Last fall, Randi Hipper decided, as she recently put it, “to look deeply into the crypto space”. After hearing about NFTs on Twitter and other social media platforms, Ms. Hipper, then a 17-year-old graduate of Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, began posting her own digital artwork – cartoon-like and self-referential pieces she cruised in Show a car with a Bitcoin license plate or with the Coney Island Wonder Wheel.
Ms. Hipper develops the concepts and works with digital artists, including a teenage boy in India named Ajay Toons who is making the works for sale on the Atomic Hub NFT marketplace. An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a digital file created using blockchain computer code. It is bought with cryptocurrencies such as ether or wax and exists as a unique file that cannot be duplicated and often can only be admired digitally.
“At the moment I’m trying to make one drop a week,” said Ms. Hipper, who now calls Miss Teen Crypto and is now 18 years old. “I try not to overload my feed, my collectors.”
The 40-year-old digital artist named Beeple may have hit the headlines last spring when one of his works at Christie’s sold for $ 69 million, but NFT markets like Atomic Hub, Nefty Blocks, and OpenSea are full of creators barely old enough are to drive. They don’t advertise their work through blue-chip galleries or auction houses, but on social media.
“In the NFT world, anyone can post online, market themselves to Twitter, and build a fan base at a young age,” said Griffin Cock Foster, who is 26 and lives in New York City. He and his twin brother Duncan founded the NFT marketplace, Nifty Gateway.
Duncan said, “The comparison I like to make is that it is similar to how TikTok causes people to be discovered at a very young age.”
In June, Nifty Gateway released a drop called the Nifty Next Generation. It featured the work of jstngraphics, a 17-year-old from Washington State, and Solace, an 18-year-old from Soledad, California. Both teens have been doing NFT art for less than a year, first getting noticed by selling them on the online auction site SuperRare. Both artists’ works, priced between roughly $ 1,000 and $ 7,250, were sold out.
“I threw random things away to see what was going on,” says Justin Bodnar (jstngraphics), who makes surreal landscapes and describes it as “Tron-style” art. “Then I got on SuperRare and things started to explode.”
Solace, whose real name is Carlos Gomez, started making NFTs on a borrowed iPad because he didn’t own a home computer. “I’ve seen digital art spread. It was seen and appreciated by people, ”he said. “I’ve gotten out of poverty all my life. NFTs have changed my life forever. “
Solace and jstngraphics look like the old when compared to Benyamin Ahmed, a 12-year-old boy from suburban London who published an NFT collection last month. The “Weird Whales” project included 3,350 pixelated whales, each with different characteristics, some less common and therefore perceived as more valuable. The collection, sold out and made Mr. Ahmed tens of thousands in crypto.
“I got interested in the NFT space because I originally thought it was cool as an online flex,” he told Decrypt.
Such unlikely success stories have inspired enterprising young people to join the NFT boom. For some, it’s a fun after school hobby. For others, it’s a perceived gateway to a career as a full-time artist or crypto entrepreneur.
Magnus Aske was a 19-year-old sophomore at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts when he contracted Covid-19 at the time of the Beeple sale last March. He spent his 10 days in quarantine, learning all he could learn about NFTs, and developing a project to collect antiques in a foreign country (his classmate had ties to the government).
“For me, it’s not even about the money. It’s about working with a team to oversee everything from the idea to creation and sale, ”said Mr. Aske, who is now 20 years old and studies finance and entrepreneurship.
Josh Kim is an aspiring senior at Colby College who founded Cubby, an online marketplace for college students to sell their art. Kim plans to roll out NFTs in the coming months, which he believes will aid the website’s mission to help young creators “achieve financial success” or at least make extra money while at school.
In fact, making NFTs and other forms of digital art has become the new summer job for some teenagers, a modern twist on grocery packing or working in a fast food restaurant. A 15-year-old in Brooklyn draws bespoke artwork for users of Twitch, the live streaming platform popular with gamers.
“It’s mainly for spending money,” he said.
Griffin Cock Foster compared teenage experimentation with NFTs to “kids picking Napster around in the early 2000s,” adding, “They had a preview of what the world would be like. Pay attention to what teenagers are up to at night and on weekends and in summer. “
The most popular and successful young NFT artist is Victor Langlois, an 18-year-old transgender who is known to his fans as FEWOCiOUS or Fewo. He makes digital art that records his troubled childhood and struggles with gender identity and its transition.
Fewo started selling work on SuperRare last summer and built a fan base there and on Nifty Gateway. He soon became aware of Christie’s digital art specialist Noah Davis, who arranged an auction of his work in June. The online sale of five lots titled “Hello, i’m Victor (FEWOCiOUS) and This Is My Life” raised $ 2.16 million and made Mr. Langlois a star in the art world.
“Victor lives about as long as artists make art before they arrive at Christie’s,” said Mr. Davis.
Understanding NFTs and their value as digital objects is natural for a generation that grew up online, added Mr Davis. “I think I’m pretty digitally native, but I can still remember floppy disks. These are cuneiform tablets for Victor. He grew up completely in it. “
For Ms. Hipper and others like her, Fewo is “such a role model for Gen Z,” she said. “He came to NFTs and blew me away. That he was able to create a platform is inspiring for me. “
When the stock market was booming and Bitcoin was above $ 60,000 earlier this year, Ms. Hipper said, one of her NFTs sold for $ 1,000. These days, their art at Atomic Hub sells for just 125 wax, or $ 21. She views her pieces as tradable collectibles, much like Pokémon cards, a common perception among young creators. In fact, NFT works can be sold for as little as $ 1.
Brent Lomas, who founded Queenly NFT, a website that sells the work of LGBTQ artists, is closely following the NFT space, saying that low prices are a deliberate strategy of young creators who, in many cases, appeal to their own collectors of ages.
“It’s in part to get virality,” said Mr Lomas. “These kids are pretty accomplished. You can look at other drops and model your work based on them. If you’re young and familiar with social media and meme culture, chances are that your first drop could go viral, get attention, and make money. “
Mr. Davis said that vacation rental was selling items for tens of dollars just last year. For a digitally savvy teenager, making this much money making NFTs is better than mowing grass. It is “unique in our present moment,” said Mr. Davis. “If you can earn cinema money for your summer vacation with your creativity, I can’t think of anything more utopian or American.”
Ms. Hipper estimates that so far she has made “a few hundred dollars, at most” because she has to pay her artists. But, she said, for now the money is secondary to learning the ropes.
“I wanted to perfect my skills and know how to drop,” she said. “You need to know how to set up your shop. How to create a template. “
She added, “I just finished high school. My plan is to become full-time crypto. “