Interview with Keenan Wells from Pixel Hall of Fame

Horacio sat down with Keenan Wells, a digital artist, and creator of the Pixel Hall of Fame. Keenan has garnered a following for his pixelated art, trading cards, and NFTs. As a formally trained artist, Keenan brings a unique perspective blending his classical training with digital art with the emergence of NFTs.

Discussion topics include:

  • Pursuing a traditional and digital art practice
  • Creating pixel art pieces as NFTs
  • His trading card collection and designing art cards
  • Working for ESPN, Nike, the NBA, and Major League Soccer
  • Intellectual property rights to the artwork
  • Working with Rally Road on a collaboration with a trading card set
  • Becoming a full-time artist and hustling
  • NFTs as a way to support oneself by doing what one loves to do
  • Future projects and creating the Wedgies NFTs when the basketball sticks between the rim and backboard
  • The advantages and disadvantages of beginning a PFP NFT project
  • Working on projects that interest the artists

You can listen to the podcast through Spotify or YouTube.


[Horacio Ruiz]


Welcome back to the Alts podcast. I’m your host Horacio Ruiz. We bring you industry leaders and creators to give their insights on the rapidly changing and exciting world of alternative assets.


Opinions expressed on this podcast by the host and podcast, guests are for informational purposes only, and should not be considered investment advice. Podcast hosts and guests may maintain positions in the offerings discussed in this podcast. Welcome to the Alts podcast. I’m Horacio Ruiz, and today’s guest is artist Keenan Wells. Keenan has a distinctive style showcasing his use of pixels under his current project, Pixel Hall of Fame. Keenan has been commissioned to work for Nike, ESPN, Rally Rd, the Boston Celtics and the San Antonio Spurs. A classically trained artist, Keenan has also worked in the digital space for years and brings a unique perspective with the emergence of NFTs. I hope you enjoy our conversation.

[Horacio Ruiz]

All right, Keenan, thank you for being on the podcast today. Really appreciate it. I got introduced to you on Twitter actually through your project Pixel Hall of Fame and all the work that you do there. Initially, it was through the trading cards that you made through Rally, and I just thought that the cards were so cool. In any case, thanks for being here and willing to talk about your art.

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to talk about it. And, yeah, this’ll be great.

[Horacio Ruiz]

When I saw your artwork on the Rally trading cards, I had this image of you as an artist, and then as I started researching a little bit more, I see that you have a completely different style. You do oil and sand on; is it canvas or is it a kind of canvas?

[Keenan Wells]

Panel actually, wood panel, primarily. Like you said, I’d use sand, so the panel’s a little bit more integral to hold that stuff.

[Horacio Ruiz]

That’s awesome. Me I’m kind of an artistic amateur, in terms of like, I would say that it’s a little bit more impressionistic, like impressionism. And then you have this other style with the Pixel Hall of Fame, where it’s kind of reminds you of the ’80s, the ’80s 8-bit, 16-bit video games. Your upbringing as an artist, and then your evolution, I guess, as you’ve kind of discovered other ways to express your art.

[Keenan Wells]


Absolutely. So, I mean, to do that, I got to go back to the beginning. So as a little kid, I’ve always been drawing, always been making stuff. I was born in the ’80s and jump ahead to the ’90s, mid ’90s, or so, when we got our first personal computer at home, I was immediately in there on like Microsoft Paint doing whatever. In Microsoft Paint, I was probably doing a lot of like copying stuff I would see in video games that I was playing at the time. But looking back at that, that was actually sort of early pixel art in a way, if you remember that program. You could actually would go in and draw it pixel by pixel in a lot of ways, so it kind of brings it back full circle.


