In this Vestorportal's Spotlight edition we had the pleasure to talk to Mark Kelly aka Saucebook, Writer, Blogger, Artist and Collector; known by the quality of his work and the indisputable respect in the community.
Who is Mark Kelly?
I go by Mark Kelly everywhere I'm not Saucebook. In the persona of Mark Kelly I'm a father and grandfather many times over, still actively working in financial services consultancy, covering compliance topics. I was briefly head of Compliance at Coinbase UK. As Saucebook I'm a novelist, poet and banjo player, and now an NFT Artist specialising in AI-assisted art. Trying to balance that creation with a keen interest in collecting, and more recently curation.
I read this quote many years ago:
"You can become a winner only if you are willing to walk over the edge"
When I was doing my research about Damon Runyon, I found surprisingly he said it - why do you have a pic of him as your pfp?
Damon was my writing hero from teenage years. Very funny, in an understated way. Always wrote in the 1st person present tense "So I am sitting in a bar when who walks in but...", I think I liked the narrator character - always on the fringes of the action, but never directly involved. Such a powerful influence that I made him a character in my first novel. So, even were I ever to own a Bored Ape, nothing is replacing Damon as my pfp. And thanks for the quote - I hadn't come across that one!
You got interested in the NFTs really recently. How did you discover the NFT world? What caught your attention?
I thought being in the space over a year made me an OG! I certainly wasn't an early adopter, but I think Beeple got my attention with his huge sale in 2021. After that I had a first try at being a creator, minting a few haikus and other literary NFTs on OpenSea. The world wasn't ready for them, maybe it still isn't or perhaps they weren't that good. While I was waiting for my application to Nifty Gateway to be accepted (I'm still waiting) I got interested in the art itself and started collecting on Nifty Gateway. Not a great collector or trader, and I missed out on the 10k projects that were happening in the rest of the space, but pure collecting kept me occupied for six months. Then I had the door opened to me for visual art creation with the introduction of text to image AI software. Finally I could bypass my poor manual artistic skills and capitalise on word power.
Many people think that AI softwares are new but, they are not, the history of AI art dates back to 1973, when Harold Cohen created the first-ever AI painting. What's the reason behind the explosion of AI art now?
It was something of a dark art until pioneers made the tools readily accessible. I started creating (and minting) using very simple online software (Nightcafe). I'm embarrassed now at some of the work I was asking people to buy, but thankfully a lot of it was lost in a wallet hack at the beginning of 2022. Now everyone has access to word-based painting of remarkable quality and those of us who want to be recognised as professional AI artists have to pedal ever faster to maintain a marginal edge.
Leonardo Da Vinci said:
"Painting is poetry that is seen more than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen".
Do you think that AI solves the equation Words=Art?
"Words have value too" was my motto when I was trying to promote literary NFTs. I still believe that, but now my words can also generate beautiful visuals. In some cases the visuals can be generated by a literary prompt - this might finally be the way that my haikus reach their audience.
Did you ever imagine you'd be creating the wonderful Art you make right now? Please tell us about your experience creating AI.
I mentioned that Nightcafe supported my first efforts. My next move was into the specialist Discord groups, especially Pytti, which supported animations and the telling of stories via complex scripts. These tools could be accessed via Google Colab notebooks, but it was always a coin flip whether you would be allocated a decent GPU or run out of memory halfway through. My third main platform was Visions of Chaos, which runs locally on a Windows Desktop with a large GPU. I bought the best spec machines I could so that I could crank out the highest resolution possible. If I'm associated with any particular style it would probably be the underwater seascapes (the ruDALL-E script in Visions of Chaos turned out to be very good with jellyfish). I also did some extremely detailed cybercities, which proved very popular. My next challenge is to create smoothly animated AI videos that don't give you a headache, as most of the software to date has generated very glitchy results.
You have collected almost 400 pieces only in Foundation. What kind of Art styles have you collected, and why have you collected that big amount of pieces? How do you decide what to buy?
It's easier to say what I haven't bought. I only rule out NSFW art and Pepes. Some themes are overused (like whales in the sky) so they would have to be exceptional for me to buy any more. To choose something I need to see immediate visual impact, together with evidence of skills and effort (ie time invested). It also has to be within budget - most of my purchases are funded by sales, so when sales are slow, buys are fewer and cheaper. Hence those 300 or so FND works were acquired at an average of 0.06 each. As soon as you give up the idea of owning big name artists with instant price appreciation, a whole world of beautiful and inexpensive artwork opens up for you.
Selling and buying art is an important event. I think that beyond the money it is the feeling of joy, satisfaction, and being proud of the hard work. Have you every bought the first NFT minted of a new artist? How does it feel?
