NFT from an Artist’s view: The Early Days – Nanu Berks Part 1

Nanu Berks, the Crypto Artist.

This is the very beginning of us designing a better system.

Nanu is the first woman to live-paint and create crypto art in the bitcoin conference circuit, as well as fashionable art crypto clothing.

“Crypto art is an art movement based on the symbology and ethos of cryptocurrencies, but mostly about the underlying technologies for decentralisation like blockchain.” – Nanu Berks

Originally from Argentina. Mixed-media artist (up-cycled, graffiti, healing arts, social-tech & AI) Color maps, wearable art, NFT fine art, street art, and art installations. NFTing since 2016.

Join us as we hear from Nanu Berks to understand what it takes to be an NFT artist, what technical skills she’s had to learn, the platforms she uses, how she goes about selling her art, how she sees the industry developing from the early heady days of 2016-2018 with the last hype cycle and the opportunities there are to work with her.

Here is part 1 of the conversation:

Bridget Greenwood: Welcome everyone. My name is Bridget Greenwood. I am the founder of The Bigger Pie and The Bigger Pie was set up to be able to support women in blockchain. I could see the technology from Bitcoin through to crypto. We have DeFi now, DLT, et cetera, that this was another once in a lifetime generational transference of wealth that could happen.

And I didn’t want to see half of the population left out just because of their gender. The Bigger Pie is here to support women who are leading in the space. To be able to make sure that they’re seen, they’re heard, they’re funded, they’re given opportunities, they know where they can advance their careers, to make sure that we can see these women and also attract more women into the space.

I’m absolutely delighted today that we have Nanu with us. Nanu was introduced to me by a mutual acquaintance Siddhi Trivedi who hopefully will be joining us. Nanu is the first woman to live-paint and create crypto art at the Bitcoin conference circuit, as well as fashionable art – crypto clothing.

She said that crypto art is an art movement based on the symbology and ethos of cryptocurrencies. But most importantly about the underlying technologies for decentralisation like blockchain. Originally from Argentina – mixed media artist, upcycled, graffiti, healing arts, social tech, and AI, colour maps, wearable art, NFT, fine arts, street art and art installations. Nanu has been NFTing since 2016.

Today Nanu is going to share her experiences so we can learn what it takes to be an NFT artist, what technical skills she’s had to learn, the platform she uses, how she goes about selling her art and what we can do to support her and the opportunities there are to work with her.

Nanu, please tell us how you got into the space and what you’ve witnessed in the industry? Since it’s been developing from the early heady days when we saw the last huge hype cycle of 2016, 2017, following the crash that we had in 2018 to where we are today.

Nanu Berks: Well, thank you so much for having me.

Yeah. I really love being here. And you’ve said some really amazing things. It is really cool to see women doing, standing up for women and men standing up for women and all of us bringing more diversity into the space. Definitely when I got into it, early days, you would very rarely see another woman walking by.

A lot of them were scientists and engineers. And it was very few that were more on the creative side, even though engineering is so creative. But yeah I’m from Argentina. My family unfortunately lost all of their life savings. And  throughout the 2002 crisis where the banks closed down overnight, we were on the street, it was a crazy experience as a nine-year-old to go through and even younger, all the frustrations of the economic system there.

I didn’t believe in the system. I went off on my own backpacking and then I found Bitcoin and it was explained to me that it had this very similar values. The de-centralisation values were similar to me wanting to be an outlaw, but just even better because you can act from within the system and help.

And this helped me heal my relationship with money and with abundance and realise that these tools of power are not to be villainised, they’re just tools right and we can do whatever we want with them. The industry has changed a lot since I was in it. I think part of my role as one of the early co-founders of the crypto art movement was to create synergy between the conferences and explain why having interactive art experiences and just art in general, beautifying, creating the culture and the symbology was really important for mass adoption.

I got laughed at a lot.

I got asked a lot of weird questions when I was life painting. I was the only one there. People didn’t get it.

People would come up to me and be like, “why are you selling this for this much money?” And, “why are you here painting?” and now we look back with all the other crypto art OGs and laugh at the fact that we’re finally here.

NFTs are the tool to mass adoption, for Bitcoin, for everything else and for the technology. It’s amazing. It’s really gratifying to be here to be able to see this. I’m very grateful.