So I do kind of have these two paths that I’ve always pursued. One is like a more traditional art background and the other’s been more of like a digital practice, and that’s been true my whole life. And I actually went to college for traditional studio art. So, I have a pretty strong drawing, painting, sculpture background. I think that was really important for me to have that foundation. But as I went out of school, I transitioned to more of a graphic design background. And I actually worked professionally as a designer for many years. And the last 10 years, I’ve actually been a digital product designer for major tech companies, things like that. So, I have kind of a very strong design background, that’s kind of spread across multiple disciplines. And then I still do the oil painting today on the side as well. So, kind of got a lot of irons in the fire. But yeah, that’s why I kind of have a traditional practice and a digital practice going at the same time.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And that’s so neat. And I wonder, you being a digital artist, at some point, did you get introduced with the idea of creating your art and being able to create an NFT out of it? And when did you realize that this was potentially a game changer for all sorts of artists?

[Keenan Wells]

Sure. Yeah. So, Pixel Hall of Fame, I started that project in 2016, which was well before I had ever heard of NFTs. I think, if you go back, actually NFTs were kind of happening at that time, but it was very early, not very many people knew about them. For me, I didn’t even know what an NFT was until probably about a year ago, a year ago from today probably is probably about when I started hearing about NFTs. I think my first introduction to it was NBA Top Shot, which as somebody who collects cards, that was kind of buzzing in those circles, like, “Top Shot, what is this?” “It’s kind of this new collectible.” And so that was my first introduction to it.


I kind of passed it off initially. I was like, “I don’t really get this. I can go watch this clip-on YouTube or whatever, why would I pay money for it?” So, I passed it off initially. I wasn’t convinced that this was something I should pursue. But I had been making these pixel art pieces for the last five years or six years or so, and I was also making my own physical refractor cards. So, I had kind of learned how to make those on my own using my at home printer and some supplies that I bought online. And then it just kind of, a light bulb went off, I was like, “Wait a second. There’s a really neat connection here between this sort of physical collectible that I’m interested in, like a trading card, and this digital collectible.


Which when I think about it, that’s where my work lives, it’s on a computer, it was created on a computer. These animations, you can’t animate a physical item in a very easy way. So, it makes a lot more sense for me to offer this workup as a collectible in its native space, like in a digital format. And so that’s kind of when the light bulb went off me on NFTs. And I think it was around March of last year, 2021, where I spent a few weeks just really researching how to do it, and I’m trying to understand how to do it. And I just kind of jumped in headfirst.

[Horacio Ruiz]

That’s awesome. And I want to hit back on you collecting cards, because that’s going to kind of be a little bit of our theme for today. You are a sports card collector, correct?

[Keenan Wells]


I am, yes.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I saw just on the stream here that you got recently, this kind of off topic, but you just received a submission from PSA, right?

[Keenan Wells]


I did. Yeah. Yeah.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And you shared, I was blown away. So, there’s two things I took away from that. You’re a big Chicago White Sox fan.

[Keenan Wells]


That’s very true, yes.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And that you send out a bunch of cards and you probably have an extensive collection, because I was like, “Wow, the number of graded cards in that box, probably a good amount.”

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah. That was my first ever PSA submission, and it was around 30 or a little over 30 cards, maybe. It took a long time. I kind of knew going in like, okay, I’ve heard stories this could take eight months, 10 months, a year. And it took about a year to come back. So, it was exciting. But, yeah, it was like, “Oh man, I don’t even remember what I sent.” I have had to jog my memory. But I didn’t even look at the grades. I opened the box fresh, which was kind of fun. I waited that long. So, I figured I might as well make an experience out of it. But, yeah, I’m a big White Sox fan. I collect Luis Robert cards. He’s one of their young stars. So, I have probably hundreds of his cards. So that was a lot of what I submitted were a lot of White Sox and his cards as well.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And I bring that up because you love collecting cards. But also, the idea that you were kind of designing your own trading cards for a while there as an artist and there’s kind of an emerging market, right?

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah.

[Horacio Ruiz]


For art cards, through Topps Project70, Project 2020, and then through that kind of rabbit holed. You see that there’s a bunch of other artists that have some really cool and unique things in the space. How long were you doing that for? How long were you designing your own cards? And were you kind of selling those at shows? Were you selling those online?

