Harriet Davey demystifies NFT creation, from developing narratives to the nitty gritty of minting
Digital artist Harriet Davey helps us uncover the process of creating an NFT, taking us step-by-step through their workflow, from creative conception to choosing the right platform.
Digital Fairy Tales is a collection of NFTs created by Berlin-based digital artist Harriet Davey. Commissioned by It’s Nice That in collaboration with Dropbox, the artist has utilised the platform to curate, collaborate and share their artworks from concept to completion. To learn more about how Dropbox can support your creative workflow, no matter the medium, head here.
A year after the explosion of NFTs as a channel for artists to sell their work, it seems that the dust has started to settle. However this new technology continues to be shrouded by its own mythology, often making it a difficult landscape to navigate. With this in mind, together with Dropbox, the digital artist Harriet Davey has created a helpful guide for creatives looking to explore this space.
As supporters of creatives exploring new territories, such as the emergent field of digital art, Dropbox commissioned Harriet to create a collection of four NFTs to lead this process. Working with the platform initially to curate her idea generation through to the destination of her files while working across programmes, within this article Harriet’s insight aims to help creatives wade through the uncertainty of this relatively nascent field.
In this piece we’ll touch on how the artist developed their narrative for this collection and how she turned each artwork into an NFT; from how to set up a wallet to the nitty gritty considerations made when choosing a marketplace. If you’re new to this space, towards the end of this article is a glossary of terms to refer to if aspects appear unfamiliar, as well as tips to avoid the common pitfalls people tend to run into.
Creating the artwork: Digital Fairy Tales
Harriet’s signature glossy, alien-like style of digital 3D has developed from years of experimentation. Initially a graphic design student, they quickly realised that the creative language available to a designer – like grids, layouts and typography – didn’t suit their personal process. “At the beginning I was just throwing my work out into the world, knowing it wasn't by any standard polished, technical, or even good, but it made me less precious with my work,” Harriet tells It’s Nice That. “And because I was almost delusionally showing everything off for the first two years, people seemed to have the impression that I was a lot more established than I really was. I’m a huge advocate of faking it ’till you make it!”
In terms of this project, Harriet’s years of discovery led to the development of the four artworks commissioned, created under the theme of “Digital Fairy Tales”. The artist began by exploring old English tales, in particular Arthurian stories – a term to describe a body of medieval literature from King Arthur’s period in Great Britain – which toe the line between reality and fantasy. A tension which Harriet navigates in many of her existing works, the centre of the first artwork is the figure of the Lady of the Lake, also known as Nimue. “Mysterious, scary women are always a favourite of mine and she has a lot of similarities to a siren; alluring, graceful and dangerous,” Harriet explains. “Any character that sits between good and evil really resonates with me and she fully embodies that.” For the second and third artworks, it then made sense to create visuals inspired by two further characters from this period of literature, Arthur and Merlin. “They go hand in hand.” Finally, the fourth sees these two characters interact with one another to further the narrative of this connection between each of Harriet’s creations.
With this overarching concept decided, Harriet took inspiration from the action role-playing game, Elden Ring. Those familiar with the game “can probably see a pretty strong visual reference there,” she points out. “I looked heavily at the shapes and silhouettes of my favourite swords from Elden Ring for the sculpt of Excalibur,” Harriet continues.
Generating ideas of such detail – from taking inspiration from swords referenced in literature to the stylistic influence of video games – can be overwhelming for a creative. In order to distil her concept into four artworks, Harriet utilised Dropbox to curate a series of reference folders, becoming the centre for her research, sketches and files. “I started by compiling a number of research images,” she adds. “For this project I made more of an effort to gather some of the images I saw and drew from, in an effort to bring you a little closer into my world and mind.”
Creating the actual artworks then began in Daz Studio software where the artist created a base humanoid mesh then brought into Blender and Adobe Medium to sculpt extra details, props and clothes, as well as the lighting, set-up and eventual render. Given the variety of programmes used, Dropbox also aided Harriet in keeping all her files in one location. “Dropbox became a hub for all my references,” the artist explains. “I work across MacBook and PC and the file transfer process between them is a pain. So, having a central storage system came in handy. I also used it to upload my super large render files, which are usually around 100 to 200mb when uncompressed, to share with the It’s Nice that and Dropbox teams.”
1 of 4
Harriet Davey: Digital Fairy Tales (works in progress)
The Nitty Gritty of Minting
Harriet first became aware of NFTs before its boom in early 2021. While studying, the artist took part in an Erasmus year in Berlin – where she is now based permanently – and her introduction actually came via a date. “In late 2018, I went on a Tinder date with a coder and he tried to give me a Crypto Kitty,” she recalls. “I never got round to setting up that wallet – I wonder now how much the kitty is now worth.” This emerging sector then became a more dominant part of creative conversations when friends of Harriet’s began setting up their own wallets on emerging, exclusive platforms, in turn reaping the benefits of being early adopters of the art NFT world.
Although now a creator in this continually emerging space, Harriet’s work doesn’t solely exist within this specific area of the digital world. “For me, NFTs are a container for my art. They are not the artworks themselves,” she says. With this in mind, it’s helpful to think of the minting process as a follow-on step from an artwork’s completion – rather than being the driving force behind creating a piece in the first place.
Broadly, the process of minting an NFT requires you to make a decision on what currency and wallet you’ll be using, what platform you’ll be selling your work on and finer details such as the price you’re setting, the duration of auction and the number of editions you’ll be selling. The factors that go into this decision are multifaceted, from the environmental impact of each cryptocurrency, the accessibility of gas fees and the size of the marketplace that you’ll be selling on. Having minted 39 NFTs across platforms like Foundation, Zora, Teia (formerly known as Hic et Nunc) and Portion, Harriet has a great understanding of the process of minting and the dynamics of each platform.
