I started this article with a set hypothesis – I assumed that whilst it’s a male-centric world in which women find it harder to get into, they are still rocking it. I was right, and I was wrong. I found that women are not at a disadvantage when it comes to creating digital art but the communities are not as well-formed as they could be.
For Arweave specifically, there is the Koii Discord chat of artists supporting each other but subprojects like Women Rise, specifically focusing on female artists, don’t exist (please, correct me if I’m wrong – a female NFT community on Arweave would be a great article to write!).
If you are an artist, @VoiceHQ and Women Rise are here to support! ❤️
We have more than 200 applications already and the deadline is approaching!
Applications close on the 7th of May! 🌙 https://t.co/LZDVp0o4Ej
— Women Rise NFT (@WomenriseNFT) May 2, 2022
This could also be due to the simple reason, that while the DAOs in the ecosystem get regular reports, updates and interact with each other, the individual artists have less of a community in the Arweave space and quite frankly less exposure.
We already talked about accessibility of Arweave NFT marketplaces and found that improvements are necessary. But my initial thought was that people who are not as technical might be kept from migrating to Arweave altogether. I wanted to investigate more, get real life perspectives.
So I talked to 2 female led projects who are in the space already and who surprised my non-technical self with how advanced and amazing their technological competency is, completely upturning my theory that women find this environment harder.
(It might come from the place that many female colleagues who have entered this world started from the ground level and we all took some time to wrap our heads around it, but we all did come to the conclusion that the Arweave ecosystem is pretty straightforward and accessible to not only technical minds).
There’s also pre-requisites and cultural as well as gender biases we encounter from the start. No wonder there is a need for projects like Boys Club, that help the crypto curious and let “silly” questions be asked making the entry point more accessible. But again – is this a female specific issue or the general barrier of entry for Web3? I wanted to find out.
So, to gain some perspective, I also talked to an NFT artist who is planning to mint her work on Arweave and an aspiring NFT artist who has been interested in starting out with Arweave but hasn’t yet due to the gap in technological knowledge. I hope this will help us understand better, how we could help onboard more artists to Arweave – a place where art can live forever.
First, I’ll tell you about these amazing artists and their projects so you know what to look out for – and then we will discuss the ecosystem itself.
NFTPolina is the co-creator of Who Is Emily?. She describes herself as “an avid learner of the space” and has been at it for 2 years. Her first project – Who Is Emily? was co-created with her brother. She had been working in the art industry for several years and had some doubts about its efficiency which in turn affected the artists.
“Exorbitant fee structures, cost inefficiencies, bureaucratic and time intensive processes are just some obstacles to name a few.”
She was attracted by the platform conditions – cheap, smooth and with fair onboarding for the artists. She points out how operating in a decentralised manner lowers the overhead costs which in turn allows reduced fees and makes it more affordable.
With her project NFTpolina aims to crush any existing barriers a creator might face when joining this space. She talks about project incubation, virtual and real storefronts, galleries & showrooms as only some of the future plans of the project. She points out how Arweave’s permanent storage makes this possible and increases the grandiosity of the project. To ensure fair distribution and sustainable growth, the initial sales revenue from the collection, market royalties and fees from future products will all be split between the community treasury (EMILYDAO), the team and their unique burn mechanism.
“With ‘’Who is Emily?’’ we aim to build the necessary infrastructure that will not only help Emily NFT holders to exhibit and sell their works but help improve the whole traditional art industry. We want to bridge the gap between the real world and our beloved nonfungible universe. This collection will serve as a cornerstone of this venture, allowing token holders to stand at the forefront of this movement.”
She also states that her art is here to provide an untapped niche. After seeing many cheap quality collections gain a lot of traction she decided it’s time to raise the standard:
“I mean not everybody wants a cartoon animal with a cigar hanging over their fireplace, so we are here to fill this gap.”
NFTPolina shares that the task of creating this project was harder than she anticipated. Since working with human portraits, there was no room for mistakes in proportion, shading or color balance, as it would result in visible defects. With these strict measures they had to design over 120 unique elements.
“The digital revolution is marching with incredible speed and we plan to walk right beside it.”
In the time since our initial talk they have made many technical adjustments, including upgrading the smart contract to an ERC-721A, which in turn lowers the gas fees. They have also started testing the separate DAO contract and just like us – are looking forward to the launch:
“Getting incredibly excited about the launch and cannot wait to show our collection to the whole world.”