[Keenan Wells]


The Pixel Hall of Fame being a sports focused project, doing kind of 8-bit sports animations, I’ve always kind of thought about how can I make this more collectible? Because I, for the five years, had not, I didn’t have a great way of selling that work or allowing people to collect that work. Other than something like a print, maybe. Prints are great, but I wasn’t really like enthralled by them as a physical object, the same way, like a really cool little card catches your eye. There’s some cool materials you can use with those. And so, I’d always, in the back of my mind, wanted to make my own trading card set.


And I would say about a year and a half ago is when I started to really investigate what that would entail. I looked into like how much it would cost to do this through a vendor. And it was pretty expensive for me to just kind of do that as an experiment. So, I wanted to figure out how to make these on my own.
And it’s actually a very involved process to make a refractor card, which is a little different than just like a normal trading card, which is pretty much just printed on cardboard or card stock. But the refractor card has a lot of layers to it. You have to prepare each layer in a certain way. And it takes about two weeks to make any given card from start to finish. There’s like multiple drying times involved, things like that. But trying to learn how to do that was awesome.


And I’m glad I went through that, because I can now make these really beautiful little physical keepsakes that relate to the digital work that I do. And so that was kind of the spark that got me into making my own card. And obviously, being a card collector too, that helped a lot. And then as I got deeper into that, I found a really tight knit community of other card artists on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. And there’s definitely a lot of cool stuff that people are doing. Really unique ways of making their own cards, cutting up materials and gluing them together, and making almost these 3D little vignettes out of it.
And, yeah, obviously, Project 2020, Topps Project70, those kinds of projects, I think really kick started a lot of that too. I saw some of what people were doing, and I was like, “That’s really cool.” Maybe in the back of my mind, I was like, “Man, I’d love to be a Topps artist someday.’ I don’t know what they’re going to do if they’re going to continue that kind of stuff. But, yeah, that’s kind of how I got into it, and I’m still going to continue to do it. I still make my own cards, and it’s really fun.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And you mentioned that, I think, when you see how much talent is out there, the artists that they got for Project70 and Project 2020, all those artists are great. But then once you go down again and you discover other artists are doing things independently, you’re like, “Man, these artists just easy be in these projects, could be incorporated into these projects.”

[Keenan Wells]


Absolutely.

[Horacio Ruiz]


So that’s a cool part of it. So, you’re creating your own cards, how did you connect with Rally for the cards that you made? And I should mention, before we get into that, I know that you were doing the pixel art, you had been commissioned to do work by Nike, by ESPN and by the Celtics, right? So-

[Keenan Wells]


Mm-hmm (affirmative)…

[Horacio Ruiz]


… your artwork was getting out there.

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah, absolutely. Right after I started this project in 2016, I got a few hundred followers on Instagram initially. And so, I had done a few animations, put them up on Instagram and people really liked them, and that’s kind of probably why I continued to do it. And somebody from Nike reached out almost immediately, and was like, “Hey, we love you to have you do like a LeBron James and a Kyrie animation.” And they had just won the NBA finals at that time. So, the concept behind the animation was that they were going to use it as like a celebration on their social media platforms. And I think even LeBron and Kyrie both actually retweeted them, which was really cool. So, I like to brag about that, when I get opportunities to.


But, yeah, that was really cool. I’ve also done another project for Nike. I did some t-shirt designs for their young adult line, which appeared in stores across the world, which was really cool. ESPN, I did some animations for them. They were highlighting major league soccer’s rivalry, excuse me, rivalry week. So, you had some of the biggest rivalries in the MLS kind of like a fighting game style, Street Fighter concept for those, which is really fun. And, yeah, I’ve done projects for the Celtics, done an animation for the San Antonio Spurs. So yeah, I’ve done some cool commissions, so it’s been fun.

[Horacio Ruiz]


When you work for like a Nike, and you’re doing, you mentioned you did the animations for LeBron and Kyrie, if you’re okay talking about this, what is that like? So, when you make something for them, do you keep the IP rights, the intellectual property rights, so that then you could take that project… I imagine once you did those, you could then turn those into NFTs three years later, four years later.