Bridget Greenwood: In terms of the journey, what does that look like for you. It’s a familiar story when you talk to people from just a few years ago as to what they could see and what their vision was and what they wanted to manifest and what we’re seeing today. But can you walk us through a bit more detail in what that looked like, more on a sort of everyday level. So back in 2016, when you first started NFTing, how did you get to learn the technical skills? What were the marketplaces like then? How has that changed to what we’ve got today?

Nanu Berks: Yeah, these are great questions I appreciate it.

Because when I think back of all this whole journey, there was so much that happened and it’s easy to reduce it and say, well, everything is working great now, but it was really, really difficult back then. Let me see if I can map it in my brain, visually. At first, I was painting murals.

I was graffitiing, spray painting everything from messages of freedom like, “be love, be free” which I still tag everywhere with the Bitcoin B to just questions like, “are you happy?” I was just trying to intercept people’s brain and help them be present and check in with where they’re at and what’s going on in their lives and then give them solutions to that, “join this community, join this art project.”

And then taking that into the integration of the conferences was a crazy switch because I’ve always been business savvy or happy to activate that part of my brain. But in all, a lot of artists really don’t like to do that. And so I’m grateful that I had those skills. That I studied communications and marketing in college, that my family really pushed me to pursue other things other than just art. Because there was a whole period there where I was just a business person and I was emailing every single conference and pitching them and writing pitch decks.

There was such a huge learning curve and learning how to write contracts and talk to people the right way and pitch and sell and close something, because you’ve got to sell people on your vision and it has to be genuine. But also you are the one that carries this energy of potential to finalising a project.

If you’re the one who sees it and nobody else sees it, that’s on your shoulders, you’ve got to sell it and you’ve got to pull through. It was really nerve wracking. I orchestrated this whole thing to one of the big conferences, “You guys need art. It’s going to be amazing.”

Then I flew myself to San Francisco for one of them. I arrived there, bought painting materials and an easel, and just went to the conference. It was just very guerrilla style. And it was really nerve wracking. I was excited, but at the same time thought, “okay, well, if I fail at this, what am I going to do?” But thankfully people received it well, even with the skepticism.

Then there was learning how to negotiate.

I couldn’t do these things out of pocket anymore. I started pitching to the conference, “this is why you need to fly me out. This is why you need to put me up at a hotel. This is why you have to help me sell this on stage. If you do that, I’ll give you this percentage. But if I sell it by myself, there’s no percentage for the conference.” All these different things, trial and error. And then another huge learning curve was how to connect these to the blockchain, right?

How do you connect the physical piece? Most of my pieces are physical pieces of art, 3D, heavy things to ship. I started playing around with NFC chips, which are these little things. NFC chips, you can buy them online, super simple, and you can put them on your artwork and log into an app called NFC tools, there’s a bunch of them.

These little things, NFC chips, you can scan it with your phone. You can load in the data connected to a smart contract. I started doing things like that really early, but the technology was super over my head.

I’m not technical. I wasn’t technical. I didn’t care for technology.

I traveled without a phone, a computer. I didn’t care about money. I didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to paint. It was a hard learning curve and I had to learn to fall in love with it. But at the end of the day, I feel like, we just got to go with the times. As much as we hear this, and it’s frustrating to hear, “Oh, you got to learn to do illustrator.” I’ve been so resistant to all these tools, to get an iPad. But once you do accept these tools, it just makes your life easier.

At first I was connecting art to the blockchain through other companies because it was all over my head. These companies, a lot of them went under, 0.01% of the companies that start are still here from back then. And then I started learning more and more.

I was also helping  the Super Rares, the unknown origins, all the beginning platforms, the Raribles. I was doing consultations with them and helping them with their user interaction. It was interesting because I was giving them feedback as an artist to use their platform.

And then six years later, I’m helping artists onboard onto these platforms. It’s now I’m giving technical advice to creatives when, before I was giving creative advice to technical people. It’s a really nice full circle. And I feel I can help from all the different angles now, which feels really wholesome.

I’m putting together an NFT course as part of all the million things that we’re doing. So hopefully we can help answer a lot of questions with that.

Bridget Greenwood: You had to learn the technical skills. Can you walk us through how you did that process? Was it finding other people? Was it researching? Was it a combination of both? If someone else is in your position and they don’t have a network of people, what would you recommend to them to be able to go from where they are right now to the next stages?

