Jaiden Stipp was watching a Star Wars movie at his afternoon youth group in Tacoma, Washington, last March when the bids started coming in. First it was a fragment of an Ethereum coin, worth about $300 at the time. Then it was more. Eventually Stipp—who is 15 years old and will soon be starting his sophomore year of high school—sold his artwork, a digital illustration of a waving, astronaut-like cartoon figure, for 20ETH. (That converted to over $30,000; it was traded a month later for nearly $60,000.) “My dad was like, ‘No way this is actual money,’” Stipp says. “It seems like it’s a lot of fake money being passed around. So we took some of the money out just to see what’s actually real. And then at the bank. I was like, ‘Whoa.’”
Stipp had been making and selling logo designs for customers found on the social app Discord for $20 to $70. On a whim, he made his astronaut cartoon into an NFT (non-fungible token), put it up for auction, and became a blue-chip artist overnight. He’s since sold four more pieces, and cashed out enough to help his parents pay off their house and cars. The rest, he invests in the early works of other young artists who are bypassing the traditional art market to find a stable of eager buyers in the world of cryptoart on the blockchain.
NFTs, like Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, have been subject to bouts of volatility since hitting the mainstream in the spring. The early bubble, in which artists like Beeple sold his work for $69 million, has burst. But what remains is a steadily flourishing market for digitally-native art and collectible virtual paraphernalia. One major marketplace called OpenSea, for instance, just surpassed 26,000 users, with over $3 billion in sales volume in August alone—a tenfold increase from July.