[Keenan Wells]


So, yeah, the IP stuff is very interesting. I’m actually very interested in this stuff. I’ve kind of had to learn about it, just given the nature of what I make. I would not own any of the IP to names like LeBron James or Kyrie, those are pretty much off limits. As a creator of that work, what I can do is, I made the artwork, but I can’t use exactly what I made for them. That’s pretty much theirs. They purchased it. But what I could do is I could transform something. As a creator, there’s always going to be risks there if you merge of that territory. But you can kind of protect yourself, if you add your own narrative spin to it, if you give it something else that’s unique to you as an artist.


So if you’ve looked at my work, you’ll see a lot of sorts of sci-fi elements kind of creep in. And I think that’s the reason for that is to give it my own, spin and sort of reinterpret the work in my own way. But, yeah, so that’s kind of how I get around some of that stuff. Again, nothing here is risk free. When it comes to IP, that’s always a kind of a grey area, for sure.

[Horacio Ruiz]


A lot of the emoji winks, right? When somebody says, “Hey, is that [inaudible 00:14:15]? Is that Serena?” For some of the animations, but absolutely, you’re taking that artistic freedom, I guess. So going now back into your connection with Rally Rd and those cards, and like you mentioned, the subjects that you had there, you’re talking about Albert Einstein, Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Abe Lincoln. And I’m probably missing a couple other subjects, but the cards really, you kind of have that style, where it’s not just the historic figure. You said there’s sci-fi, I would even categorize it as steampunk, you know?

[Keenan Wells]


Right. Yeah.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Take me through that process. What was the decision for you to become involved with that, with a set of cards for Rally?

[Keenan Wells]


So, Rob, one of the co-founders actually reached out to me. He’d been following me on Instagram for a little bit, so he’s familiar with my work. And he reached out to me and asked, “We should collaborate on something.” And I was immediately like, “Yes, let’s do it.” Because I’ve been following Rally for a little bit, and they started creating some merchandise and I purchased one of their hoodies. It had a Michael Jordan rookie card embroidered on the front of it. It was just super high quality. And so, I knew right away, like, yeah, we should work on something together. I knew it is going to be a quality collaboration.
And so, yeah, we kind of talked back and forth about what that could look like. And we landed on a trading card set, because that was just kind of a really nice overlap with what I was working on, and also fits really neatly into the Rally story. They have a lot of amazing cards in their collection as well. So, trading cards set made a lot of sense. And then as far as the historical figures, I think it was really about just kind of celebrating what was in their collection, really trying to tie the individual artwork and the individual cards to the assets that Rally offers. And really tie it back into what they were already doing.
And then I also like that it wasn’t just sports cards. There was actually kind of an eclectic mix of historical figures from different disciplines, which I thought was really interesting as well. And then, like I said, I always want to add my own twists to it, add own narrative component to it. And being somebody who’s also really interested in kind of sci-fi work and artwork that’s kind of my flavour that I added to it as well.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah. I guess the way I could describe the set would be like a modern sci-fi throwback, if that even makes any sense.

[Keenan Wells]


Exactly. Yeah. There’s something cool with the narrative there where you’re kind of tying the past and the present and the future together, which I think was a cool effect.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And so, the project was a success by any measure. I mean, the cards sold out, and they’re doing really well in the secondary market. I don’t know if you if you keep a close eye on that, the cards came with like some limited editions, some of them even had like autographs, I believe. Are there any plans for you to possibly do a second set, a second series?

[Keenan Wells]


I can’t give anything away yet. I mean, I think there’s interest there and I’m certainly interested in doing more with them. It was a great collaboration and they’re awesome to work with. So, we’ll see. Hopefully, we can do something. I have peaked on eBay. I actually bought one of the cars myself, because I really wanted one for my own collection. But yeah, it’s cool to see them on eBay. I think there was a one of one that sold for, I don’t know, it was like $700 or something, so that was cool. But yeah, there are a few sort of hand signed or handwritten relics that are still kind of out in the wild. We haven’t seen those pop up yet. So, I’m really interested to see if one of those shows up on eBay, what that would actually go for.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I mentioned earlier in the podcast, how I was introduced to your work through that project. Did you find that this project opened you up to other collaborations?

