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How I created a successful NFT project

Maxime De Greve
Maxime De Greve
Creator of TinyFaces NFT

Discovering My Passion for 3D Artwork

First, let me introduce myself. I'm Maxime, a Belgian product designer and developer living and working in London in the tech industry since 2011. While my job involves some creativity, most of it revolves around technical aspects of user interface design. However, like most other designers in my field, I have a soft spot for design-related things, especially posters created by illustrators. So, I often find myself buying their art from websites like The Poster Club, Slowdown Studio or Brosmind.

But not long ago, my interest in 2D artwork started to expand to 3D artwork. It all began when startups like Pitch launched in 2018 with visuals created by power couple Kajdax. The colorful, high-quality illustrations caught my eye, and I started to wonder if product design would move more into the 3D dimension through illustrations or new hardware.

Illustration of four stylized characters collaborating with interactive digital elements, with text 'The future of presenting starts here' on a website header.

Embracing New Technology and 3D Software

As someone who enjoys learning new technology, around 2020, I decided to set a goal to learn 3D software to prepare for that potential shift. Initially, I thought about learning Cinema 4D, but the $100 a month cost wasn't worth it since I wasn't making money from it. So, I purchased a few Blender courses and subscribed to multiple YouTube channels.

Every weekend became tutorial time, and during quiet moments while taking public transport in London, I would grab my iPhone and watch short tutorials to become familiar with the Blender software. While some people try to learn everything, I mainly focused on modeling and a bit of sculpting. Rigging, materials, lighting, and animation weren't areas I felt would benefit me as a beginner.

From Inspiration to Creation in 3D

After nearly two years of struggling with topology and the complexities of creating 3D art, I felt I was in a good position to start creating things using my own imagination. However, because I was so new to the 3D space, I lacked inspiration.

Things changed at the end of 2021 when I visited my partner's grandmother in Italy. Upon entering her apartment and opening the door, I saw artwork on the wall that initially gave me the impression of 3D art, but upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a painting. Immediately, I took a photo and decided it would be a great exercise and challenge for me to turn something 2D into a 3D artwork. When I returned to my in-laws later that day, I couldn't resist opening Blender and starting to model the character I saw on the wall. After two days of facing multiple challenges, I was satisfied with the result and posted it on X (formerly known as Twitter). Unexpectedly, it received more attention than I expected. Remember, this was probably the first 3D artwork I had created without relying on a tutorial.

Entering the World of NFTs

Around the same time, NFTs were gaining popularity. I wasn't really into it, and I didn't quite understand what it was all about. The only thing I understood was that people could create art and put it on the blockchain for others to obtain. Eager to learn new technology again, I couldn't resist exploring this further. But what art could I put on the blockchain? Especially since I'm not an illustrator and lacked inspiration. However, then I thought back to the 3D artwork I had created and wondered how I could repurpose it by giving it a modern twist.

Launching TinyFacesNFT: A Journey to Success

After a few days of creating new outfits and hats, I created an X account called TinyFaces NFT and posted them. To my surprise, it garnered 50,000 views and 500 likes. It's hard to say why this happened, but remember, back then, NFTs were probably the most talked-about topic on X, and people always feared missing out (FOMO) on a new NFT project. I also think 3D art in the NFT space wasn't as common. There was the MekaVerse and the Hapes, but apart from that, it was mostly 2D.

Collection of twelve different hats showcasing various styles and colors on a lavender background.

In the following weeks, I continued to post new outfits without knowing where all of this was heading. There was no commercial plan or strategy; it was simply about enjoying the process of creating more outfits for my personal satisfaction

Three stylized figures with distinct hats: left with a green cap, center in a blue party hat, right in a brown baker's cap, against tri-color background.

I remember my next most successful outfit was one inspired by the Grand Budapest Lobby Boy, although I shifted more towards a general lobby boy to avoid copyright claims. Despite that, the tweet was still very popular with 20k views and almost 500 likes.

Stylized figure wearing a purple uniform with matching cap and pink-rimmed glasses, against a soft white background.

Ethical Approach to Building a Genuine NFT Community

At the end of January 2022, the pressure on the project began to mount, and I still didn't understand the NFT space that well or what was driving it. I tried to get up to speed as quickly as possible by reading daily news articles and blog posts. Especially, terms like whitelist, rug pulls, bots, road ruse, wash sales, and the use of Discord to manage communities caught my attention.

