Share on:

Meet the Asian millennials making millions selling NFT art

Young artists are making bank on crypto art. We speak to five top earners from four Asian countries.

SINGAPORE – Shavonne Wong, 30

Total NFT sales: 26 Eth (or S$87,126)

The cryptocurrency market has been fluctuating wildly these past weeks. But Shavonne Wong remains “bullish” on NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens): “When I think of the future, I imagine our lives will be filled with VR, AR and NFTs. Future generations won’t differentiate between the online and offline world. And NFTs will be a feature of that hybridity.”

Wong was a fashion photographer for 10 years before she started creating 3D art in 2020. Selling them as NFTs has earned her 26 Eth (or S$87,126 at press time) so far. Compared to now, sales were brisker in March following the US$69 million NFT purchase by Singapore-based investor Metakovan. But Wong says people are still buying NFTs even as millions of new artists have piled into the market and pushed down prices.

“The market has been smart enough to create differentiation within just a few months. These days, popular NFT platforms such as Open Sea and Rarible are inundated with too much art. So more exclusive platforms such as SuperRare, Foundation, Known Origin and MakersPlace have emerged, which most NFT artists want to get into.

“Most of these platforms are carefully curated and require you to apply before they decide if your works are good enough to be sold on their platforms. But they are also where the top NFT collectors go to, to look for the best of the best.” Wong was recently accepted into the premier platform SuperRare; she is one of very few Singaporeans to make the cut.

But while a hierarchy is gradually building up in the once open and undiscriminating NFT world, Wong says it’s still less hierarchical than the physical art world, where artists often need to be accepted by galleries and museums before making bank.

“I help administer the NFT Asia discussion group on Discord (a popular online platform for creating communities) which has over 1,000 members. And no one in the group has ever mentioned anything about wanting to be galleries or museums. The whole point is that we do what we want and no one can stop us. We don’t have to benchmark our work against art that appears in institutions.” To attract buyers, Wong has to do a lot of self-promotion and stay active on Twitter, Instagram and Discord. She says: “All of the big NFT collectors are on Twitter and Discord, so it’s important to stay visible there . . . When a big NFT collector (such as Metakovan, etyoung or WhaleShark) buys your art, it gives you cachet and helps you sell more art.”

Wong is not overly worried over the impact of the crypto market fluctuation on her sales. She says: “I’m learning as much as I can about 3D technology to create NFTs. As far as I’m concerned, I’m future-proofing my skills while making some money on top of my day job.”

Shavonne Wong’s NFTs are available on Foundation and SuperRare.

(Related: Highlights from the Singapore International Piano Festival)

SOUTH KOREA – Mr Misang, 33

Total NFT sales: 903 Eth (or over S$3 million)

One of Mr Misang’s latest NFTs sold for 200 Eth (or S$670,131 at press time). While the figure is nowhere near US$69 million that the Beeple artwork fetched in March, it still makes him one of the world’s top NFT artists.

If this were the physical art world, international galleries would be clamouring for the artist. But Mr Misang says he hasn’t experienced such attention yet. He says: “No auction house has approached me – although if they did, sure, why not? I would consider working with them.”

Mr Misang (which means “Mr Unknown” in Korean) has netted 903 Eth so far – which converts to a cool S$3.035 million at press time.

His animated NFTs typically centre on a misfit character moving among a sea of “salarymen”, trying to make sense of the complex modern world – which Mr Misang depicts with extraordinary detail.

NFT Art

Mr Misang’s NFT titled Modern Life Is Rubbish sold for an impressive 88 Ether (or S$294,857 at press time).

He thinks his artworks appeal to NFT collectors because they have a “powerful image and message. They have density, a variety of colours, and complex layouts. They make the audience feel ‘wow’ immediately when they see the works. I think these factors make an artwork appealing in any art scene.”

Mr Misang (who prefers not to use his real name) has had a successful career in commercial illustration and animation for 10 years. “But I was feeling a little exhausted and I was looking for another way to make a living and express myself – when I chanced upon NFTs. It felt like the perfect fit.”

Since then, Mr Misang has established an almost a cult reputation among NFT artists, many of whom want to be able to make similar art and have a career like his. For his part, Mr Misang is aware of the volatility of the crypto market, and has converted a small portion of his Ethers into Korean won to protect his profits. He’s also aware of NFT’s carbon footprint and donates a portion of his earnings for carbon credits.

Mr Misang’s NFTs are available on SuperRare.

MALAYSIA – Ronald Ong, 24

Total NFT sales: Over 25 Eth (or over S$84,047)

Ronald Ong is a final-year medical student in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman in Malaysia. He’s also one of the country’s top NFT sellers, earning over 25 Eth (S$84,047 at press time) from the sale of a few works.

Ong started dabbling in digital art five years ago when he became dissatisfied with his photography skills and wanted to use Photoshop to improve his snapshots. He began digitally manipulating the images, and soon became so skilled at it, his Instagram account of Photoshopped pictures saw its following balloon to over 360,000.

He would artfully replace the body of a zebra with a row of Oreo cookies, or connect the neck of a duck to a banana. His witty photos attracted thousands of likes, and he recently sold the latter photo titled Ducknana as an NFT for 6 Eth (or S$20,103 at press time). He is also one of the few Malaysians invited to sell his art on the premier platform Super Rare because “someone in Super Rare is a fan of my works”.

NFT Art

A whiz at Photoshop, Ronald Ong sold his Ducknana NFT for 6 Eth (or S$20,103 at press time).