When asked about her inspirations she tells me she gets inspired by Zaha Hadid’s work, projects that come from Sci-Arc and Gnomon, Anouk Wipprecht amongst others, and even Disney animations. But it doesn’t stop at just an artist or a project:
“Inspiration comes to me from very random places and at random times, I get inspired by nature a lot, random things like leaf veins or water bubbles or what form can a smoke take, also since I am actually an architectural designer and have a masters degree in architecture and digital production most of my inspiration comes from those areas as well.”
She also points out that it is visible in their collection that her and her brother are inspired by Renaissance classics dating back to 15th and 16th century Italy, France and Netherlands highlighting Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, Pietro Rotari, Petrus Christus and more.
Her sense of community is wonderful, so among her many inspirations she also mentions Volker Hermes – an artist who she encourages for everyone to check out and support.
“[..]I have been a follower of his for quite some time and now to see him join the NFT space just proves to me that we are all on the right track.”
Tabassom is an experienced photographer who takes NFTs beyond profile pictures. One of her projects is a photoshoot of a play based on Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, performed in 2015, Tehran, Iran. The project is stored on Arweave. The collection was recently presented in Cosmos. See the project here.
“After photographing this performance and reviewing the photos taken, considering the theme of the crime in this show, it occurred to me to edit, to attract the viewer’s attention to the red color in the photos.”
Tabassom has been in the NFT scene almost since May 2021. She had been familiar with the blockchain for 2 years and came across NFTs by chance.
“[..] since I am a photographer, I became very interested in it”
She also recently minted a project in Tezos-based mitning platform OBJKT, which was saved on ArDrive and now lives on Arweave forever. The collection is called Mud and is “a performance story of human creation”. You can see the full project here.
But one of her favorite projects is stored on Foundation here. It is a picture from a play Bump Meeting written by a famous Iranian director and writer Bahram Beizai. The play was performed on July 2016, in the main hall of CityTheater in Tehran, Iran.
“This photo was taken at one of the best moments of this theater. The story of this play is about the killer of Imam Ali (Imam Shias), but at the moment of taking this photo, I was thinking about the story of Moses and his companions. More interestingly, Christian viewers see Jesus and his companions in this photo.”
She says that the feedback she got and her own view during taking the photo became the reasons for not limiting the subject of the photo to any specific country or religion.
The same collection also includes a photo Eclipse, which is from a theater play about “a woman on the borders of Iran and Afghanistan”. The photo is stored on ArDrive.
When asked who her inspirations are she’s honest with me:
“I want to tell the truth, I am not inspired by anyone, I do not imitate, because when I am myself, I feel calm.”
Mia Hawk introduces herself as “new to the NFT space” as she has been in the game for only a few months. She sold her first NFT in December 2021. She is currently using 1/1 NFTs alongside their physical counterpart, so when you buy an NFT you also buy the painting.
“This is something I will continue to be doing as I release more works, and as I create a collection of paintings there will be NFTs to go alongside with them.”
“One day I just really wanted to draw something that made me smile and laugh, and that’s where it all started. It was an antidote to working on big and “serious” paintings. The drawings are all very simple, and I want them to retain a bit of an unfinished edge to them.”
“The name came from the idea of a home where all these little creatures live and are allowed to exist and be loved exactly as they are; referencing the very human qualities of being both flawed and adorable at the same time. I wanted the name to be slightly long and awkward, and have a reference to meme/NFT culture. I just can’t tell you how much I love making them all! I’ve made little memes/t shirt designs of them all and put up the main creatures as NFTs.”
The second is her first NFT project inspired by her personal journey as an artist.
“The main character is a type of warrior woman. This is a repeated theme in my art. I often feel that being an artist is much like being a warrior, not just in the sense of creating work, but navigating having to make money on what you produce and still creating work with integrity.”
She points out that an artist wears many hats having to innovate, do market research and all that whilst working long hours to make it all come to fruition. Mia then elaborates on her project:
“The basic character figure is wearing a sort of headwear shaped as a hawk as a sort of tribal uniform. Birds have always been central to my work, and the hawk symbolises for me a commitment to seeing clearly a wider perspective and in a sense, to see things clearly. To different accessories, colours, backgrounds and expressions will all be things supporting this theme.”
