The Universal Key NFT


Hi. My name is Ruben and I want to give you a backstory behind my latest art release called Universal Key.

Oil Pastels

Earlier this year, my son asked me to purchase a large amount of oil pastels. He has created art for most of his life and typically prefers using pencil and paper. But he said there was a satisfying challenge that came with using this new medium.

I asked him to teach me.

For years, I had exposed my son to art in many ways. Drawing, painting, origami were some. He always took this in and sometime later would make something that far surpassed anything I had shown him. I was delighted as a dad to have him teach me, not just a type of art, but a new medium.

My son is grabbing oil pastels that I’ll need for my first attempt.

It is remarkable that art in our family has gone full circle. It started with me sharing my passion and interest, and now he was teaching me.

If I were to describe oil pastels, the first terms that come to mind are greasy chalk or sticky pastel. Applied to paper, it looks like chalk on a rock. There is little consistency and the gaps in the strokes look raw. But when you balance one oil pastel with a similar color or with white it spreads and blends into an even texture.

When you return to see the work days later, it has this magical quality to it. Iut The work seems to have some elements of oil paint and some elements of pastel painting. It floats in some in-between world that you are drawn into once you look at it.

I had done one piece in November 2020 and didn’t return to that medium until this past weekend.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I got the impulse to spend this past Saturday making art. I asked my son to provide challenges as I did different paintings and he agreed.

I brought out the oil pastels again and sat with him as I drew a number of pieces I knew would be part of an NFT collection.

This is his drawing of me.

What is an NFT?

It officially stands for Non-Fungible Token. What that means is that some item, it could be a fruit, a title to a boat, a painting, a car key, a band-aid, a song, a movie, or anything that could be digitized is associated with a contract on a blockchain. Think of that term blockchain as a ledger that anyone in the world can see.

What happens when you put digitized art on a blockchain? Well it depends on the contract. But one trend that has happened is that an artist can sell their art to anyone in the world. And if that art is resold, they can get passive income back as royalties for each subsequent sale from the moment it is placed on the blockchain to any point in the future.

Watching this market over the last few years as really shattered my notions of what is possible. I have seen some of my favorite artists make sales that some would deem impossible.

I have seen those same artist branch out to new mediums, move to houses, buy iPads, and very often purchase other artists NFTs to begin their own collection.

Artists began this trend with Bitcoin-based NFTs called Rare Pepes that were some of the earliest NFTs. Some time later came Crypto Kitties which was followed by Autoglyphs and Cryptopunks. After this has come Hashmasks. I personally would like to get one cryptopunk, but they are out of my price range for now.

NFTs have spanned two poles and these extremes have grown out of the market organically. Because some folks love raw art made by one artist or collaborative they prefer to see the “flora and fauna” every style and topic in its pure diversity. What seems like individual artists working solo, turns out to be an unintended collaboration, with collectors pairing together art from artists who may not know each other. The variation comes from human decision and the collector of this art is assembling something to reflect that human spirit.

WIP with the materials used.

The other style of NFTs that have done well are ones that are not made by humans directly, but are designed by humans. CryptoKitties and CryptoPunks fit this genre, where an algorithm gives the art specific attributes at random. Alpaca City goes one step further and lets owners of their alpaca NFTs farm them for tokens that can be traded for Ethereum.

The decentralized finance movement or DeFi has enabled projects like Alpaca City through liquidity pools that allow projects with enough liquidity to swap between project tokens and Ethereum at will.

The NFT Collector

The NFT collector has had amazing opportunity to explore investment strategies or artistic sensibilities. I think it is a good excercise, if you are willing to do some research, to see what it takes to begin an NFT collection. Even NFT artists can benefit from this excercise, because at the end of the day, there is an outcome where a collector will want their art. Understanding a collector’s mindset can help.

From an investment mindset, some will gravitate towards centralized platforms that curate artists and accept a small percentage of a certain type of artist. These following platforms have been very successful in giving high returns for secondary sales:

These sites all have high quality art that not only looks good, but the roster of artists on these sites are highly valued by collectors. Some collectors have a goal of obtaining at least one from a certain artist, or two if they want to only resell a copy of the NFT and permanently hold the other copy.

There are other sites, that have a wider variety of art and do not have an application or curation phase to get the chance to display art. Here are two sites that come to mind.

Any users can publish their NFT here and it is often that you’ll find affordable NFTs that are high quality due to the volume of NFT minting, making easier for NFTs to fall into the shadows.

Collectors from the curated sites will have to purchase their art via auctions that have steep prices. From the non-curated sites, the NFT artists has the choice to conduct an auction or have a flat fee.

There are even some sites like that enable artists to make tools for collectors to create their own NFTs, with code provided from the NFT artist/coder.

All sites support the ability for artists to receive royalties on all subsequent NFT sales.

What I’ve learned is that the best aspects of NFTs are the ability to trace a digital art back to the source. There have been instances of one taking art and making an NFT they haven’t made, but these are often found, and all sites mentioned have the ability to report theft in this context.

The other benefit is that artists are able to make art. This has led to a strong community of artists sharing more of their work and inspiring others to do the same.


With some projects like CryptoVoxels selling NFTs as digital real estate, one might wonder what the end game looks like. Bitcoin derives its value from scarcity, due to the 21 million hard cap on the supply. This is currently worth about $48,000 to the world market in today’s prices. If someone can go on Ethereum and make NFTs of art whenever they want, how could millions of artists minting art have long term value?

