Letter 10 - Art Blocks
Where the smartest money in NFTs is right now
This Letter is both long overdue and couldn’t come at a better time. I’ve been talking about Art Blocks for months, and one of my first ever NFT purchases was a piece of Art Blocks art. But it’s the last week or two that have made me really sit up and pay attention, and it’s high time I shouted (even more) from the rooftops about this amazing gem of a platform.
I’m going to paraphrase what a friend of mine said a couple of days ago: Crypto is at the forefront of the tech space. NFTs are at the forefront of the crypto space. Art Blocks is at the forefront of the NFT space. Let that sink in for a moment.
Let’s look at what Art Blocks is, why I think it is so great, and what has happened lately to make it explode in popularity and why you should be looking at it now.
So, what is Art Blocks?
Art Blocks is the brain child of ‘Snowfro’, one of the OGs in the crypto and NFT scene. He’s so OG that he was claiming zombie punks for free. He believed in the technology of smart contracts extremely early on and has been trying to convince the world about how amazing this all is for years. The world is finally listening.
I’ll give you a great definition of Art Blocks from the learn page on their website, and then I’ll explain what I think Art Blocks is in my own words:
Art Blocks is a first of its kind platform focused on genuinely programmable on demand generative content that is stored immutably on the Ethereum Blockchain. You pick a style that you like, pay for the work, and a randomly generated version of the content is created by an algorithm and sent to your Ethereum account. The resulting piece might be a static image, 3D model, or an interactive experience. Each output is different and there are endless possibilities for the types of content that can be created on the platform.
I highly recommend reading the full page if you are interested to get a deeper understanding of the platform.
Now for what I think of when I think of Art Blocks: it’s a platform where generative artists (artists who use code to create their pieces) can launch projects. Every project has a limit on the # of mints that users can mint, after which the collection is completed and no more of that project will ever be created again. As a user you don’t know exactly what the piece of art you’re going to buy will look like, but you will have some idea based on the first mint (always shown beforehand). A commonly thrown around line is that you’re buying a piece that is 1 of 1 of X. Unique as part of a collection of unique pieces that share similarities. Perhaps an example best illustrates this. Each row below showcases a different project by a different artist. Each piece of art is unique, but you can see that they have some common traits.
I got immense satisfaction by going through my collection and curating the above set. This art brings me joy. I don’t get that from the art of my apes, or the art of my cats. I do love being a part of those communities, and I like their art - don’t get me wrong. But to me, Art Blocks is on another level.
What’s the deal with Curated vs Playground vs Factory?
I’ve introduced a lot of new people to Art Blocks over the last week or two and by far the most common question is this one. The answer is fairly simple although not immediately obvious, so I understand the question. Without going into too much depth - my understanding is that curated projects have to pass the most rigorous application process before being accepted. Factory projects have more leeway. The Playground is where artists who have released a Curated project have some leeway to ‘play’ around and release projects without the restrictions of a curated collection.
It doesn’t mean one is better than the other or the other; beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There have been amazing projects to come out of the Playground and the Factory, and there are still amazing projects able to be minted in them right now. The Curated projects tend to sell out far more quickly because their supply is far lower than the other categories with there being one drop a week, at most.
So, why Art Blocks?
While (seemingly) most of the NFT world has been obsessed with generative 10k avatar projects, Art Blocks has been chugging along, doing its own thing, and killing it week in and week out. Almost everyone in this space is begging to be a part of a great community. People see what happens on twitter with #apefollowape and #caturday and feel FOMO for missing out on the apes and the cats. New money is always looking for the ‘next’ apes. That was cats. Now people are going to be looking for the ‘next’ cats, and with literally two cat drops tomorrow (1, 2), people think the ‘next’ cats is going to be.. the next cats. Might I suggest you look to Art Blocks instead, or at least as well as.
The Art Blocks approach is fundamentally different to any of the above projects. With all of them people are buying into the project for the promise of a future community. There’s always a roadmap, it always sounds kinda great, albeit cookie-cutter. There are a lot of the same people in every project. There are lots of flippers. The art is almost always mediocre, at best. The smart contracts are often janky and full of small errors. The damn jpegs we’re buying aren’t even stored on-chain, and half the time the meta-data doesn’t even point to an IPFS node (if you don’t understand all this, that’s okay, i’m not even sure that I fully do either but I think that it essentially means these projects aren’t truly utilizing the full capabilities of this Blockchain technology we’re all here for).