Nanu Berks: For sure. Back then I just hopped on the conference circuit and I literally followed these events and these conferences in real life. I got swept into the rabbit hole and it was cool. It was a group of us that were randomly bumping into each other, all these events all over the world.

I put all of me into it, all my money, all my time.

It was just one of those things where I’m a million percent into the space and that’s really hard to do if you have a traditional job, that’s hard to do during quarantine. The best version of that today is joining clubhouse, joining these events, joining every telegram group that you can, Twitter and play around with all of these tentacles and find your people. Because if you’re in telegram groups where they’re talking about hyper-technical stuff or other platforms are too noisy, you’re going to get discouraged.

But there’s so many levels in ways that people talk about the same technology, find the one that speaks to you, learn there and then you can branch out.

There’s a lot of beginner talks on Clubhouse that are great. I just say there’s a lot of people also talking that don’t really know what’s going on. People that have come into the space two, three months ago, and there’s a lot of misinformation and misconception.

It’s very important to remember that de-centralisation is about taking your power back, being your own bank, being radically responsible. It’s really beneficial and fun eventually. And also it’s a learning curve and it’s studying.

If you want the power to create your own life, you need to learn how to build it.

That’s something that I tell myself again and again, every time that I got to learn something new. Right now I’m learning how to code smart contracts.I never thought I would have to do that, but I want to have more control over my royalties and the opportunities. And I don’t want to depend on a company shutting down and then not knowing what’s going on. I want to learn how to put those smart contracts into my legal contracts so I can be sustainable and aware of what’s going on in my business beyond these platforms.

It’s constant learning, but joining all these groups is great, as many talks as you can, asking questions and just getting your hands dirty and trying it. That’s the thing too, you gotta learn how to set up your metamask. Super, super basic. A browser extension, wallet. Got to set up a Coinbase account or something and just learn your super basics, how to send, how to buy Ethereum, how to send it to my metamask and how to connect my metamask to platform and then you just start playing around, make mistakes. And it has to be fun too right.

Bridget Greenwood: Very much so. There’s various ways that we can learn. What are some of the mistakes that you think that some people coming in right now could avoid by listening to you rather than having to make those mistakes themselves?

Nanu Berks:  Yeah there’s a lot of I guess rushing. Because of blockchain and in technology and all these new economies moving so quickly. It’s true that if we don’t act accordingly, we miss waves. If you are not on Twitter for three days and you missed a meme and you come back and everybody’s about this meme, you’re going to have no idea what’s going on.

And there’s going to be thousands of dollars, millions of dollars sold already of this art. You gotta be on it. That’s one thing, find life work balance, and try to not be online every weekend. However it works for you, but also be diligent because that’s the best way to stay on top of it. At the same time, this rush of, “okay, I need to mint something now because the wave is going to pass.” I believe in universal alignment. However you want to make that comprehensible in your own value belief system.

But if you’re pushing really hard, if I’m pushing really hard to release an NFT at a certain date, because I don’t want to miss a wave and I make mistakes, even energetically, put it out with stress, not check all my metadata, etc. It’s not going to carry through and it’s not going to bring me the opportunities I expect and it might backlash on me. It’s better to miss a wave, but be consistent in your learning so that when the next wave comes, you can be ready. And this applies to the bull markets and the bear markets as well.

For example, right now we’re still in a pretty amazing bull market. I haven’t had any time to invest. I see a lot of my friends, flipping and becoming millionaires overnight, and I just don’t have the time, I’m minting NFTs and I’m preparing courses.

FOMO is real!

My role is to help educate in this space as well. Money comes in other ways, I trust that as well. The first bull market or two bull markets ago, I was able to make initial capital a little bit, messing around with some coins. And now I’m feeling FOMO about not being able to invest as much as I want to, and people are feeling FOMO about this in the NFT world, I’m just saying to myself, “okay, the next run, I’m going to be able to be more prepared.”

Hopefully the FOMO is the motivation to learn now because these things will continue to come back. NFTs are just the underlying technology to the creative economy. NFTs plug into Instagram, into Twitter, into everything you’re doing right into everything we’re doing, websites are 2D and then we have the metaverse and the decentralands and all these things.

And those are 3D versions of our websites or interactive versions of our websites.

Eventually everybody’s going to have a way to walk through with an avatar, through these worlds and it’s going to be normal. It’s not going to be the separation between the VR-AR world and the people that don’t want that.