Ong jokes that the amount of money he makes from each NFT sale easily beats the first salary he would make as a doctor. But he’s also cautious about the volatility of the crypto market to pin a career on making NFTs.

He says: “The NFT market is going through a consolidation period, after the hot month of March when prices were going through the roof. Back then, you could see many artists easily fetching 4 or 5 Eth on the final bid, but now their starting prices may be as low as 1 or 2 Eth.

“That said, those numbers can also be very misleading because what was 2 Eth converted to fiat currency in January may be the equivalent of what is 1 Eth in fiat currency in June (approximately S$3,362). So those numbers can be confusing if you just look at the Eth figures alone to see if prices have gone up or down.”

Ong says he’s keeping the Ethers he’s earned to someday upgrade his workstation or pay for his further studies in medicine. For now, making NFT art keeps him sane: “I’ve always had a strong artistic inclination. But school and peer influence channelled me towards medicine instead. So for me now, making art that surprises people and puts a smile on their faces is very fulfilling. There are no real rules to making art – you just have to have a strong concept and execution.”

Ronald Ong’s NFTs are available on SuperRare.

CHINA – Andreas Ivan, 31

Total NFT sales: 67 Eth (or S$225,042)

Andreas Ivan is a Russia-born creative working in China and has sold 67 Eth (or S$225,042 at press time) worth of NFTs. Unlike other NFT artists, Andreas has not actively promoted his NFTs on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram because these are not popular in China.

So it’s something of a miracle that his NFTs – in particular his Smoochies – have collectors snapping them up faster than he can mint them. The Smoochies series comprises famous figures (such as Audrey Hepburn, Harry Potter and Bruce Lee) rendered as cute 3D cartoons with puckered-up lips ready for kissing.

Andreas says: “I haven’t once promoted the Smoochies, so I believe the strength of the image played a big part in their commercial success . . . I think my art might just be different enough to catch someone’s attention for a few seconds, and in the art business, these few seconds are all you need to make it or lose it.”

NFT Art

Andreas Ivan’s Smoochies series, which turns famous figures in 3D caricatures, is extremely popular with NFT collectors.

Because NFTs have not caught on in China, Andreas currently reigns as one of the country’s top sellers. But he doesn’t rule out the possibility that it could all “change drastically in the coming months” should the NFT craze catch on in the country of 1.4 billion people.

Fluent in Russian, Mandarin, English and French, Andreas is the co-founder of creative agency ION Creative Design in Beijing. He counts himself lucky to be a “foreigner living in China where things are going pretty well”. He started dabbling in NFTs because “I haven’t seen anything like this happen in the art world and wanted to be part of this historical moment that’s taking place”.

Many of his works have seen their prices rise astronomically in the secondary market. His first NFT, a short animated loop titled Dali Dream, sold to well-known NFT collector Matrix for 1.66 Eth. But the piece is currently on the secondary market for a staggering 22 Eth. Similarly, his Smoochie of the Monkey King first sold for 6 Eth. But it is now being resold for multiples of that.

Andreas has cashed out half of his earnings to buy a house for his parents in Mauritius, while the other half has been kept in Ethereum and re-invested into collecting NFTs by other artists such as Toomuchlag and Lirona.

Following Elon Musk’s comments on Bitcoin in May that consequently roiled the cryptocurrency market, Andreas says: “The whole market for NFTs has remained stagnant for a little while.

“However, it’s nothing that worries me or other crypto-artists out there, because most of us are used to the volatility . . . At the end of the day, NFT is a way for us to stay creative and earn some money.”

Andreas Ivan’s NFTs can be found at smoochies.io and smoochies.io/maetherial

(Related: Esplanade’s Malay arts festival Pesta Raya marks 20th anniversary with short films)

MALAYSIA – Kia Hau Lau

Total NFT sales: 10 Eth (or S$33,581)

Kia Hau Lau started creating NFTs in February 2021 after hearing so much about the new technology. His timing couldn’t be better. A month later, NFTs exploded onto the mainstream as prices shot up, and celebs, sports stars and influencers jumped on the bandwagon.

His first NFT sale was in early March of a sci-fi themed artwork initially made in collaboration with another artist, and based on the concept of “breaking free from the constraints that once molded me”, he says. The artwork was sold for 0.5 Eth.

Subsequently he began to mint more NFTs animations of strange, vivid floating structures with translucent corals and jellyfish. His trippy works sold for 1 Eth on average, earning him a total of 10 Eth (or S$33,581).

NFT Art

Kia Hau Lau’s animated NFTs depict ethereal fantasy worlds.

Lau plans to make future NFT offerings even more attractive to collectors by including physical artworks, such as exclusive printed images, along with the digital animations. “On top of that, I’m also looking forward to giving back to the NFT community by bidding on other artists’ works and supporting them.”

Lau currently works as a VFX and motion graphics supervisor in Kuala Lumpur, making him a shoo-in for the world of NFT digital art and animation. But he thinks it’s too early to even fantasise about leaving his full-time job and pursuing NFT creation full-time.

He says: “It’s been an unpredictable ride, and we still need to wait and see how the market evolves in the long term. I still love doing commercial work where I can work with great artists and clients. In fact, working on personal art in the NFT space drives my passion even more in creating better commercial work.”

That said, Lau says that the NFT technology has certainly “changed” his life: “I’ve become more confident in my personal vision and it’s spurred me on to improve my skills in creating art. It also gives me a huge opportunity to work on my own branding as an artist.”

Kia Hau Lau’s NFTs can be found on tryshowtime.com/neverasleep

This article was originally published in The Business Times.

(Related: 10 hottest design items from London’s Decorex Virtual)