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July 29, 2022

NFTs and Fine Art: Bridging the Gap, Interview with Nathan Harding, Intuitive Abstract Artist on the Blockchain

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Omaralexis Ochoa: Nathan Harding is an intuitive abstract artist living in New York City. He is known for his vibrant abstract paintings with draw inspiration from his life experience. He has lived all over the world from Paris to Bali to New York and many places in between -- all of which inspire his work and process for creating incredible works of fine art today, he has now been working to make NFTs a part of his art. And during this Space, we'll be able to get an inside look at Nathan's process, how he's bridging the gap between fine art and NFTs, and some of the mistakes he's made along the way. So without further ado, Nathan, thank you so much for joining me. How are you doing today? 

Nathan Harding: I'm doing well. I have my cappuccino, so I'm ready to go. I'm focused. I'm well rested and I'm here. 

How did you get started in fine art?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Awesome. Well, I know I was fortunate enough to be able to meet you in person recently and hear some of this already, but I really want you to share with everyone listening, how exactly you got started in fine art.

Nathan Harding: My journey in terms of the visual arts is very much led through intuition. So I've worked on developing my intuition ever since I was a teenager as well. And so it's guided me in terms of which mediums to focus in on. And a lot of times I find that the visual art forms are an expression of that nonphysical existence that I'm also playing in.

So I've always been drawn to visual arts ever since I was a kid. I was born in Southern California, and if anyone is from LA you'll know that there's movies that are being shot in your neighborhood. So I remember being able to watch cartoons and then on the weekend, walk a couple of blocks and actually see a film crew shooting that same cartoon as a feature.

So for me, that ability to exist in this make believe world and to see it, literally in my neighborhood really impacted me as a child. And then from there it developed more of an interest in characters and storytelling. So I would shoot short little scenes with my friends and act in them. So visual arts have always been a part of my life. And then I went to film school. So I consider filmmaking, acting, even writing to be a visual art form.

What made you decide NFTs were right for your work?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Right. And I think that's some really great background to get. As you had mentioned, you've been doing art really from the very beginning. A question that I have for you as it relates to making that jump from fine art to NFTs: that change really isn't easy. From my perspective, I think making NFT art is sort of like making art on hard mode, because not only do you need the raw artistic talent, but now you also need the technical skill to launch a contract, to secure your wallet, to enable utility. And I feel like a lot of it can be quite overwhelming, especially for new folks. So what made you decide that NFTs were right for you in your work? 

Nathan Harding: As someone who's been in these traditional industries -- painters who live in New York city, what they do is they try to do an exhibition, they try to get shown, they try to build a relationship with a brick and mortar gallery. It's a very, very slow process, and there's a lot of middlemen who are involved in it and will dictate the pace of your journey.

I had the realization that within the NFT world, what you have is a digital asset, which can be your painting. And then you have a blockchain, which is a public ledger, and you can set your royalty. You could set it at 10% and it can be into perpetuity. So the basic concept of owning any sort of asset that is able to cash flow or be profitable made sense to me. So the Web3 world made sense to me. 

What have been some of your biggest challenges getting started with NFTs?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Thank you for kind of running us through that thought process as to why NFTs were right for you. But my next question: what have been some of your biggest challenges with getting started? You know, what, what road bumps have you hit so far? 

Nathan Harding: So the education that I was receiving on NFTs and Web3 was generally from YouTube, which has its value and also has its limitations.

So what I did was I went ahead and minted two of my paintings on the Tezos blockchain. And the reason why I used Tezos was because that blockchain has a very engaged community and it's a low carbon footprint in terms of gas fees or any of that. So it made sense to me as a place to start. So I minted my Genesis painting, which is called "War Paint".

I went ahead and set up 75 editions of that specific NFT. And then I also minted a second painting called "Stay Connected". The mistake that I made is that I went ahead and minted two paintings without first establishing my personal brand or community. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: Are there any big changes that you would make if you could launch your Genesis a second time?

Nathan Harding: Yes. What I would've done is: my paintings that I physically have, I would've shown people, my paintings and created some level of engagement before they were actually minted. And I would've done polling or talked to people within Twitter Spaces to get a sense as to where my paintings might thrive in terms of which crypto or which blockchain.

But I wanted to go back to the community aspect because what I'm finding in Web3 is that your community is going to start to tell you where they want you to go. You're gonna start to see the demand that they're asking of you in terms of the value that they want you to bring to them.

The queer community, the value that I can bring, creates space for other queer people. Leave breadcrumbs for other people who are entering in the space. It's all about interdependency in creating spaces for other people to step into and shine and grow.

What are some basics an artist new to NFTs needs to understand?

Omaralexis Ochoa: To that point on community. I feel like we're touching on something that I think leans more into my next set of questions kind of around promotion. So what would you say are some key basics that an artist who has yet to step into NFTs really needs to understand so that they are set up for success to help promote that collection? Once it is in fact live?

Nathan Harding: You need to really spend some time on your own self-development to really get a sense of yourself, what you stand for, the impact that you wanna have. And if you're not really clear on that, I would work on that before stepping into this space. Authenticity is really, really important because people want to know me as an artist. I need to be able to be comfortable in my own skin. I need to be authentic and truthful about what I'm doing.