This question is something that has rattled in my head and the best way I can describe it is to look at the NFT process from the 20,000 foot level then slowly descend.

In general, yes, the entire NFT space has no limit to the amount of NFTs that can be minted. Any artist or project can create a large edition amount over multiple projects, which should dilute the value of all other NFTs.

This is where the market begs to differ. The best way I can describe this is by looking at the behavior of someone who is waiting for the day for the smallest denomination of a bitcoin (1 satoshi or 10^-8 bitcoin to be equivalent to a dollar). What are they actually doing with that bitcoin while they hold it? The are looking at a number or a chart. The number goes up, the chart goes up. The number goes down the chart goes down. For those who are really into data and charts, this becomes the visualization of their digital value. A chart or a number.

With an NFT, the artist has the ability to also digitize value, but simultaneously create a micro-market for their idea. This market isn’t solely tied to a number especially if an artists mints for their own sake and doesn’t desire to sell. The visualization of this digital value is something that has an aesthetic. It is something that has a life unto itself or in some cases a world unto itself. If you buy a CryptoVoxel plot and display your collection anyone who visits will get to visit a gallery that can’t be touched from anywhere around the world without travelling.

And anyone who owns art knows, that as time passes, the connection to the art becomes sweet in the best case, or a piece of nostalgia. If you are struggling to understand this, just imagine your favorite music band from your teens. You may not even have the original physical copy of the music, but your connection to it transcends time. Whenever you hear it your emotions are transported back to who you were when you first heard the music.

A visual art NFT has this lasting power of connecting your future self to the past self, but this also can be traced back to the source and support a system that rewards sellers and the original creators simultaneously.

Why is it important now for NFTs to exist? What is special right now? Well I don’t know about you, but there is a real world scarcity that exists on a couple fronts. Where normally we would see many faces in the real world, we see masks. On the other hand, where we would normally be free to travel, some places are on lockdown.

The lack of faces, makes face inspired art intriguing to me and the lack of travel is inspiring curators who not only wish to support artists during this time, but wish to have a virtual collection of their wealth that not only has a number value, but has meaning as well. For those who can afford it, they will take their collections to the virtual world which can be visited by anyone with more time due to a lockdown.

Universal Key NFT

I have sold NFTs, minted some that haven’t sold, and have even tried blockchains with little to no transaction fees. I’ve even applied multiple times to Async Art, SuperRare, and KnownOrigin and haven’t been accepted.

I also have been accepted into MakersPlace and have been verified on Rarible.

What I have learned from all my experience is that it is valuable to continually make art. It is a vital act of expression and freedom that everyone should exercise. It is a reminder that there is always a subset of our life where we have control.

Making art (or music, or starting a business) is a balance to the things that are out of ones control and allows one to see aspects of their own inner self that would have been hidden otherwise.

It is also valuable to use sales made to purchase art from other artists even if they are lesser known artists. The process of making a collection and making art helps you see the world as a collector and artist. It helps see the unity in the NFT market and what changes collectors and artists can make to support one another.

I had an idea to make oil pastel art that was informed by my experience as a collector. I wanted to make 10 different pieces of art, but since my son was making art with me, I asked him to give me a challenge for the next piece. He would say, “Make the nose huge” or “Give it a lemon-slice forehead” or “Make the face melt” and I would do my best.

My initial intent was to place glasses on the eyes and have QR codes with public and private keys to conduct a bitcoin scavenger hunt, where someone with a bitcoin wallet could sweep up the $10 I hid. My initial attempt to test this allowed me to learn how to use Python to generate bitcoin wallets at will, but some projects that distribute wallets have limits on how much bitcoin needs to be present before the funds can be transferred.

I was sitting there with a bunch of art with no eyes, and compulsively jumped on twitter. I noticed several artists had really impressive pieces and had little to no sales, while others were bringing in thousands of dollars. There was a huge divide in the collective NFT artist experience and I wanted this next release to help with this divide.

I put out a call to NFT artists on twitter to share links to their work. I figured I could help about 9 artists by linking to their work in my NFT. The 10th slot would be reserved for a little choose your own adventure contest that could get them the originals of the art I had made.

The response was incredible. Due to the amount of artists that commented, I expanded the amount of artists I would promote to 19 and tracked the rest of the artists in a spreadsheet.

When I had finished drawing up the physical art, I went to scan it and the result was disappointing. My scanner which had worked well for years, was broken, and unable to scan half of the image.

My scanner’s interpretation of my art

I knew that some collectors would find this interesting, so I decided to throw in a 3x3 grid of the failed scans as its own NFT with 2 copies going to whoever won the choose your own adventure contest and 2 copies kept in my own collection.

The idea of copies or editions is important because as a collector I’ve fallen in love with some pieces I’ve picked up over the past couple years. But I also need Ethereum to pay for the wildly fluctuating gas fees associated with minting and NFT transfers on the Ethereum blockchain. The plan is to create 10 NFTs of the face I drew for Universal Key with each NFT having 10 editions. This lets at least 5 collectors have the freedom of having one for long term purposes and one that could be sold short term.

I am getting the originals scanned on a better scanner this evening, and hope to publish this series tonight if all goes well.

You can get updates on this project by following me on twitter or just searching for #universalkey




Freelance Writer / Visual Designer / Quite the Clever Minecraft Miner. Bitcoin tips are appreciated:

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Ruben Alexander

Ruben Alexander

Freelance Writer / Visual Designer / Quite the Clever Minecraft Miner. Bitcoin tips are appreciated:

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