Making a Living as an NFT Artist by Sophie McGuire

Image by Sophie McGuire

A gray sky paints the canvas surrounding a black two-story brick building on a small alleyway in Dallas’s Design District. The door opens to U.K. pop music blasting and the magic of vibrant color plastered across walls and canvases.

This is the studio of Michael Shellis, a contemporary artist known for his vivid, vibrant animations. Shellis recently expanded his expertise in the world of NFTs.

Sitting in the corner of the candlelit art studio, on a table covered in spray paint, is a tiny projector that, in combination with canvas art prints, can enable a 3D experience or an NFT.

Two large black, wildly barking Doberman dogs run through the colorful room knocking over paint cans and bringing even more electric energy into this unique space. It’s a typically boisterous moment for Shellis, 31, who sees a creative and business opportunity in these early days of virtual art.

“Instead of snubbing it, I need to lean into it, ” he said. “AI, NFTs, and the metaverse are in 1923 right now. It’s just the beginning.”

Shellis is a born-and-raised, Dallas-based artist and designer whose work can be seen on large murals all over the city, in offices and homes worldwide, and in galleries. His business model is simple: always keep looking towards the future, network well, find different avenues for funding ventures, and stay relatable. He also uses the power of a unique strategy,”giftology,” to connect with his clients and promote his business.

Shellis’ credibility led to one of the first invitations to join Artist Uprising, a collective group based in Dallas’ Harwood District focused on curating and designing NFTs and other art experiences. Merrick Porcheddu, founder and CEO at Artist Uprising, calls Shellis “a collaborative and affable artist whose welcoming approach sets him apart from others in the field.”

“Michael’s work has garnered praise from clients not only for its quality but also for his dynamic personality that adds an extra dimension to their spaces,” Porcheddu said via email.

Shellis believes that NFT art is not just a one-time venture, but the future of modern art. “NFTs are more than art,” Shellis said, “Digital art is worthless unless it’s attached to something of value in the real world. And that is the future of art.”
His business model is multifaceted. A smile appears on his face as he shares his firm

belief in “giftology,” a term he coined explaining how Shellis will send his clients random gifts so that they know he is thinking about them and, in turn, can help him to ultimately sell more art as well as show his genuine and continued interest in the client.

Shellis also hosts his own out-of-pocket backyard parties at his studio, generating almost $10,000 in commission on one night of an event. Another key revenue stream, obviously, is selling individual works of art ranging from Ethereum 2.0 NFTs to $42,000 murals.

Shellis relishes a moment that changed his perspective, “Darling, just add a zero, a wise Dallas woman once told me.”

“Achieving a six-figure income as a full-time artist is certainly feasible,” Porcheddu said. “It requires dedication and refining of one’s style and branding, while attentively listening to customer feedback, regardless of whether their budgets are small or large. Being an ‘art-reprenuer’ demands mastery of one’s craft.”

Shellis, a Texas native, worked out of his garage studio in Grapevine for almost nine years before he could take a leap of faith and purchase his own space in the Design District.

His family’s best friend, Colby Mahon, handles all the business operations while Michael does the creative.

“My job is to make Michael’s life as seamless as possible on the canvas; that way money is steadily flowing so he can focus on his work. I’m the Robin to his Batman,” says Mahon, 28.

Shellis said he aims to command respect through pricing, while striving not to be egocentric.

“I don’t want to be someone who has to only talk to people through people,” he said. “I want to be easily accessible.”

With his down-to-earth attitude, Shellis stems from humble beginnings as his approach to art is not stuffy and traditional.

“I’m a high school football jock who never played, that’s an artist,” he said. “I’m more of a bro-life, not a turtleneck-wearing artist.”

With NFTs, he does not see a value-grab for his traditional clients. But he does see a huge benefit to NFTs with corporate businesses, as he could transform their office lobby with virtual art and animate their spaces.

Corporate clients and companies, he said, “are more invested in the future of technology, so NFT art is perfect for them.”

Mahon explains that NFTs use non-fungible tokens “like Monopoly money. You can’t spend it anywhere but are involved in an online digital community by having it. The main value is to join and buy your spot in exclusive communities because now you have access where others do not, like a digital contract.”

In other words, you are buying a vision.

Image by Sophie McGuire

Mark Shut, a senior and president of SMU’s Blockchain Club, said via email that NFTs enable artists “to showcase and sell their art and truly make a life out of being an artist. Additionally, digital art can serve as a gateway for those interested in NFTs and the blockchain ecosystem.”

Life as an artist in this modern era is full of futurist opportunities if creators are willing to convenience their community to buy into the art, as Shellis strives to do.

Shellis hopes to continue to pursue creating NFT artwork as the future of animated creations continues to blossom. NFTs, he said, could revolutionize how people interact with monetized digital tokens.

“I am at full peace for the future believing it will continue to grow,” Shellis said with a smile.

To learn more about Michael Shellis’ work follow him on Instagram @michaelshellis.

Candace Barnhill

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