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah. I mean, nothing concrete at the moment, but I think it definitely got me out there and a lot of new people have kind of come to my work and following me on Instagram and kind of keeping an eye on my NFTs as well. So, I’m hoping it’ll be fruitful, and. Yeah, we’ll see where it goes.

[Horacio Ruiz]


So, talking about your project and we’re going to get into like your future projects a little bit, but could you talk to me about the hustle of the art game? So, you graduated from school, you are a classically, I guess, trained artist. And you took part in some shows, where you’re exhibiting your work. What is that like to strike out on your own, to have that kind of conviction of being an artist? Because you hear so many stories about how you have artists and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I want to do my art full time, but I can’t, because I just can’t afford it.” What is that like coming out of school to just strike out on your own?

[Keenan Wells]


It’s hard. It’s not easy. I mean, you have to work on off hours. Out of all of the artists in the world, a very small, small sliver of them actually do it full time and make comfortable money doing that and are able to kind of focus on that full time. And to be frank with you, I’ve had to have day jobs. I still have to do work outside of the pixel work to pay the bills. It’s not where I want to be yet, and I think like a lot of other artists, right now, who are discovering NFTs, that to me is that path forward for how I get to a place where this is my sole focus. But it’s difficult, and I think you have to hustle, you do. You have to work on weekends, and you have to work at night. And if you’re like me and you have two kids at home, that’s really hard sometimes. But yeah, you just got to make it work when you can.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I hear you. I hear you. Totally hear you. So, let’s talk about that. As an artist and as a digital artist, are NFTs a game changer.? And I ask that question broadly.

[Keenan Wells]

Absolutely, for me anyway. I think they will be a game changer for a lot of other artists. I think it’s still early, but for me, what it’s shown me is that there is a way to support myself by doing the thing that I love to do, which was never really possible before that. I didn’t have a path forward in terms of… I had been making these pixel art animations, doing my oil painting on the side, and there was no real path forward for me to make a living off of that. I get commissions for cool projects here and there, but it was unreliable.


NFTs have created an opportunity for somebody like me, for other artists too, to basically make a revenue stream that can support them. And when I realized that was possible, it was just like a door I had to walk through, that I… I think asking an artist not to walk through that door is hard when they’ve never had that opportunity in front of them before. I do see it as a game changer and I plan to keep going, until it clicks, for sure.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Could you give me a few more details, like how they’re game changers? For example, do you find yourself that you have a wider audience? Or even the economic structure of it all, where you can create something digitally and upload it and then market it easier? How exactly does that work for artists, where they’re like, this has changed my life?

[Keenan Wells]


Sure. The marketing side of it is still on you. There’s no real apparatus in the NFT space to get eyeballs on your work. I think you still have to use your social media and those other tools available to you to promote yourself. But what it really does, especially for a digital native artist whose work was made on a computer, maybe it has animation, there’s never been a way or an easy way for an artist like that to sell their work or to get directly to a collector. You’ve always had to do some kind of work around where you’re making a print or doing something kind of crazy with a digital display or something. And then you’re also locked into that more traditional art market, where it’s really hard if you don’t have connections to get into a gallery or to break through into that trad art world.


So what NFTs have really done is I think they’ve kind of democratized the market part of it in a way that allows me to directly connect with a collector, and I don’t need all of the middle men to make that sale. And so, I think that’s, to me, is, as an artist, the big game changer. It’s still up to me to promote, and I have to do the work to build a community around my artwork. But I don’t have to go through those other institutional channels anymore, which I think is really important.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah. I mean, and you describing that, it kind of encapsulates the whole idea of decentralization. You’re in control. There’s no middleman. There’s no one you have to go through anymore. There’s no central authority, which is so cool. And you kind of see it, the decentralized idea makes sense then when you see it at work. That’s just my little commentary.


