cryptoart exploration. 

What is cryptoart? 

Cryptoart refers to a form of digital art that is secured, authenticated, and traded using blockchain technology. In simple terms, it involves linking a digital artwork to a non-fungible token (NFT), which, by nature of how the blockchain functions, transparently and verifiably signifies ownership, provenance, and rarity. This unique amalgamation of art and technology empowers artists to safeguard their work, ensures that collectors possess verifiable digital assets, and paves the way for new marketplaces dedicated to the trading of, and investment in, art.

Where does cryptoart come from? 

The history of cryptoart can be traced back to the early 2010s when the first experiments in digital art and blockchain technology emerged. Projects such as CryptoPunks and Rare Pepe Wallet laid the groundwork for the concept of scarce digital art. The introduction of Ethereum's ERC-721 standard in 2017 revolutionized the landscape, allowing artists to create, tokenize, and sell unique digital assets. Cryptoart's popularity has since skyrocketed, with high-profile sales and growing mainstream interest driving its rapid evolution. 

Cryptoart’s importance in the digital age is multifaceted. First, it offers artists a new avenue for monetizing their work and retaining more control over their creations. By leveraging blockchain technology, artists can verify their work's authenticity and establish transparent ownership records, preventing forgeries and unauthorized reproductions. For collectors and investors, cryptoart provides an opportunity to own, trade, and invest in digital art in a secure and easily transferable manner. Additionally, the cryptoart movement fosters innovation and collaboration across various industries, including art, technology, and finance, paving the way for a more connected and decentralized creator economy.

What is the difference between digital art and cryptoart? 

While both digital art and cryptoart exist in the digital realm, there are key differences between the two. Digital art refers to any artistic work or practice that uses digital technology as a primary medium or tool. Examples include digital illustrations, animations, and graphic design. On the other hand, cryptoart involves the tokenization of digital art, turning it into a unique, tradeable, and verifiable asset using blockchain technology.

What is the blockchain and what is its role in cryptoart?

Blockchain technology is the foundation of cryptoart, providing several crucial features that set it apart from traditional digital art.

The Blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger that records transactions across a network of computers. This decentralization ensures that no single entity has control over the data, making it resistant to censorship, manipulation, and central points of failure.

Blockchain networks utilize advanced cryptography to secure the data, making it very difficult (but not impossible) to alter or tamper with. This feature is crucial in cryptoart, as it helps maintain the integrity of the artwork and its associated ownership records, otherwise known as provenance.

Every transaction on a blockchain network is publicly visible and permanently recorded, allowing for a transparent and traceable history of an artwork's provenance and ownership. This transparency helps build trust among artists, collectors, and investors.

What are NFTs?

Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are unique digital tokens that represent ownership of a specific asset, in this case, cryptoart. Unlike cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, which are fungible and interchangeable, each NFT has a distinct value and, in turn, is not interchangeable on a one-to-one basis with another NFT. Key features of NFTs include their uniqueness, indivisibility, and the ability to verify ownership and provenance.

Artists create NFTs by "minting" their digital art on a compatible blockchain platform, such as Ethereum or Tezos. This process involves uploading the digital artwork and attaching relevant metadata, such as the artist's name, description, and edition number. Once the NFT is minted, it can be bought, sold, or traded on various NFT marketplaces, like SuperRare. The ownership records and transaction history are securely stored on the blockchain, ensuring that the art's provenance is easily verifiable and traceable.

How is digital art transformed into cryptoart?

Before turning digital art into cryptoart, artists must prepare their work in a suitable digital format, typically as a high-resolution image file (e.g., JPG, PNG) or video file (e.g., MP4, GIF). Some platforms may also support other formats, such as audio or 3D models. The artist should ensure that the file size and resolution meet the platform's requirements and that the artwork is of high quality when viewed on a screen. 

What is minting? 

Minting is the process of creating an NFT by uploading the digital art file and attaching relevant metadata to a compatible blockchain platform. The artist needs to choose a platform (e.g., SuperRare, OpenSea, or Foundation) and connect their digital wallet. They then provide the necessary information, such as the artwork's title, description, edition size, and any additional attributes. Once the NFT is minted, it is available for trading and ownership tracking on the blockchain.

What is a gas fee?

A gas fee in the context of cryptoart refers to the cost required to perform various actions on the Ethereum blockchain, such as minting, buying, or selling non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Gas fees are necessary to compensate transaction validators using Ethereum’s Proof of Stake model for processing and validating transactions on the network. These fees help maintain the security and stability of the Ethereum blockchain.

Gas fees are denominated in a unit called "gwei," which is a small fraction of Ether (ETH), the native cryptocurrency of the Ethereum network. The gas fee for a specific transaction depends on several factors, including:

  • Complexity of the transaction: Complex transactions, like those involving smart contracts, require more computational resources and thus have higher gas fees.
  • Network congestion: When there is high demand for processing transactions on the Ethereum network, gas fees may increase as users compete to have their transactions processed quickly.
  • Gas price: Users can set the gas price for their transactions, with higher prices generally resulting in faster transaction processing. However, this can also lead to increased gas fees.

