Buying an NFT is expensive, especially when everyone else is buying them at the same time. That's why a range of scaling solutions have sprung up around core blockchains like Ethereum to make transacting on them cheaper, faster, and easier. Antony Rahman profiles SKALE, the scaling solution's Digital Art Grant, and the artists minting on the network.
It often feels like NFTs are on the verge of becoming a household term. Whether it be for music, fashion, gaming, ticketing, or art, use cases for the technology are becoming more common, and it is undeniable that they are an incredibly important part of the world’s decentralised future in culture, commerce, and beyond.
However, NFTs in their current form are unpalatable for most of the world’s creators and commercial actors. Complexity, uncertainty, and volatile gas fees for transactions all contrive to hinder mainstream adoption. In art, this deprives the world of the chance to experience incredible talents; for builders and communities, it restricts adoption of their products and services.
Hence the enormous proliferation of scaling solutions, which are generally built to make blockchains more usable. Notably, Reddit’s Community Points programme, used by millions, is built on Arbitrum, whilst Polygon powers more than double the number of transactions completed daily on the Ethereum mainnet. Both have very low gas fees, and solutions like SKALE are pushing the technological boundary even further by eliminating gas fees all together.
Speaking to Culture3, SKALE co-founder and CEO Jack O'Holleran explains that “especially at times of high onchain traffic, gas fees are the single greatest UX barrier.” Co-founded with Stan Kladko, SKALE is a zero gas fee Ethereum scaling solution governed by its DAO. For web3 to go mainstream, it needs technologies like those behind SKALE.
The network has saved users $90m in fees to date, is used on web3 platforms like Arweave and Braintrust, and is being rolled out on the NFTrade marketplace to create one of the world’s first zero gas fee NFT platforms. O'Holleran adds that “in order to scale to the next billion users, blockchains are going to need to provide solutions that offer zero gas fee transactions.”
SKALE’s integration with NFTrade will allow artists to mint and sell their work free of the gas fees usually involved in those processes, creating opportunities for many artists who may have felt restricted by transaction cost to create their first NFT works, alongside also making it easier for everyone else. With much of the uncertainty removed from the minting process for artists and the buying process for collectors, zero gas fee marketplaces are likely to become the norm over the next few years.
Last February, SKALE announced its $100m ecosystem incentive programme. Initially used to distribute $5m worth of grants to gaming developers, SKALE recently announced a Digital Art Grant programme to celebrate its partnership with the new marketplace. We spoke to three grantees, the application for which has a deadline of Thursday November 17th, to learn about the art they have created with the grant to mint on the platform: Uruguay’s Foleee, the Berlin-based Taya Ferdinand, and the Nigerian artist, Four.
Foleee is a digital artist and portrait painter who describes himself as a great admirer of traditional art, synthesising historic traditions and styles into the digital medium. This is distinctly visible in his art style, with its uncompromising realism embedding signs of inspiration from some of the great artists of the 17th century.
That said, the Uruguayan's early relationship with art was complicated. Enrolled in an art workshop by his mother in his pre-teens, Foleee’s teacher would have the talented artist recreate her pencil portraits while the rest of the workshop would do the usual, simplistic sketches. He understands today that this was because his teacher saw something significant in his work, but he felt discouraged after being separated from his peers at the time. “As a kid, you always want to be part [of the group] and I felt like I was doing something totally different.”
Subsequently, Foleee lived through the eternal artistic conflict between his all-consuming passion and his pursuit of a stable career. He convinced himself that drawing was a childish activity, not one he could carry with him as an adult. “I felt like drawing was a kid thing. And so when I stopped being a kid I said, ‘okay, no more drawing for me’.”
Foleee counts Caravaggio as his ultimate inspiration, whilst Raphael, Rembrandt, and John Singer Sargent are amongst the other masters from whose brushstrokes he tries to learn every day. Yet it was only when NFTs exploded onto the artistic scene that Foleee, then an engineer in his early 20s, returned to digital art.