One of the other big things, and if you feel comfortable talking about this, is that you can program the NFT, so that on secondary sales, the artist is always getting like a royalty. And, to me, I think that’s genius, because once you sell that one time, that’s it, it’s a onetime sale. But the idea of creating these revenue dreams, where you can benefit in perpetuity, so long as your work is being circulated or resold, I think that’s great. Because you could sell something for a $100, let’s say, but then let’s say the appreciation for it just grows for whatever reason. And one day it sells for a million dollars. You’ll never see that, as an artist, even though that’s your creation.


And in some ways it’s you maintaining those, even though you don’t own it anymore, because you sold it off, you’re still maintaining a little bit of your property there by getting a little cut. Is that a common practice? Is that something artists are kind of really excited about?

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah, absolutely. I should have mentioned that in my first response, because that is huge. For example, the Rally cards, for instance, those selling on eBay, none of that’s coming back to me or Rally, right?

[Horacio Ruiz]


Mm-hmm (affirmative).

[Keenan Wells]


Whereas, if we’re making NFTs, then we can say like, “Okay, five, seven, 10% of any future sale comes back to the creator. So, yeah, I could make an NFT and give it away for free, and then still profit off of it in an ongoing sense, basically, forever, as long as the blockchain exists, right?

[Horacio Ruiz]


Mm-hmm (affirmative).

[Keenan Wells]

That’s incredible.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah, that’s huge. Let’s talk about some of your projects right now. You just had a release; a series called The Wedgies. And I think it’s so funny. And it was kind of whimsical, right? Is that okay for me to describe it that way?

[Keenan Wells]


Absolutely. Yeah.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Could you describe that project? It sold out, you had an auction as well, also, that did pretty well. What was The Wedgies? Was that a collaboration with another artist as well?

[Keenan Wells]


So, The Wedgies was not my idea. So, it was a collaboration with the No Dunks podcast. I believe they’re part of The Athletic, and it’s a basketball theme podcast. So, one of the hosts of that show reached out to me. We follow each other on Instagram and Twitter, and he’s actually collected a couple of my NFTs before. So, we’ve kind of chatted back and forth on Twitter and things like that. But he reached out and was like, “Hey…” As part of their show, they have this kind of running theme where they highlight every wedgie that happens throughout the season. And if you’re not familiar, a wedgie’s basically when the basketball gets stuck between the rim and the backboard. So, you’re trying to make a shot, but the ball just kind of gets lodged.


It’s just kind of a humorous thing that happens in a basketball game. And humour’s a big part of the No Dunks show. And I loved that about it. It was just kind of a fun, funny concept. And the other thing that’s cool about it is each wedgie that we create, or each individual NFT that we create, is tied to an actual occurrence of it happening in real-life. So, it’s kind of this living collection, in a way, which is really cool. But yeah, it’s basically a collaboration with them. And I think there have been 23 wedgies this season. So, we have them all ready to go. We’re just kind of catching up right now, releasing them in batches as we catch up to current status.

[Horacio Ruiz]


That’s cool. So, it’s like a living, breathing set, because you know there’s going to be a few more wedgies out there. I also saw something kind of like a sci-fi project, so I saw a picture you put out. The way I can describe it is basically an astronaut buried somewhere like in the moon with his hands sticking out of the ground. And that was really cool. I love the colouring, the black and red colouring. What is that?

[Keenan Wells]


So that’s a new project I’m working on. It’s called shipwrecked, which if you’ve been in crypto at all, I’m actually new to crypto, but I guess, this term wrecked is like a term that gets floated around. When you over invest in something and it tanks, you get quote “wrecked.” I brought that concept into this kind of sci-fi narrative. So, the idea behind the collection is, I’m also really into like vintage sci-fi artwork, so things you might see on old book covers from like the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, a little bit of kitschy art, but some of it’s just really beautiful too. And so, I wanted to kind of take some of that look and feel, bring it into a pixel art format. And then also have this narrative around, you’re kind of venturing out into these unknown worlds and you don’t know what you’re going to find when you get there.