To reduce gas fees, users can monitor the Ethereum network's gas price and perform transactions during periods of lower congestion, or explore alternative blockchain platforms with lower transaction fees. Additionally, Ethereum's transition to Ethereum 2.0 should improve scalability and reduce gas fees in the long term.

What is a smart contract?

A smart contract is a self-executing agreement with the terms of the contract directly written into computer code. These contracts run on blockchain networks, such as Ethereum, providing a decentralized, secure, and transparent environment for their execution. Smart contracts automatically enforce the terms and conditions of an agreement without the need for intermediaries, such as banks, lawyers, or notaries, reducing costs and increasing efficiency.

Smart contracts are designed to be tamper-proof and irreversible, ensuring that once the predefined conditions are met, the contract will execute the agreed-upon actions. These conditions can be simple or complex, ranging from transferring funds between parties to executing more advanced transactions in decentralized applications (dApps) or decentralized finance (DeFi) platforms.

What are royalties in cryptoart?

Royalties in cryptoart refer to the percentage of the sale price that an artist receives when their artwork is resold on secondary markets. These royalties ensure that artists continue to benefit financially from their work even after the initial sale, a novel innovation in the world of visual arts.. The percentage of royalties can vary depending on the artist's preference and the platform they are using, typically ranging from 5% to 30%.

In the context of cryptoart, royalties are enforced through smart contracts on the blockchain. When an artwork is tokenized as a non-fungible token (NFT), the smart contract associated with the NFT includes the royalty terms, which dictate the percentage owed to the artist upon each resale. The smart contract automatically executes the royalty payments, ensuring that the artist receives their share every time the artwork is resold.

Here's how the process works:

  1. An artist creates an NFT for their digital art, and they include a smart contract specifying the royalty percentage to be paid upon each resale.
  2. The NFT is bought and sold on various marketplaces, with each transaction being recorded on the blockchain.
  3. When a resale occurs, the smart contract associated with the NFT automatically calculates the royalty amount owed to the artist.
  4. The calculated royalty amount is transferred directly to the artist's cryptocurrency wallet, ensuring that they receive their share of the secondary sale.
  5. The blockchain's transparency, immutability, and the use of smart contracts ensure that the royalties are enforced automatically and securely, providing a reliable income stream for artists and incentivizing the creation and distribution of digital art.

How do I set up a crypto wallet? 

Setting up a crypto wallet involves several steps to ensure the safe storage and management of your cryptocurrencies. Crypto wallets can be hardware wallets, software wallets, or custodial wallets managed by third-party services. Here's a brief guide to setting up a crypto wallet.

First, determine which type of wallet best suits your needs:

  1. Hardware wallets: These are physical devices (e.g., Ledger, Trezor) that store your private keys offline, providing the highest level of security. They are suitable for long-term storage and large amounts of cryptocurrency.
  2. Software wallets: These are applications that you can install on your computer or smartphone (e.g., MetaMask, Exodus). They offer a good balance between security and convenience but are vulnerable to online threats if not properly secured.
  3. Custodial wallets: These wallets are managed by third-party services (e.g., Coinbase, Binance), which store your private keys on your behalf. They offer convenience, but you don't have full control over your funds.

Next, download or purchase the wallet:

For software wallets, download the application from the wallet provider's official website or app store. For hardware wallets, purchase the device from a reputable retailer or directly from the manufacturer.

Then, install and set up the wallet: 

For software wallets, follow the installation instructions and create a new wallet. For hardware wallets, follow the setup guide provided with the device.

  1. Backup your recovery phrase: During setup, you will be given a recovery phrase (usually 12 or 24 words) that acts as a backup for your wallet. Write it down and store it in a safe and secure location. Do not share it with anyone or store it digitally, as it can be used to access your funds if your wallet is lost or compromised.
  2. Set a strong password: Use a unique and complex password to secure your wallet. Avoid using easily guessable passwords or repeating passwords used for other accounts.

At this point, secure your wallet: 

Take additional security measures to protect your wallet from unauthorized access and potential threats.

  1. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA): Use 2FA to add an extra layer of security to your wallet, requiring a verification code from an authenticator app or hardware device in addition to your password.
  2. Keep software up-to-date: Regularly update your wallet software and device firmware to protect against newly discovered vulnerabilities.

Finally, receive and manage cryptocurrencies: 

To receive cryptocurrencies, share your wallet's public address with the sender. Make sure to double-check the address to avoid mistakes. Once the transaction is complete, your wallet will show the updated balance, and you can manage your cryptocurrencies, send transactions, or interact with blockchain applications as needed. Remember that the security of your crypto wallet depends on your practices and precautions. Always prioritize the safety of your funds and personal information when using a wallet.

For more information on crypto security, see [“Keeping your collection safe in a changing web3 landscape”](link).

Are there legal and copyright considerations with cryptoart? 

When creating and selling cryptoart, artists should be aware of legal and copyright issues. Some key points include:

  • Artists should ensure they own the copyright to their work and have the legal right to sell and profit from it.
  • When using third-party elements, such as music or images, artists must obtain proper permissions and licenses.
  • Artists should be aware of potential intellectual property violations and avoid using copyrighted materials without permission.
  • Some jurisdictions may have specific regulations regarding digital art and NFTs, and artists should familiarize themselves with these laws to ensure compliance.