With the NFT space exploding over the past few years so has the interest from artists looking to tokenize their art and reach a wider audience. While a wide range of people are now interested in non-fungibles, the primary demographic that is emerging is millennials and younger who are not only comfortable with digital ownership but in many ways prefer it.
Artists of all varieties are now looking to tap into this captive audience of digital natives and more by turning traditional art into NFTs as well as creating art exclusively for blockchain use. For a lot of artists, this is proving to be a lucrative opportunity, generating considerably more money than traditional avenues as well as allowing more creative freedom.
Not everyone is getting rich quick, however. It still takes time, effort, and perseverance to make it as an NFT artist. In this article we will answer the question “how much do NFT artists make?” and look at some of the factors involved to better understand how profitable this venture can be.
An important distinction to make is between NFT art and collectibles.
NFT collectibles are typically large collections numbering thousands of individual tokens that are generated algorithmically using randomized properties. These produce weird and wonderful combinations that can often be aesthetically pleasing and appealing to collectors.
While these can be highly valuable, their value is driven by niche communities that in turn form a “passion economy.” For example, the NBA Top Shot (https://nbatopshot.com/) collectibles derive their value from the interest and notoriety that the community of fans puts into the token’s highlight.
NFT “art” however is largely much more individual with each piece representing considerable effort and hours put into the piece. Sometimes this work is done through traditional means such as painting with the piece later tokenized. Other times the art is created digitally in software such as Affinity, Clip Studio, Photoshop, Blender, and other content creation tools.
Thanks to the immutability of blockchain technology, converting digital art to an NFT enables digital artists to also enjoy the proof of ownership that physical artworks do.
Thanks to platforms such as OpenSea, SuperRare, and Rarible, NFT artists are now able to turn their artwork – both digital and traditional – into tokens that prove ownership and therefore be sold for a profit.
Due to the immutability of blockchains such as Ethereum, when people buy a copy of an NFT artwork, they know that they are buying something genuinely scarce. Without blockchains, digital art can be copied and pasted forever without anyone being able to claim real ownership.
There are two primary ways for NFT artists to make money from their work: sales and royalties.
When an artist sells a piece on an NFT platform such as OpenSea, they receive the proceeds just as they would in a sale from a real gallery or direct sale. The amount they receive is either pre-determined with a set value they believe the piece is worth, determined by auction, or determined by offers made by prospective buyers.
Something to consider is that all sales tend to incur fees of one kind or another. Most platforms will take a cut between 5-10% and there will tend to be gas fees involved in minting the artwork that needs to be considered. In most cases, buyers will pay gas fees for the purchase transaction.
Artists can also enjoy continued revenue from their artwork through the integration of royalties. Whereas with traditional art an artist relinquishes all claim to a piece upon the first sale, with NFTs they can still enjoy a percentage of future sales in perpetuity. This means, should the piece appreciate greatly in value, they could receive large sums for zero further effort.
Most artists collect royalties of around 10% of future sales.
While there are plenty of people making money with NFTs, the average sale remains relatively low, with the average NFT selling for around $1000 or more (https://nonfungible.com/market-tracker?days=9007199254740991).
An important point to consider here, however, is that this average does not distinguish between NFT art and NFT collectibles. While a lot of the buzz around the NFT space is to do with expensive collectibles such as Bored Ape Yacht Club (https://boredapeyachtclub.com/), these tokens can often sell for just a couple hundred dollars or less.
Taking the median price of NFT sales shows (https://thatkimparker.medium.com/most-artists-are-not-making-money-off-nfts-and-here-are-some-graphs-to-prove-it-c65718d4a1b8) that most sales are $100 or less. But, again, this data does not distinguish between NFT art and collectibles and does not factor out low-effort, spammy collections.
NFT art differs in that it is the artists themselves, not so much the tokens that are of interest to buyers. Artists can bring their fans over to the NFT space with them from other platforms such as DeviantArt (https://www.deviantart.com/) and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/) to own their work.
With the NFT space now able to bridge the gap between artists and those unfamiliar with buying and selling art, there are some wild success stories emerging. You need only look at the top artists on platforms such as SuperRare (https://superrare.com/top-artists) to see how well some artists are doing with a dedicated following and a good reputation.
One of the craziest success stories so far is that of Trevor Jones, a traditional artist who has now broken into the NFT space and smashed multiple records.
So far, Jones has laid claim to holding the highest bids on SuperRare, Nifty Gateway, as well as MakersPlace. His piece, Bitcoin Angel, sold for an enormous $3.2 million in 2021.
A creative by nature, Blake Jamieson quit his job and dived headfirst into life as an artist, initially selling spray-can pop portraits to athletes and sports stars. He later became familiar with the NFT space and began selling high-resolution photos of his work on OpenSea and SuperRare, netting $46,000 in just six weeks!
The most successful NFT artist so far is, of course, Beeple whose legendary collection of daily digital doodles, “Everdays,” was sold at Christies (https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/beeple-first-5000-days/beeple-b-1981-1/112924?ldp_breadcrumb=back) auction house for a staggering $69 million.
Obviously, this sort of runaway success is highly unlikely to be repeated any time soon and may have been a symptom of the NFT craze reaching a fever pitch around the time.
Nevertheless, it demonstrates the enormous value people put into digital artworks.
While most NFT artists are not going to become millionaires (at least overnight), there is a lot of both interest and money floating around the space. This means there is plenty of room for artists to generate considerable income from their work.
While most NFT sales are relatively low value ($100 or less) this is not necessarily indicative of how much money you can expect to make from your work. With ongoing royalties, as well as the option for collections with multiple copies of the same piece being sold, your artwork can prove to be a lot more profitable when put on a blockchain as an NFT.