And I think there’s a cool parallel there with crypto and NFTs, where you’re taking risks, you’re making bets, and you could get wrecked, but sometimes you might win big too. So, I kind of want to use a lot of the themes of that. And through sci-fi, through kind of like these desolate worlds, or what creatures are we going to find in this crazy landscape? And just kind of see where the collection goes. I few of them created hoping to get them launched next month. We’ll see. I’m also trying to deploy on my own smart contract, which is a big step for me, which for those not familiar, meaning I’m using my own code to interact with the blockchain versus just uploading to a platform like OpenSea just means you’re using their smart contract. So, the difference there means is that I have ownership over the providence, I guess, of the work. So, this is also a learning experience for me to kind of take that next step as a NFT creator. So, I’m excited about it. We’ll see where it goes.

[Horacio Ruiz]


That’s interesting. That’s something that I’m not too with. So, you basically, with the prominence, it’s basically tied back to your chain, your block? What are the benefits to you as an artist, as a creator by doing that?

[Keenan Wells]


Sure. You can use a platform like OpenSea, which is probably the most popular one. There are plenty of others, but if you kind of upload through their sort of interface, it’s super easy to do. But the challenge that you have then as an artist is you’re kind of locked in. You’re basically using OpenSea’s smart contract, and I’m not an expert on this, but as far as I know, is basically the code that interacts between the marketplace and the blockchain. So, the smart contract’s telling the blockchain what to do based on what somebody’s inputting on the marketplace or what buttons they push. And so, as a creator, and I’m uploading to OpenSea, I don’t have access to that smart contract. That’s OpenSea’s smart contract.


If OpenSea ever went out of business or somehow revoked access or didn’t make it open source, there’d be no way for me to use that smart contract anymore. The NFTs will still exist on the blockchain, but I could never migrate them to another contract or anything like that. So, by having my own smart contract, what I can do is, I have now have control over like metadata, meaning I can push updates to metadata. I could even push updates to the image itself, so that’s really cool. I can’t do that with OpenSea.


And also, if I ever want to work with a developer, they can then take that smart contract, and we can do cool things, like connect it to a minting website, where somebody could actually mint the NFT on a custom website. So, it just opens up a lot of doors as an artist, as a creator that I wouldn’t have if I just do it on OpenSea. And because I have bigger plans, I do want to work with a team’s someday, I want to start laying that foundation.

[Horacio Ruiz]


You got me thinking there, how easy would it be, Keenan, if you were interested in doing it? Like releasing your, a generative art piece project with 10,000 PFPs. Is that something that’s… From the outside looking in, you say, “Oh, it’s generative art. You put in the code, the computer spits out all these traits, and you get your different images.” If you wanted to do that what goes into that?

[Keenan Wells]


From an art standpoint, it’s pretty straightforward. You’re just creating all of the assets in a way that, as they’re kind of generated, they just look nice and fall into place. I mean, as a creator, I have a pretty good handle on how that would work. The challenges enter in when you start talking about the actual code itself. You have to have a lot of security around that, as far as, like, when you allow people to mint, there are exploits that can occur. So, you want to make sure you have a good developer to work with who can like mitigate some of those risks.


The other thing, the reason I haven’t really pursued that yet, and I do want to do something like that someday, I think it’s going to be really fun, but it also comes with a lot of responsibility. Let’s say you do a 10,000-quantity collection. You now have, maybe not 10,000, you probably have less than that, like four to 5,000 people who are now expecting… They want to know where this collection’s going to go. And so, you need community managers, you need a discord and you need people to kind of manage and moderate that. And I think it’d be irresponsible of me to do that as an individual creator, until I have a team that can support that. And so, I want to get there someday, but, yeah, I think it’s just about finding the right people to do that with, because it would be a collaboration.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And I think that’s something that I was going to ask you, do you see that potentially happening in one to three years?