“I felt like drawing was a kid thing.”
His distinctively warm, South American interpretation of this style is on full display in his texturally complex piece Gallantry. Foleee explains that the inspiration for this work came from his recent reflections on ideas around honour, specifically one's values and one's commitment to community, culture, and self.
When creating Gallantry, Foleee sought to imbue the piece with the ideals of chivalry in the simplest way possible. “I wanted to symbolise honour and how I feel we all should live an honourable life and stand by our values in order to make [the NFT space] a better place.”
A similar desire inspired Four's SKALE grant artwork. Based in Nigeria, the digital artist known as Four characterises himself as a “conceptual alchemist”, and exhibits a highly diverse approach to art. From digital photography to vivid depictions of African gods, artifacts and culture, he is known for showcasing Nigerian culture in his work, and his artworks are rife with a sense of exploration, always growing and shifting to challenge his creative sensibilities.
“Eventually, digital art will be recognised.”
He originally discovered NFTs analysing collections and artists on OpenSea. Collectibles were popular, but there was nothing from his home country that caught his attention. “I was intrigued not to find something from Nigerians. I thought about how I could be distinct in this space. As a Nigerian, we like to represent our culture. I wanted to showcase that.”
Four created Better Place from a vulnerable perspective, at a time of introspectiveness and deep aching for the state of the world. In the midst of the many ongoing conflicts of the world, particularly in Ukraine, Four sought compassion and peace. His piece is an expression of wanting to be able to meaningfully help those who are suffering but ultimately being unable to do so.
“The message I sought to pass was simple: Make peace, not war. Going through war is never easy, and this piece is a representation of my yearning to be present in the situation, to lend a helping hand.”
Despite being a recognised artist in web3, Four perceives continued struggles on the horizon for web3 artists. “Unlike painting or photography, the world does not recognise digital art as legitimate art. We have to work really hard to be seen and do something distinct. I do believe it is impossible for humans to remain in one state, so eventually, digital art will be recognised.”
He expects SKALE's grant programme to have a significant impact on digital artists by making their work easier to mint and collect. “I think the SKALE programme is absolutely amazing; to see this kind of innovation at this level is extraordinary.”
Like Four, Taya Ferdinand has experienced firsthand what web3 means for digital artists. Based in Berlin, the visual artist and and illustrator blends realism with surrealism and a postmodern philosophy. Before diving fully into NFTs last May, she worked as a graphic designer. “I never thought about being a full-time digital artist,” she explains. “Digital art and artists were used as instruments in achieving goals by other companies, like the game industry, or magazines.” Web3 changed everything about how she perceived what she could do with her talent and her creativity.
Her SKALE grant piece, simply titled I Am, represents all the aspects that best define her work; spiritual, suspenseful, and imbued with a variety of complex emotions.
Taya’s influence for I Am was a woman she had once met, who she describes as strong, self-sufficient, and comfortable with herself. “I felt connected to her,” she summarises. More broadly, Taya suggests “maybe I want to be like her, as I have always struggled with self-acceptance and experienced self-doubt.” In a deeper sense, I Am is a tribute to the importance of accepting oneself and being confident in your own skin.
“Before web3, I never thought about being a full-time digital artist.”
— Taya Ferdinand
Encouraged by the growing opportunities for creators across the NFT ecosystem, Foleee argues that empowering and supporting artists is critical for web3 culture to achieve its potential. “There’s a lot of us [artists] working really hard for our goals, who could use the extra push that a programme like this can give us in order to make it.”
“I think SKALE's grants program is a great opportunity for new and growing artists,” Taya adds. “It takes a lot of time to grow, and many of us lack the funds to invest in minting and listing. This kind of grant helps alleviate those problems, and lets creativity flourish.”
“Especially at times of high onchain traffic, gas fees are the single greatest UX barrier.”
— Jack O'Holleran
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