She got inspired to turn her art into NFTs by its innovation and possibilities of different implementations.
“Though I am mainly a traditional artist I have always done all my designing and a lot of illustrations digitally. Because of NFTs I am constantly creating more digital paintings that are 1/1 NFTs.”
She added that she enjoys working digitally but it comes with drawbacks.
“ [..] but always felt like it was missing something as I didn’t have an original to sell, I feel this is a great way of elevating digital works into having the credibility they deserve! I also really like the idea of creating with minimal means, i.e. only really needing an iPad to create work.”
She adds that working with minimal means gives the freedom of mobility as you can work wherever you are without relying on carrying a huge canvas around.
Her artist inspirations are mostly traditional artists like Christian Cook and Nick Alm, as well as her artist friends, such as portrait artist Ange Bell.
“Within the NFT space, I have been a fan of Lumps ever since I met him when we both did London illustration fair. He’s absolutely smashing it. And I love his art!”
Minxzs has been interested in making her art into NFTs and as a community manager of two Arweave DAOs, she knows her choice would be Arweave. However, it’s not as straight forward as it looks and the entry barrier is hard.
Her latest collection is pictures of the sky called “Childhood”. She made it during a particularly hard time of her life and it involved a lot of self reflection.
She wanted to capture the beauty outside of her bedroom window to then gather strength from the images, strength from the river, from the memories. She admits, that not all of her memories were happy and it’s not necessarily a pleasantly nostalgic gallery.
“But it’s the view that was my source of strength and I wanted to capture it, I wanted to capture the good memories I had there and their power of helping me get over the bad times. The sky and the river have always been there, a constant, while I was going through motions.”
Her favorite project she’s done so far is a collection called “Vasenieku purva taka”. She loves the project because being in the forest she feels a certain, inexplicable vibe and she wanted to capture the feeling of it. She is often compared to the artist Purvitis who is known for his ambient landscapes.
She wants to make her art into NFTs as she sees it’s the future and she’s wanted to store the digitally and not only on the harddrive where it could be lost. She feels there’s more freedom in NFTs than traditional art, with room for experimentation.
“I personally feel that digital art is more abstract, it’s newer, so you can express yourself as you want rather than follow rules and guidelines. Even in the traditional abstract art, there’s rules within, but with NFTs you can truly make anything happen.”
She also admits, that digital art is easier to create, is not as time consuming and helps her get her ideas out faster, as they are fresh.
She’s inspired by artists from her childhood. While her art form is photography, her first inspiration was a children’s book artist of a beloved story – Margarita Stāraste.
“I think she would have been good doing NFTs (laughs). Her style was unique, you looked at a drawing and knew it’s her. She had a particular feel to her stuff, even if it was children’s drawings.”
Generally, she likes “trippy” art on mundane things, she describes it as having a mild LSD trip just being in the nature and letting it overcome you.
You can find her on Twitter here.
Women don’t have a higher barrier to entry for NFTs, but friendlier usability would benefit all
As I mentioned before, I’m not the most technical person. I don’t want to say that women find it harder. For example, in my case, I simply didn’t have the exposure as early on as say, my younger brother who was introduced to the technologies earlier in his life than I was. A simple social decision my parents made.
But I was curious about this digital world of art and decided to put my shame aside and ask these artists some questions about their experience.
I asked them if they find it harder to find their place in the ecosystem as women. Tabassom raises an interesting point – she believes it is not the disadvantage in technological capabilities as everyone is able to learn equally well.
“In my opinion, women have much less self-confidence than men, and most women think that they have to have a man to support them in order to progress. Every human being can progress in any field by learning and trying and most importantly pursuing and updating his knowledge.”
Tabassom grew up with technology and was always interested in learning more. She also states the importance of continuing to learn and keep up to date with newest developments.
On the contrary, Minxzs, who similar to me, had not been exposed to technology at a younger age, admits that her entry point – the first question – was whether her art even counts as an NFT or not, not to mention the technical things. There is the question of which platform to use, where to mint them (and again you need to understand the concept of minting written by someone who is speaking from a higher level than the person understands). And there is no one on your level to ask unless your friends are already doing it and can direct to some sources.
“It’s hard when you have an idea, you have the vision and you have some basic understanding of the benefits of it but you lack the technical knowledge to execute it. [..] Where’s the NFTs on Arweave for Dummies?”