With Art Blocks, almost everyone comes first for the art and the revolutionary utilization of the Blockchain. You are buying great art first and foremost, and it just so happens that an amazing community has formed around all of it. Creators and collectors come together in an environment that is friendly, informative, inspirational, relaxed. If you’re feeling the FOMO from all the other projects and want to be a part of a killer community, take a step back from the next panda-cat-donkey-cow project and perhaps take a gander at Art Blocks.
One of the best feelings about buying an AB piece is knowing that you are directly supporting an artist. Given a choice between giving money to an anonymous team releasing another copy-paste project (and for all we know it’s the same group of people releasing most of these - think about that), and giving money to an actual identifiable human that has spent years or decades working on their art… do I really need to finish this sentence?
Of the mint price, AB takes an incredibly reasonable 10% fee with 90% going directly to the artist. The secondary market fee breakdown is also very reasonable, I think:
The artists can also designate a portion of their initial earnings to another wallet, and there have been some incredible instances of generosity where this has happened. One recent example which comes to mind is when Jake Rockland donated 51% of his Stipple Sunsets project sales to GiveDirectly. On the back of that, Art Block’s decided to match the donations.
While we’re talking about the artists, it is worth mentioning that each artist that releases a Curated project on the platform has their own channel within the discord. These are treasure troves of good vibes. The line between creator and collector is beyond blurred in the best way possible.
So, why Art Blocks now?
It’s been an insane few weeks for Art Blocks. You could argue it’s been an insane six months, but let’s just focus on the last few weeks. They had a collection featured in the famous auction house Sotheby’s, where this set of the first 19 curated works sold for $81,900 USD:
The next day we saw what is undoubtedly one of the most revered curated drops so far, a masterpiece by Tyler Hobbs: Fidenza.
I love many projects on Art Blocks but there was and is something extra special about Fidenza. The fact that the same code that generated the above piece, also generated these pieces, simply put, just blows my mind:
The market agreed. You might have noticed that I have thus far avoided talking about price or investment or ROI or floor or cost or profit. I really wanted to highlight the beauty of Art Blocks without adding the layer of complexity that money brings to the table. But I understand that many of us are in the NFT world at least in part for financial reasons, and so if it is monetary value that you are looking for, you would be hard pressed to find better value than buying and holding a piece of Art Blocks art. I took the liberty of finding the current floor and highest sale price of every Curated drop so far. It is not to be scoffed at. All prices are in ETH except the mint price of Cryptoblots which is in DAI.
I’ll let the numbers mostly speak for themselves, and just remind you that these were all launched within the last 6-8 months. I’ve not done the work (yet) to put together all the figures for the Factory and Playground projects but I guarantee that if you look through most of them you will find a similar set of numbers.
Okay, so you should just wait until the next drop and buy something and watch it go up in value? Well, yes and no. Picking up a piece during a drop is great - but it is difficult. As more and more eyes look towards Art Blocks the gas wars that ensue during a hyped drop get crazier and crazier, and more and more people end up missing out. At the end of the day it’s a simple numbers game - if 2,000 people want to mint something that there is only 700 of, people are going to miss out. Art Blocks has a ‘limiter’ in place that restricts the number of mints per wallet to 1 for the first 30 minutes, and while this is a great idea, in reality you have a situation where people are going to use multiple wallets.
I know that they are exploring options for making the drops ‘more fair’, but in the meantime your best (and only) option is often going to be the secondary market. This is particularly the case if you want to pick up multiple copies of a project. The question then becomes: is it still worth it? Now for my favourite answer in the world: it depends (but, i’ll add, probably). Here’s why:
The mint price of these projects is cheap (relatively). You’re paying for a piece of art which an artist has dedicated a significant amount of time and effort into making. Setting aside the years of learning, the time it takes to write and test and bug-check and re-test and refine the lines of code to create one of these things is not insignificant. If we want to play the comparison game, that panda bear you just paid 0.08 ETH for probably took an artist a week to slap together, and it probably has the same possibility of gold/trippy/having a crown/eth-chain/etc/etc/etc/etc/etc as every other god damn avatar project.