It’s integrating with each other. And I’m saying this coming from a place where I didn’t want any of these technologies. NFTs are the tech layer that allows us to buy things in that world, see ads interact with ads. It’s worth learning this technology, even if you never planned on minting an NFT.

Keep learning through the waves and use FOMO to motivate yourself, don’t rush and put things out. Just specific ones.

If you mint an NFT, and it’s your very first one, that’s your Genesis piece.

Don’t be in a rush to sell that because you can keep that one collecting bits for the rest of your eternity, or never sell it.

That’s going to be your most valuable piece because it’s earlier stamped in the clock. It’s earlier in technology. If you go earlier in the.com boom, everything is better. If you get earlier in the NFT boom, everything’s better. I sold mine. It sold. I didn’t pay attention to it. I minted it and then it was gone and I was like, “Oh wow. I was not expecting that.” And it was really cool and it helped me at the time with some capital I needed.  There’s no mistakes that you can’t come back from really. But I would say if you can keep your Genesis, keep it.

Don’t be afraid to play around with pricing and rarity, because right now there’s this whole thing about rarity and scarcity.

If you have one of ones they are more valuable, but also you’ve got to find your audience, maybe you can do a one-on-one and a 10 of 10, or maybe you can do a hundred of a hundred. And it’s really good for you, but for another person, it devalues their brand.

What are you trying to mint? Why are you minting it? Which is the most important question and that you have to be really honest with. Am I minting this because I want to make money? That could be the sole reason, “I’m trying to make money and I want to monetise my art. That’s why I’m minting it. The other reasons; I really care about this technology and I want to learn, or I want to help decentralise the art world for everybody that’s going to come after me, whichever your reason is.

Your why is going to drive you so much more, and it’s going to sustain you through the ups and downs because people think that you just put an art piece on the blockchain in itself, but it’s like anything else, you can get TikTok famous or YouTube famous or crypto famous or whatever it is and build your audiences from there or “known”, micro-influencer known, famous, whatever you want to call it.

For me, I’ve been building this brand for six years. As soon as I post a collection, it’s sold in 14 hours. I wasn’t expecting that because I hadn’t been in this space in like a year and a half, but it’s because I’ve been building those brands. The most important thing is to connect with community and build your tribe and find out what they want. And then you can sell it.

Don’t get frustrated if you put something out and it doesn’t sell.

There’s so much more to learn.

Bridget Greenwood: Thank you so much. Before we sort of move away from the technical skills and that side of things, there’s the question that is being asked. What’s the value of embedding NFC chip to the arts.

Nanu Berks: NFTs in one of their functionalities are just a digitalised version of a contract that proves authenticity, right? We have a Van Gogh with a little piece of paper. It says that it is a real Van Gogh and then you can check the paint and everything, do your due diligence and the actual technique to see that it is a real painting. With some of these pieces,  I can have a regular piece of art and I can put one of these one of these chips on it. When somebody let’s say that, even if it’s not an NFT, let’s say somebody just buys this for me. And I ship it to them. They can scan the chip and make sure that all the information makes sense.

Even if this piece gets burned or gets lost or whatever, they still can prove that it was an original, or even if they sell it to somebody else in a secondary market, they can prove that it’s an original. With the NFT it’s a really cool connection because if somebody buys my piece and it’s NFTed, they can trade it as an asset on the blockchain.

The issue I guess, is that it can come with the physical or not. And of course it doesn’t have GPS, I can’t continue to track it, right? I can sell an NFT and someone resells it and they don’t send the physical piece and that’s on the collector’s mind.

But the thing that’s amazing is that this culture is so transparent that that’s eventually going to resurface. It’s very difficult I think, to be trading art from artists that are in the public eye at all and to not have that eventually resurface. You can just Google it and see the description if it comes with the original piece or not.Also for the artists benefit,  it keeps me connected to the prominence. And it keeps me connected to see where my art switches hands. And of course, that’s not just the chip. It is the chip with the smart contract, with the NFT on the blockchain. But at this point I would take everything as, ‘pioneering into the future’ and just learning practices of disruption. None of this is a solution.

This is the very beginning of us designing a better system.

If you’d like to purchase Nanu’s course you can discover more about it here: https://podcastfarm.mykajabi.com/sales-page-f22627c0-2fe0-49e5-826a-8726bccb411b