She believes there’s a shortage of short and comprehensive guides, especially videos. She thinks that there’s not enough information from the point zero but a lot with foreknowledge, taking you down the rabbithole of information but at the end, speaking a foreign language.
“My friend wants to do this but she doesn’t even know where to start, which information is reliable and accurate, and what is just good marketing of a shit product or even a scam. [..] Maybe it’s that there’s so much information you don’t know where to start.”
She also adds that as an artist she has her art to think about, marketing, execution. Finding time and resources to go through mountains of information each saying they’re the best solution, the most easiest, the most reliable – is hard.
“It’s especially frustrating that you get the idea behind storing your NFTs on Arweave, or elsewhere, but you don’t have the tools, the mindset to grasp it.”
She thinks that this information is also necessary for people who are not neurotypical – information should be available in different formats rather than long, technical articles with a lot of info sending you down the neverending rabbithole of sources.
“As someone with ADHD, reading something new that’s written in a complicated way makes me research it to the very beginning. I will dig so deep I’ll have gone so far, I’ll have 20 tabs of articles open not getting anywhere, trying to understand everything. All I can think is – I wish I had a friend who could explain this because all I need is a simple answer to a simple question.”
In Mia’s case it was indeed her friend, who helped her by explaining how he had set it all up. She asked around and watched some YouTube videos to understand the technology behind blockchain, NFTs and crypto better.
“I’m generally a person who is self taught and likes to figure things out. Saying that, some years ago I did look into trying to sort something with my own website with coding and found it really really difficult. I’m more a spacial/visual person and find the language around this to be quite alien to me.”
Similarly, NFTPolina, is working with her brother who helped her with smart contracts and minting simultaneously teaching her so she could experiment for herself. She adds that there are a lot of resources out there to look for.
“There is definitely a technological hurdle for everyone to get over initially. I know those things look quite intimidating at first but if there is one thing I could recommend is have no fear and just jump in. Learning the basics and getting familiar with this technology will only make you stronger, even if you do end up using professional developers you will at least be able to speak their language.”
She also encourages people to not be afraid to ask for help:
“In short, all the protocols you will be building on will have their Discord channels with dedicated support channels. If you ever get confused along the way, just talk to the community and I’m certain you will find a solution.”
What is the necessity and importance of a strong community?
That leads me to the second problem I’ve encountered – are there any communities supporting women artists? All of them agree that they would love to be a part of one, however, they have not found one on Arweave yet.
When I ask Minxzs if a female community would help she exclaims “But of course!”, she believes female communities are not necessarily always the safe space we would like it to be but connecting with other women over art just seems appealing.
“It’s about trust. You trust more when it’s a community, when you see it work, you see support being given and at one point you feel confident to ask questions and allow yourself to be helped.”
Mia says that while new to the Twitter artist community and at the beginning of her journey, she has in fact encountered more female artists than men. Whereas, NFTPolina, points out that whilst not on Arweave, there are many female led NFT projects out there:
“I am seeing more and more women speak up, host spaces and educate the community which is a great sign. I’ve met so many kind and supportive people along the way and heard nothing but positive feedback about the project. Special shout out to the founders and communities from The Founder’s Factory, Wisher Vodka, The 8.1: Uncaged, Boss Babes, Mystic Sisterhood and ZenAcademy, for helping us along the way!”
Tabassom also adds:
“It will be easier if there is more friendship, empathy and cooperation not only between women but also between human beings.”
And I agree with her, we can branch out communities and supporting networks into more niche ones once we have the base support system in place. It doesn’t have to be female centric but a stronger community of support in general. As NFTPolina states, there’s plenty of communities on Ethereum and elsewhere with strong support.
Arweave is clearly the best solution for storing your art but it lacks the bridge for newcomers and the web of connections with cross-sharing and promoting like we have for our DAOs. Having this in place would benefit the entire ecosystem because it works only if it’s widely used and appreciated.
This is not to say there’s only rivalry (in fact I haven’t seen any at all) or no sense of community in Arweave but given how tight knit the community is in everything else, it’s simply surprising that the NFT community isn’t feeling the same sense of togetherness.