The mint counts are low. Excluding the outlier of Chromie Squiggles, the average mint size for curated drops is 730. Given how early we still are and how many millions of people there are out there who love Art Blocks and just don’t know it yet, you can bet your bottom dollar that there’s going to be more than 730 people who really, really want one of these pieces. We are already seeing collectors with an eye towards curating a collection consisting of one-of-every project.
The team is smart. This is no small feat in the current landscape. The good people at Art Blocks are thinking long term. Very, very long term. If they wanted they could release 4 curated drops a week and they would almost certainly still sell out. There’s no shortage of artists - they closed off applications in March and they still haven’t cleared through the backlog. This is not out of laziness, it is because they have a meticulous curation process. They prioritize quality over profit.
I could probably write another 10 points but I have been awake for a million hours and this Letter is getting long anyway so I should start to think about wrapping it up. I honestly feel as though I have only scratched the surface. I’d like to show off some more of the diversity available on Art Blocks as well as show off a little more of my collection (every piece in this Letter except for the Sotheby’s lot and bonafidehan’s Fidenzas are my own NFTs), so I will end with a little gallery and then some links for further reading and information.
There are many excellent collections I didn’t feature in this Letter - I would recommend poking around their site to see some of the other great works of art. If you are interested in Art Blocks then I would recommend popping your head into their discord and saying hello - it’s a very friendly place :)
I feel obligated to add a secondary disclaimer above and beyond the usual one at the end of my Letters - and that is that I have a lot of Art Blocks pieces, and I have bought a lot recently. I say this for full transparency reasons. It is extremely commonplace for people in this space to ‘pump their bags’ by talking up the projects they have invested heavily in and talking down the ones they haven’t. I hope that I have proven to the readers of this Newsletter that I try to be as unbiased as I can be and provide an objective perspective on things. It just so happens that I absolutely love Art Blocks, and struggle to find bad things to say about it. I think this boils down to the fact that I believe it is founded by a good person, and found by good people.
Art Blocks 101 - A Beginners Guide to Art Blocks
Art Blocks: The Link - An off-chain newsletter about on chain art- this is the official AB Newsletter.
After Dinner Mints - a weekly video podcast usually with one of the artists as a guest
What’s on my Radar?
I almost just ended with that tweet for being the only things on my radar - but I’ll be thorough and add the other projects although I am probably only going to be buying into the sandbox land sale.
Mad Cat Militia - Each mad cat is unique and programmatically generated from over 150 possible traits, including battalion, rank, whiskers and more.
Lucky Maneki - Beautiful art collectibles with generous rewards. The luckiest NFT collection created on Ethereum blockchain.
DeadHeads - I don’t know too much about this but they’re pledging to use some of the money raised to buy the floor? Which is.. interesting. It’s not a bad idea tbh and I’m sure other projects do this, I just don’t think I’ve ever seen is advertised so blatantly: Distribution of 7.5% used for buying the floor & paying animators/creators.
HashDemons - These actually seem like they might be good? I haven’t had the time to look much at all into them unfortunately. I aped into a few the night they dropped and sold all but two, and I can’t tell if I regret it or not. They’ve sold out but I think are still pretty cheap on secondary - I usually don’t like posting about things that have already sold out in this section (especially if I hold any of them) but I believe they’re unrevealed and I don’t own much so, eh.
The Sandbox Land Sale - I’m a huge fan of The Sandbox, and if you can snag a plot in one of their sales you are essentially printing money. The immediate floor price is something like 3-4x what you pay. The demand is *insane* though (last time it sold out in 3s), so DYOR and make sure you’re prepared in advance - you need $SAND tokens to buy land. I think buying to hold long term is super smart if you can afford to long hold.
I’m going to use this chance to say that I’m going on a holiday to Turkey on Friday, and as I’ve been neglecting my partner far too much these last couple of NFT-crazed months I won’t be online much/at all and will be focusing on her and our trip aka something much more important than jpegs. I’ve organised for a friend to take over for me for my daily twitter statistics updates, and there will be a pre-written Newsletter coming out sometime next week on a general non-time sensitive topic. Just thought I’d throw this out there as an FYI to explain my absence from the space coming up :) As always if you enjoy this content then I truly appreciate anyone that subscribes.
We’re still early.
Disclaimer: The content covered in this newsletter is not to be considered as investment advice. I’m not a financial adviser. These are only my own opinions and ideas. You should always consult with a professional/licensed financial adviser before trading or investing in any cryptocurrency related product.