If I'm going to promote another artist or a brand, there needs to be a level of integrity that I'm sharing with people. I do have projects, they contact me and I'll jump into a zoom. I'll assess it. It needs to fit within my own brand. And when I look at a brand, for me, it means that it's something that we stand for. Me as an artist, my personal brand: I'm an artist enriching lives. So any sort of engagement that I'm going into, it needs to enrich the lives of people. Even this conversation, there has to be some value for the listeners. It needs to enrich their life in some way. That's my personal approach.

What would you say to NFT skeptics?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Yeah. And I think that's an excellent segue into the next audience question that I received on this thread as it relates to NFTs and the trend. This question is from JackArmstrong.eth and he asked: What would you say to all of the "Boomers" who think NFTs are just a fad? 

Nathan Harding: I just had coffee with a Boomer before I jumped onto this Twitter Space. She is business savvy and she's a business coach and she was asking me about NFTs. I think within that demographic, they wanna know: what is the bottom line? They wanna know how are you making money? How much money? How long does it take? So they want the brass tacks about it.

All of the technology, the risks involved, they also take that into consideration, but if you're able to tell someone (and they don't necessarily have to be a Boomer) how much money you made within a certain amount of time, or how many followers you got -- all the numbers. (I call it a numbers game.) If you're able to give them that data then they're more likely to be engaged in the conversation of NFTs.

Omaralexis Ochoa: You mentioned how they're really focused on those brass tacks and I feel like that's something that very many NFT skeptics are kind of looking for as well. And I do think it's good to have a healthy skepticism, but what would you say to people who say "Oh Nathan, you're a fine artist, you're into NFTs you're sort of betraying other artists. NFTs are used to rip people off. They're used to plagiarize?" 

Nathan Harding: I would tell them to watch the Netflix series called "Made You Look" because there's a lot of scams within the IRL art world as well.

 Traditional art is used for money laundering. A lot of times you, you may be buying a fake painting when you think it's the original and you've spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think within the physical art world pricing is very subjective and speculative. We don't always know why people are, are buying art or what the purpose is for it.

But I think your question is more about a resistance to change. And there's also conversations of people in general, wanting to stay within the status quo. What's comfortable, what's working right now. And even if what's working right now, isn't really working for everyone, they're okay with that. As long as it's kind of working for them.

Do you have any thoughts about NFT scams? Have you ever been scammed?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Yeah, definitely. And I think that's a really great point when people do bring up scams. Things like art scams have existed as long as art has existed. And I think as you mentioned, definitely doing your own research, but I also always caution that sort of statement because I do think a world where everyone needs to be a coding expert in order to feel confident that they're buying something that won't drain their wallet isn't an ideal future. Definitely need something that is acceptable for the layperson, and it's why we do trust centralized entities. You have some recourse for getting stolen money back and in the Web3 world, you're really on your own. And I feel like when people do fall for scams, there is a lack of sympathy for people who fall for them.

I myself, I fell for scam. I didn't really do much of my own research as it relates to minting what I thought was a particular art collection. It was actually one that my friend had pointed me to, and it is an authentic collection, but when he had told me about this, I logged into the Discord and I basically received a message almost immediately.

I initially thought it was the official bot of the Discord, where it was informing people about this, this minting sale that my friend had talked about. (He actually was able to mint under an actual sale) but they took advantage of the fact that there were people trying to get in on this sale that these scammers created a FAKE sale.

So I accidentally minted into a fake sale and lost, I think it was 0.1 ETH. That's sort of how I fell for it. Of course I should have done my own research. And fortunately, at least from what I can see, the transaction was just a simple transfer, disguised as a mint page. I feel like this is a very predatory environment to exist in when you're someone that isn't as well versed in the technology. And I think that's a huge barrier to people entering the space. And so people are right to have some skepticism.

Have you ever been scammed or gotten close to being scammed? 

Nathan Harding: One scam that is common within Instagram. If you post anything like "#NFT" on Instagram, you're likely to get three DMs from people encouraging you to buy into some project or something. So it's a scam.

Another scam that I'm noticing is that I'm getting tagged in these lists. And so they'll use names like Elon Musk, so I'll get tagged on that. And so I'll block them. It's that basic idea: if you don't know who these people are and they're reaching out to you with a link in your DMs scammers are getting more and more creative.

I do have a someone in my life who was scammed out of tens of thousands of dollars, using a Scrabble app. It was a romance, scam. I think any type of online activity that we're doing, we are targets to be scammed. And what I try to do is listen to people who are more intelligent on this subject to stay aware of the certain scams that are going on.

I know of some collectors where they will use a separate computer for all their transactions. So that's another thing you could do with your cold wallet. Some people use VPNs. I've heard pros and cons with that. There's different options you can do and then I think you have to balance it with just your day-to-day life and the functionality that it offers. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: Yeah. And I think that's a really good point. And actually, I think wrote about this on my podcast website, as it relates Web3 scams, you mentioned like the phishing emails. I feel like we are all very keen as people on the internet, people on social media.