The same goes for female communities. We have many female icons to look up to in all different professions and it only makes sense we would want that same inspiring presence in the NFT space. Little girls who dream of becoming NFT artists are not a futuristic pipe-dream and Arweave is the place where art is safe, so creating an ecosystem and showing that Arweave is the right choice comes with the need for it being accessible. Even Tabassom, who is tech-savvy admits:
“At first it was a bit complicated, but then watching the video and reading about it, as well as getting acquainted with the ArDrive, made it easier for me to use.”
And so here we start, with these four wonderful artists choosing Arweave. Why? In Tabassom’s case she had looked at several options and realized that Arweave has more advantages:
“The most important thing was to have a permanent storage space with one payment and the lowest cost, and this is very important for a photographer. I am so interested in this project now that I am an AR holder.”
Minxzs, who also now holds $AR since she believes in the project, agrees that the permanence is a key selling point, you don’t need to be afraid it will be gone and all your work is lost, hopefully saved on an old computer that still works but more likely gone for good. She adds that paying once, rather than subscription based makes more sense financially and truly keeps your work permanent not depending on the host continuously receiving money from you.
“Like I said before, you don’t know who to trust so you go for something that’s a reasonable price and seems trustworthy. Arweave gives me that sense. Even without understanding the tech behind it, I can understand how paying once, not renting out my own work makes sense.”
Reasonable price was also a selling point for NFTPolina, which was crucial for their project to come to fruition. They wanted to implement dynamic features in their smart contract which would then change the image properties according to certain actions. They found that Ethereum’s limited token standard and high gas fees made this unfeasible and led her to explore other chains.
Another aspect was the permanent storage. As she puts it:
“Once I hosted the whole collection, I had a very special feeling that is hard to put in words. Knowing that this collection will outlive all of us definitely changed some perspectives in my head”.
Mia, on the other hand, has yet to mint an NFT on Arweave but is planning to do use Arweave as a solution. Since she’s new to the world of NFTs she’s been using “the most accessible solutions” as she puts it. She believes she still has to learn a lot about the technical side of things.
“It was a friend of mine, who encouraged me to get into NFTs, who first told me about Arweave. I asked him about what projects he believed in the most, and ended up researching it a little and loved the thoughts behind it. I particularly like the idea of being able to create a permanent archive of my work; it’s so easy to lose artwork on unpredictable external hard drives, or when losing or damaging a computer.”
She believes it’s a great solution for artists who could lose their work (before it’s even seen light) due to them being lost or damaged.
The big question: Is it really more difficult for women to be NFT artists?
Finally, I asked them if it’s more difficult for women to make it in the NFT space. NFTPolina and Tabassom both believe it is not. NFTPolina says that while she’s only at the beginning of her journey – “it’s been a blast”.
“I’ve met so many kind and supportive people and heard nothing but positive feedback towards the project.”
Tabassom believes that it’s an equal playing ground for men and women where no one is at a disadvantage.
“Of course, the success rate also depends on the choice of activity. For example, with the current state of the NFT market, the success of a graphic work is far greater than a collection of photos. It also depends on market demand and many other factors that affect the difficulty of success.”
Mia looks at it from a more hands on perspective. She believes it can be harder due to lack of exposure.
“I know some of my artist friends, many of whom are female, find it difficult to find reasons to get into NFTs, as it’s “just a JPEG” and don’t really see the possibilities around it. But I think that is also a general attitude in traditional artists.”
She tells me about visiting a physical woman-led NFT gallery in Oslo. She points out that her struggles might come from her audience not being as familiar with the NFT scene.
“I think my own difficulties is that because I’ve established myself as a traditional artist, a lot of my current audience doesn’t know much about the NFT space.”
Minxzs shares that asking her male and female friends brings up the same result, no one is at an advantage or disadvantage.
“I think in the world of art it is hard for everyone, be it an NFT or not. Maybe it’s harder for women, I wouldn’t know, in my experience where it is hard for everyone, there’s an equality in our entry barrier.”
Accessibility to preserved content is at the heart of Arweave and it is important and it needs to be straightforward for the artist and the art buyer. Of course it would be a completely separate article analyzing the experiences of NFT collector newbies.
It takes a lot to make it in the NFT scene, not just technical knowledge, good marketing or being able to create outstanding art. There are different factors at play, making each NFT artist’s journey unique. But what we can do is make it simple and user friendly so more people have a chance to store their art permanently and for people to find it too.