Pencils vs. NFTs

I love the quality of pencil. It helps me to get to the core of a thing.
Andrew Wyeth

Did you get caught up in the NFT craze a year or so ago? Where your digital art could be sold as an actual original, sort of? Where only one copy would be certified as an NFT, and any other copies would just be – worthless copies. Something like that. Bear with me...

Proponents claim that NFTs provide a public certificate of authenticity or proof of ownership. A non-fungible token (NFT) is a unique digital identifier that is recorded on a blockchain, and is used to certify ownership and authenticity. It cannot be copied, substituted, or subdivided. The ownership of an NFT is recorded in the blockchain and can be transferred by the owner, allowing NFTs to be sold and traded. NFTs can be created by anybody, and require few or no coding skills to create. NFTs typically contain references to digital files such as artworks, photos, videos, and audio.

Anyone could jump in the new grifter game. In December 2022, President Trump launched a “collection” of $99 NFT trading cards that featured images of him in various settings and costumes including dressed as a superhero and a cowboy. But the fad soon ended, and Melania Trump had to buy back her NFTs in an attempt to keep the their value up.

Being bi-partisan, I can chide Hunter Biden for NOT making NFTs from his artwork. With his formerly $5,000 paintings now selling for $500,000 thanks to Dad, Hunter could use AI’s DALL-E to generate a digital artwork in, say, ‘the style of Hunter Biden’s dreamscape paintings’... and then sell the image as an NFT. Step and repeat! Do I hear increased deposits wafting into Kyiv’s Ukrgazbank? You betcha.

NFTs. Clear as mud? After an initial feeding frenzy, the marketplace thought so too, and NFTs, sold and traded by companies like OpenSeas, saw their prices crash. Takeaway that’s important here – buyers want a tangible – not digital – original. And that’s where you come in.

Graphite pencil artwork

A tangible original, that you can make at very low cost. Let’s look at lead pencil drawings. Actually, the ‘lead’ is graphite, a mineral first discovered in Borrowdale, England, in 1565. The smooth graphite, mixed with chalk, made for a perfect sketching/writing material, particularly when bound into a wood holder, our everyday pencil. Graphite is permanent. Graphite is forever. It does not fade in bright light. It is waterproof. It is the perfect drawing medium for artists wishing to create a work that will endure over the ages. Of course, you’ll want to draw on good quality paper, not newsprint!

Graphite can be found anywhere. The Dixon Crucible Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, founded by Joseph Dixon and partner Orestes Cleveland in 1845, opened mines in the Lake Ticonderoga district of New York, built a processing plant there, and a factory to manufacture pencils and other products in 1878 in New Jersey. The Dixon pencil is still very much in production... made today by the Dixon Ticonderoga Company.

I LOVE Dixon Ticonderoga pencils. They come in a variety of different hardnesses. Get a set, and try them all. Me? For years, I’ve preferred the number 2, 2½, and 3 types... from softer to harder. And of these, if I had to have only one pencil – the 2½. No contest! But we are all different, being artists. And look at the Dixon Ticonderoga website, what a company!

In a digital world, copy-proof

Some years ago, I went to the Getty Museum in LA to see Queen Elizabeth’s graphic art collection. And discovered that the pictures in the very expensive show catalog weren’t right. Because the delicate tones you get from silverpoint or graphite just cannot be photographed correctly. Pencils defy photographers. I’m VERY good with a camera, and with digital image processing in Photoshop and Lightroom. You will ALWAYS see a difference between a pencil original and a printed copy made from a photo of that original. Any copy of an NFT is exactly the same as the original or any other copy. But your graphite pencil artwork is truly unique, and will hold up better over the centuries than oil paintings. Acrylics we don’t really know yet, since Liquitex only started producing the paint in 1959.

Artist Frederic Remington went west around 1890, armed with his pencils and sketchbook... classic examples of capturing vivid motion – Buffalo Soldiers, Indians, riders on horseback. His biggest fan? President Theodore Roosevelt. And here’s a good book from Dover -- Landscape Drawing In Pencil. Recommended!

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