We're all pretty keen and can recognize, phishing emails and sort of wonder who ends up falling for say the "Nigerian Prince" scam or some of these other popular scams, because there are a lot of telltale signs that we've trained our eyes to recognize. But I think we, in this Web3 space everything's exciting and new, but with that new technology come new ways to, to scam people and in this way I think it has a high barrier to understanding.

Something that might look like a very clear scam written in the code that's public for everyone to see isn't something that say a layperson like myself or someone that really doesn't work in that space can immediately recognize. I definitely think some front end work in the Web3 world will help solve a lot of these problems. But unfortunately there is still gonna be a need for some level of centralization to help manage some of this because that's really the only way that I can foresee being able to stop some scams.

Nathan Harding: So I got an invite to Foundation the other day from someone and there are a lot of scams around the Foundation invites and the person who gave me the invite, I felt like I trusted them, but there still was this hesitancy to click on the invite in my DM if this person was trying to scam me. They weren't of course, but I needed to do a little bit more due diligence and really vet them and look at their profile, their tweets, their engagements, who's following them, who are they following? And then to see what level of doxing have they taken on.

So this person they're, they're doxxed in the sense where you can see their face. You get a sense of where they're living. I've heard them speak in other Twitter Spaces so that's the vetting that I do.

Also another vetting I do is if I'm going to do a Twitter Space with someone. So if I'm gonna host a Twitter Space and I'm gonna bring someone on as a co-host, I really acknowledge that it's my brand, my name, that I'm essentially collaborating with someone. So I'll do a quick phone call with them to really get a sense as to who they are outside of Twitter.

 I think we have to do our due diligence. Vetting people beyond just being like "Yeah, they're cool. I'll do it," or "That's a cool project. Here's my money."

Should NFT artists be doxxed?

Omaralexis Ochoa: Yeah, and I feel like we could definitely explore like a full session on scams and types of scams we've experienced and avoided. But I do want to move forward from this conversation with my next question that you already started to touch upon.

You previously hosted, and co-hosted a space as it relates to the importance of doxxing. To what level is this person doxxed whether you're buying from them or collaborating with them? Do you think it's important for artists to dox themselves if they're trying to sell art? Or do you think it depends on the type of art they're putting out?

Nathan Harding: If collectors are gonna invest, or investors are gonna invest in a project, they want the team to be fully doxxed and "fully doxxed" can mean different things to different people. There was one speaker in the Twitter Space who said, "Well, I get that you guys are doxxing yourself, but why do you have to say you're gay?"

So why does that matter? Doxxing is beyond just showing your face or using your name or even saying what city you live in. I think doxxing is also gonna get into being able to be fully authentic, being able to share who you are freely without judgment or bias. And I think it's more complicated and more subtle than we make it out to be as a black or white conversation. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: From my perspective, as someone who, I guess you could count me as a collector, I definitely have some opinions on doxxing. I have some NFTs from projects that I personally don't even really care if the team is doxxed because I just bought the piece because I liked it and there's some utilities that I could probably use as it relates to that piece that I maybe haven't taken as much advantage of. 

Whereas other pieces, like if I were to say, collect art from an individual, knowing their story and a bit about them is definitely more of a selling point. I feel like it's probably harder to sell one-of-one art if you are not doxxed to some degree. Whether it's sharing your story and who you are, maybe not your face. Whereas I think for larger collections teams are able to get away with not being doxxed or only being partially doxxed because people are maybe buying into the hype or just wanna be a part of something that everyone else is a part of.

 Is there anything else you want to say to this Space prior to jumping out?

Nathan Harding: Yeah, I was gonna say that what I'm also noticing for artists like myself, at some point, you're going to get collectors who are going to wanna have more of a personal relationship with you. Almost kind of like a friendship where they're gonna wanna know more about you.

It's more of a personal relationship, because I'm also noticing that's starting to pop up with one of my collectors. So going back to the conversation of doxxing yourself: this person has my phone number, they know where I live. There's sort of a personal-professional relationship.

And I think within the brick and mortar IRL life of an artist, typically they say that your collector. may by seven pieces of your work over your relationship with that person. So I think that personal connection really offers value and some artists within NFTs will say "I don't need to create some other utility added onto my NFT. As an artist, as a traditional artist, I am the utility. You're buying into me. You're investing into me as an artist," and I kind of see that. And then I'm also looking at what other utilities that I can provide as well. I'm exploring. 

Omaralexis Ochoa: Well, thank you so much for your time today, Nathan, we look forward to seeing what more great work you start to put out. I really appreciated getting to sit down and chat with you. So for anyone listening, please make sure to follow Nathan on Twitter @NathanHarding and be sure to check out his website too at Nathan-Harding.com where you can buy some of his physical and digital work. Thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time.

Photo of Omaralexis Ochoa, host of The Gay Pro, and author of this blog post.

Omaralexis Ochoa

Data analyst, podcaster, pasta-lover... I'm many things, but above all, I'm a creator. I created The Gay Pro because I love sharing stories of queer success, with the intention of empowering and inspiring other queer leaders.