“When minting, the first step is to choose the blockchain you want to mint onto. Ethereum is the most common for NFTs, but others such as Polygon, Tezos or Solana are also popular,” Harriet explains. “For anyone intrigued and starting out, I would really recommend Tezos. The gas fees are tiny, the artworks minted there are often done in editions and are actually affordable. You could purchase $10 of Tezos and have enough to mint several artworks and have most of that left to collect some pieces. It’s also a green chain, with a really low energy impact.” Tezos is a proof-of-stake based system that has grown in popularity due to its significantly lower energy consumption, compared to proof-of-work currencies like Ethereum.
Minting an NFT also requires you to pay a “gas fee”, meaning that artists will need funds in the specific cryptocurrency chosen in order to start minting. “Depending on the chain, platform and the time of day, the transaction fee for minting and listing your artwork can range from over $150 to less than one cent,” Harriet says. “I was really lucky when I started out that the gas fees for Ethereum were a lot lower than they are now. I also had my first mint paid for which meant that I didn’t need to buy any Ethereum in the first instance, which is a big barrier to entry.” Harriet also mentions that there are communities that help artists pay for their first mints, such as The Mint Fund, which could make it easier to mint on such platforms, if it’s your first time.
As Harriet wanted her two pieces to be clearly part of the same collection, she chose to mint the project on Foundation with Ethereum. This means Harriet now has the ability to deploy her own smart contracts specific to the collection, allowing her to define rules on how the NFTs would be traded in the future. “I mint 1/1 only on Ethereum, and reserve that for the pieces I am most proud of, or feel the most finished,” she says. Therefore this means these artworks can only be collected by a single person, much like a unique edition of a physical piece of art.
The Bottom Line of NFT creation
For Harriet, the positives of selling work through NFTs reflects what many other creatives have expressed about the new technology. “It’s a dream to be able to live from the art I’m already creating,” they tell us. The opportunity to access a direct market to sell your work as a digital artist has emerged as one of the most concrete benefits of NFTs, as well as the opportunity for creatives to participate in defining the future of this still-evolving technology.
However, the libertarian and democratic promises of NFTs are yet to be fulfilled. As traditional blue-chip players participate, the space frequently replicates the dynamics of the existing art market. The emergence of get-rich-quick schemes have also become a concerning side to the health of the NFT community. Furthermore, larger currencies that have promised a move from the energy-intensive Proof of Work scheme to Proof of Stake, despite hitting significant milestones, have been moving at a glacial speed.
But a further promising sign for the future of NFTs is found in the usage of smart contracts. “Once we get over it just being about selling jpgs and realise the utility that smart contracts provide, then we will see a new era of usage,” she says. In the end, it’s important to remember that the community-focused nature of the spaces in this emerging technology means that creatives still have the opportunity to define what they want it to be.
If you’re planning to get involved, we hope these tips shared by Harriet aid you in the decision making, or offer some food for thought for how your artwork could live in this emerging digital space. Over the next few weeks, Harriet will continue to share insights into how they have made these four artworks and subsequent NFTs via a series of Reels on Instagram. To keep up to date with the developments, be sure to check out Harriet’s channel here or directly via It’s Nice That’s channel.
Common Pitfalls when creating NFTs
As detailed, the minting process features a lot of decision making from the creator. If you’re still pondering which of these processes is right for you, keep in mind these common pitfalls creators tend to stumble upon.
- It’s always important to understand the environmental impact of each NFT that you mint. Your consideration on where to mint your NFT should take into account the energy consumption of each mint. Fortunately, many resources are now available online for you to make this comparison.
- Although NFTs act as a unique certificate of ownership, it does not guarantee you any copyright to the works you put out. It’s also not a guarantee that your digital work will exist permanently online. Remember that the token created from minting places a link to the digital work hosted on a server, so always take steps to protect the rights to your work.
- It’s important not to take cybersecurity for granted. It’s often easy to forget that despite its growing popularity, as a digital object, NFTs are still prone to cybersecurity attacks anywhere, from the simple phishing attack to more complicated exploits. Always check that the platforms you’re minting on have an up-to-date security protocol and to protect the passwords to your accounts.
Harriet Davey: Nimue, final artwork and NFT
Harriet Davey: Arthur, final artwork and NFT
Harriet Davey: Merlin, final artwork and NFT
Harriet Davey: Arise, Arthur, final artwork and NFT
Glossary of NFT terms
If parts of this article feel unfamiliar, these terms may be helpful to reference if anything appears unclear.
- Marketplace: The platform where you can sell your NFTs. Each of these marketplaces offer different functionalities, communities of collectors and artists and often support multiple cryptocurrencies.
- Wallet: Separate from the cryptocurrency and the platforms itself, a digital wallet stores the cryptocurrencies that you own. Most wallets allow you to trade and access the various cryptocurrencies you own in one convenient place.
- Minting: The process of publishing your token on the blockchain. Before an NFT can be bought or sold, it needs to be created and placed on the blockchain. Think of it as the registration of a certificate of authenticity.
- Gas Fee: The cost of this minting process requires computing power to authenticate its uniqueness, and the “gas fee” associated with this minting process is required to cover this cost.
- 1/1 or one of one: A unique edition sold such that only one person could own the work. Not different from how editions in the traditional art world work.
- Smart contract: In short, a program that runs when certain conditions are met. This could be anything from a time-based agreement to what happens when the NFT changes hands.
About the Author
Alif joined It's Nice That as an editorial assistant from September to December 2019 after completing an MA in Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. His writing often looks at the impact of art and technology on society.