Many times. Sometimes I don't even realise until they tell me, and it always gives me a thrill. I'm also keen to support them beyond that first step, and that will be possible for my favourite collected artists now that I have been given the role of publisher on Nifty Gateway. This excludes my own art, but allows me to feature 3-4 new artists weekly in a series that I'm terming Saucebook Sundays. It will encompass weekly themes such as 3D, Abstract Art, Photography, and the full series will start with a week dedicated to Iranian female artists who, in addition to any other adversities they may have faced, were recently and summarily ejected from some popular platforms.
As a collector you should receive many messages everyday trying to persuade you to buy, do you think that these actions like DM and tag collectors devalue the work of an artist?
I have a saying that caution flees from desperation. I don't think you should bemoan lack of sales on the public feed, as it is likely to drive people away. I don't mind people explaining their situation in DMs. A lot of good friendships have been formed based on unpromising starts with a DM shill. I'm a lot more truthful in DMs than on public feed (where I would never critique someone's art), so people coming for advice sometimes get a shock that it's not all positive. I've been scammed through DMs just like many others, but I see such value in that in-depth engagement that I never want to shut them down.
What would be your message to those who are new in the NFT world and want to build a career as artists?
Maintain a healthy balance between creation and marketing. No-one wants to see the same artwork being shilled in art threads for months on end. If sales aren't happening, look at your process and try to up your game. There are so many tempting ways to waste your time - Twitter and Discord are prime examples. People are exhausting themselves jumping from one Twitter Space to another hoping for a golden moment to tell 100 or fewer people about their work. Better to build your followers through active engagement on people's public posts so that eventually when you drop a post it is seen by thousands. One curious tip I was slow to learn - I get more engagement, profile visits and followers from words than from art or links. Thoughtful responses to discussion threads started by the person you want to notice you will serve you better than shilling your whole portfolio at every opportunity.
Neal Stephenson wrote the book "Snow Crash" in 1988. In that book for the first time the word "metaverse" appeared. The book is considered inspiration for the cyberpunk fans, do you think the NFT world right now with so many artists, collectors, community builders, devs - who are connected even when they are geographycally isolated - is laying the groundwork for the "Metaverse"
Online life is so absorbing that real life can struggle to match it for intensity and satisfaction. I've been vaguely disappointed in real life NFT events, and find myself checking Twitter in a stairwell, as it's so hard to spot and engage with the people you are interested to meet. I'm a little resistant to entering the actual metaverse, as I have no gaming background and 3D navigation is a nightmare for me. In online galleries I find myself stuck in a corner, so the current stage of connectedness via screen and keyboard suits me just fine.
The arts are a powerful tool to portray the way how society expresses itself in a specific moment of time, and it could let testimony for the future generations about the zeitgeist of this era. Please tell us your insight about the impact of the Crypto- NFT on the society and economical system.
I'm unsure about the impact as of yet. Anyone I speak to in the "real" world has either never heard of NFTs or is deeply skeptical. We have to remember we're in a very specialised bubble. However, society does have an impact on the NFT space. Herman Hesse spoke about the "age of the feuilleton" in his Glass Bead Game. We are in that age, where thoughts need to be summarised in 240 characters and people make $1,000 purchase decisions on the basis of a two-second glance at an artwork. That's why even the shortest animation is a challenge for an NFT artist. There's a risk that it's never going to be played but will be scrolled past quickly. Our brief attention span as a society is reflected in the art we choose to support.
How deep has the NFT space had an impact in your personal life?
Honestly? My time in the NFT space is a sixtieth part of my time on Earth, so it hasn't shaken me up in any fundamental way. It is my most absorbing pastime at the moment, but is not putting food on the table or a roof over our heads. All of this could change in the blink of an eye, so maybe ask me again in a year. That's one of the compelling aspects to the space - every day brings unlimited opportunity (but no day brings a guarantee)
Recently you entered in Nifty Gateway as a curator. Could you explain us about what is Nifty Gateway, and the work you will play them?
Nifty Gateway was the main platform I used when starting as a collector in March 2021. It operates in a bit of a silo compared to the rest of the ETH ecosystem, but I was very happy there for six months. I always hoped to appear there as an artist, but the recent chance to become a publisher scratches a different itch - how to continue to support my favourite artists after already buying from them on Tez, OpenSea or Foundation. Giving them the chance I never had, to have their work curated onto Nifty Gateway, is a great responsibility to take on, and will be occupying a lot of my time in the coming months. In the meantime I will also be curating (and dropping my own work) on the Mint Marketplace, whose launch is imminent. In short, having made some progress as both an artist and collector, I feel I know both sides of the business well enough to stand in the middle and connect artists with collectors in a way that is sympathetic and fair to both parties.
What are your plans looking into the future?
I have a Nifty Gateway curation schedule which is unpublished but comfortably stretches to the end of 2022. When I find time I want to prepare a second submission to SuperRare, as the first was unsuccessful. Other than that I am prepared to take whatever comes my way. In my experience something good always turns up, but it never arrives exactly when or in the manner you expect!