Instead of adopting conventional methods like employing bots, targeting quick-profit seekers, or engaging in wash sales to monetize my art, I chose a distinct approach. For my Discord server, I intentionally excluded bots. Access required a ticketing process linked to Twitter accounts. Accounts that were recently created or predominantly followed NFT-related accounts were not accepted. Additionally, I scrutinized their followed accounts, rejecting any associated with recently banned Twitter accounts.

Once these criteria were met, individuals could join the server. This process set TinyFaces NFT apart. Numerous bots attempted entry but failed, leading to a significant buzz on Twitter. My tweet detailing the ticket system amassed over 160,000 views and received more than 3,000 likes.

Pass for an NFT collection invitation featuring a stylized black figure with glasses and a hat, with text detailing Discord server entry conditions and giveaway fairness.

To ensure a smooth and controlled experience, I implemented a cap of 100 account entries per hour and conducted regular spot checks on new accounts. This approach effectively maintained order, with the limit frequently reached during peak times, notably when the USA audience became active.

The Personal Cost of Success

Managing the project became challenging due to the negative reactions from some individuals wanting to join the community. They frequently attempted to contact me through various social media platforms, seeking my attention. This persistent online behavior negatively impacted my personal life and my love for creating 3D art at some point.

Despite these difficulties, I continued to dedicate myself to creating more outfits for my characters, often spending all my free time in Blender. My routine at some point was a full-time job during the day and creating 3D outfits until midnight. This schedule led to sleep deprivation and increased anxiety, making it difficult for me to disconnect from the community aspect and focus on what I love the most, creating 3D artworks.

When other artists like Kajdax decided to stop their WGMInterfaces project for similar reasons, I considered stopping mine too. But with support from my partner, I decided to keep going.

TinyFaces NFT: A Small Success in the NFT World

Over the next few weeks, more and more people paid attention to the project. In mid-February 2022, I launched the new TinyFacesNFT website, which got featured on many webdesign inspiration sites like Land-book, bringing even more attention to the project in the design community.

I also improved the design and logic of our ticket system to match the new website and reduce the number of messages we received on social media.

Three digital cards with stylized faces and captions 'APPROVED', 'Here's your tiny invitation', and 'DENIED' for Discord access, with instructions for Twitter account review.

I was thrilled with the community that supported my art. People created fan art, pins, and pixel art based on previews of the characters I was creating.

Illustration of a character in yellow headwear and glasses wearing a white mask; second illustration of same character flipping a pancake, with 'MILK' carton on counter.

The Big Launch: Minting Day for TinyFaces NFT

On April 22, 2022, it was the day people could mint my characters. After testing the minting process one last time, I opened it up to everyone, and things got crazy.

Suddenly I saw hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ETH coins in my wallet. This was beyond my expectations, especially considering the scale of my project. Unlike many other NFT projects that operate as businesses with elaborate roadmaps and teams, my project was a solo effort focused solely on creating art, with hardly any roadmap to speak of.

But then there was a problem. Infura, the backend for MetaMask, went down. For beginners, Infura helps crypto apps like MetaMask talk to the Ethereum blockchain. When it's down, these apps may not work properly. Since MetaMask was widely used, this caused the minting to stop for several hours. Despite Infura's official statement about the issue, I was blamed for the project's failure, and people said hurtful things, even though I had no control over it. Shortly after Infura was restored, all of my TinyFaces NFTs were quickly gone.

Reflecting on My NFT Journey

Looking back, I couldn't believe what I achieved with this side project in just a few months. I learned a lot about creating 3D art and deploying it to the blockchain. It had a big impact that I didn't expect. I created something successful without much planning, learned to handle a lot of pressure, and most importantly, I could now call myself an artist.

The excitement in the NFT space may have tapered off somewhat, primarily due to decreased speculative activity, the impact of high interest rates and inflation, and a shifting focus towards generative AI. However, my enthusiasm for exploring this space remains undiminished, particularly through this project.

While the information above is a high-level overview, I will share more detailed insights into my NFT experience in the coming weeks, including what inspired my art, how I created the contract, tax requirements for UK creators, and what I think the future holds for this space.