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah. I would love for that to be true. I think my goal right now is to actually find people to work with who would be interested in something like that. So, yeah, I’m just trying to learn the space more as an individual creator as well. Getting closer to the code and trying to understand the technology myself, but also kind of on the lookout for devs and people like that who might be interested in collaborating.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Parting question, for future artists, and you took this path, so you went down a classical path, you went to school, but now you see kids that are growing up with this technology at their hands, like you did, but they’ve got so much more available to them. To where 12, 13-year old’s are making million, two million dollars off of their PFPs. What advice do you have for somebody that’s kind of coming up as an artist, taking that route, getting that formal education, and then that other end where it’s like, kids are just kind of doing their thing and being successful?

[Keenan Wells]


I think the biggest advice I could give is just be curious and jump in headfirst to things. If you’re interested in something, just go for it. I don’t think you need to be formally trained/ your work doesn’t have to look any one way. I think you can be successful if you care about it, and you really engage with it. Especially in NFTs, I think it’s all about just being engaged and learning. And that’s been my biggest lesson in it is, the fact that I’m just interested in it is enough fuel for me to go and like, okay, I need to learn how this thing works, or I need to go learn how that thing works, because that’s going to help me as an artist. It’s going to give me a toolkit to go do the things that I want to do. So, yeah, I would say just be curious and go jump in and just get your feet.

[Horacio Ruiz]

That’s awesome. And if, for our listeners, anybody wants to learn more about your work, where can they see your work? Where are you on social media? A website? Where can they find you?

[Keenan Wells]


I’m on Instagram @pixelhalloffame, just like it’s spelled normally. So, I also have a website pixelhalloffame.com, and then I’m pretty active on Twitter at the same handle @pixelhalloffame. I post work there occasionally, but more just kind of talking in threads and chatting with other NFT folks. I also have a Discord channel, which you can find from my Twitter. It’s just a single channel. It’s part of like a larger artist community collective. And I’d say, Twitter’s probably a good hub to go to. I have some links you can find from there.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And this is where I was kind of a little bit surprised you have your own website as well, where you’re showing more of your traditional work.

[Keenan Wells]


Yeah. I do have a website for my drawing and my painting. That’s a practice I don’t do as often. I have a little bit less time these days with two young kids running around. But, yeah, I still, I do post very sparingly to that site as well.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah. That’s keenanwells.com.

[Keenan Wells]


That’s right. Yeah.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Awesome. Well Keenan, thank you so much for being on the podcast today. Really enlightening, because I’m always curious about emerging artists. And by the way, I’m going to throw one more pitch out there. You got a bunch of stuff on OpenSea as well. You have some stuff available on the secondary market on OpenSea, right?

[Keenan Wells]


That’s right. Yeah. So, if you go to OpenSea and you just search Pixel Hall of Fame, you should find my collection. It’s just some of my personal work. It’s pretty sports focused and. Yeah, if you’re interested there plenty available on the secondary. I do have some new drops coming. They are in the works as you speak.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Awesome. And so, I was just curious about that transformation, and I think you did such a good job of explaining like how these NFTs are changing, potentially, revenue streams, livelihoods for artists that are up and coming. Best of luck, and I’m sure you’ll do very well.

[Keenan Wells]


Well, I appreciate you having me on. This is really fun and thank you.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I always enjoy talking to artists, learning from their creative perspectives, and how they bet on themselves and their careers. Keenan’s trading cards for Rally caught my attention because they just pop out at you. And it’s good to see creatives like him taking advantage of and benefiting from new technologies like NFTs. If you enjoyed today’s podcast, let others know about it. We find our guests so interesting and knowledgeable, and I know others will too, or leave a review, or hit the follow button. Until next time, take care.

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Author

Horacio Ruiz

Horacio Ruiz

Horacio is a veteran math teacher of the New York City public school system. Prior to teaching, he lived in New Orleans where he worked in sales for the New Orleans Hornets before joining The Institute for Sport and Social Justice to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish. He currently lives in Staten Island with his wife, Alicia, his three sons; Oliver, Henry, and Jacob, and their pitt-mi,x Tipitina. In 2019, Horacio published a biography, The White Knight: Calvin Patterson and the Integration of Florida State University Football.

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