During this time, many artists, like Justin Aversano, have minted, or blockchain verified, their work. NFTs are unique digital assets, like jpegs and video clips, that are represented by code recorded on the blockchain, a decentralized digital ledger.
Each NFT can be bought and sold, just like physical assets, but the blockchain allows for ownership and validity of each to be tracked. It has also led to an additional source of income for many creators.
Aversano, known for his portrait photography, was able to sell all 100 portraits in his "Twin Flames" collection as NFTs between February and June, earning him more than $130,000 in around five months, he tells CNBC Make It. For the series, Aversano photographed 100 sets of twins in honor of his fraternal twin.
"I was the first NFT portrait photographer ever on the blockchain," the 28-year-old says. "I was like, 'I'm putting my art on the blockchain because this is a tool," since it allows artists to tokenize, own and profit from their pieces. "Why wouldn't any artists want to be on this?" Aversano asks.
Aversano learned about NFTs earlier this year after speaking to a notable collector in the space. He messaged the collector after noticing he bought a CryptoPunk NFT for six figures. Aversano hoped to pitch him to buy all the physical portraits in the "Twin Flames" collection.
"I reached out like, 'Hey man, if you bought the CryptoPunk for that, would you want to buy 100 [physical] pictures for $100,000? You just spent more on a JPEG,'" Aversano says.
Instead, the collector recommended Aversano keep his physical "Twin Flames" collection rather than sell it. Aversano may be able to sell the entire collection to an institution later on, he said, but in the meantime, he could sell digital versions of his photography as NFTs.
"He opened my eyes" to the world of NFTs, Aversano says.
One thing that stood out to Aversano was the fact that he could continue to earn royalties on his portraits after they had been sold as NFTs. Due to smart contracts, or collections of code that carry out a set of instructions on the blockchain, creators can earn additional compensation from secondary sales of their NFTs. Like most artists in the space, Aversano requires a royalty of at least 10% on secondary sales of his NFTs.
The total sales volume for "Twin Flames," including the value of resales, is over $565,000 as of Friday, according to NFT platform OpenSea. Though that is far greater than what Aversano has taken in, he is able to continue to profit from the continued sales volume through royalties, which he says is crucial for artists.
"Royalties off of every sale is passive income for artists," Aversano says. For him, that has provided a sense of financial stability.
Aversano also prioritizes giving back. Along with his work as an artist, he is the co-founder of Save Art Space, a non-profit that brings community art to public spaces, and has donated portions of his NFT sales to charities.
He sold his last "Twin Flames" portrait as an NFT for $35,280 during a Sotheby's auction on June 10. Rather than keep the profit, he donated all proceeds back to the NFT community through the Sevens Foundation, he says.
Aversano has also collected a few NFTs himself. In May, he spent over $43,730 — which was a large majority of his NFT income up to that point — to buy a CryptoPunk. The community of CryptoPunk collectors has been supportive of his work, Aversano says, and he, in turn, wanted to purchase a CryptoPunk of his own to support them too.
"I was like, 'OK, I'm gonna buy this and really represent the CryptoPunk community because they've been the ones that supported me, trusted me and believed in me, so I want to show them that I believe in, support and trust this community, too," he says. "I'm willing to spend half my money to be part of that."
Not surprisingly, Aversano has a very bullish outlook on the future of NFTs: "Artists can take the power back and put their art in a platform that will actually help them be abundant financially."
Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter