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Diversity in the NFT Creator World: A Conversation with Hungry Artist's Mary Lai

NFT creator Mary Lai, the artist behind the Hungry Artist NFT project, discusses how she got her start in NFTs and offers advice for getting a start in digital art.
Written by TM Team
Read Time 6 min
crypto Art and NFTs: Diversity in NFT Creators
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For Women's History Month, Trust Machines spoke to just some of the women at the helm of Web3. This included Mary Lai, the NFT artist behind the Hungry Artist NFT project in the Stacks ecosystem.

Popular non-fungible token (NFT) marketplaces like OpenSea have been a hub for top NFT art, with many of the best NFT creators being women. Whether on Ethereum or Bitcoin, NFTs have given people another way to interact with cryptocurrencies and stretched their imaginations about digital assets through crypto art.

Lai spoke to Trust Machines about her experience making NFT artwork, including how she got her start in the NFT community and her Hungry Artist NFT collection. She also offered advice on how to learn about NFTs as a digital artist, and how artists can take the plunge to explore a new art field.

Becoming an NFT Creator

Trust Machines: You started off in the traditional art world and eventually developed an interest in digital art and NFTs. Can you tell us about that journey?

Mary: I have 20 years of experience in the creative industry and the first decade was actually doing fashion accessories. But in college, I had a BFA in graphic design, so I was always using Photoshop, Illustrator, and [creating visuals] on my computer. I feel like I'm the artist I am because of all those experiences I've had working as a fashion accessories designer doing graphic design while also painting murals on the side. 

But I took that leap to do full time visual art, which has been the right path for me, I feel. And then when NFTs exploded, I thought, “Wow, I could really be an artist and tap into this digital side of art, connect with more art collectors and have new buyers and exposure.” From the start, I had been kind of going back and forth between physical and digital art. I was always using my computer and digital programs to create mixed media art, so it was a very seamless transition to try out NFTs.

Trust Machines: Did you feel any hesitation at all when you were making that shift?

Mary: In the beginning, absolutely. [There was initially] so much hesitation and fear, but I did my research, listened to podcasts, and tried to submit to open calls. But I think where I really took that leap was when I got into the Stacks program, and it was for The Mintery. The Mintery was what I felt comfortable with, because I wanted to learn before I dove [into NFTs], so that's how I got my start. 

Trust Machines: And eventually, you launched Hungry Artist. Can you tell us a bit about that collection?

Mary: Hungry Artist is interesting because when I got into that Stacks program, I was going to launch a different collection. Then, as I was talking with the mentors, I wanted something with a deeper meaning. Why not talk about artists’ stories and how a lot of these artists could have been like starving artists? So I was thinking that as an artist, if you have that kind of determination and hunger, you might be able to make it, and I thought it'd be fun to make a collection out of that. The whole point is that I wanted to empower more artists.

Inclusion and Diversity in the NFT Space

Trust Machines: What has been your experience with inclusion and diversity in the NFT space?

Mary: I think even in the traditional art world, a lot of the platforms I was on were starting to push for more women and more inclusion. I loved that conversation because when you look at art history, [it has largely been focused on white men]. In recent years, that has shifted because I think people realize that's a story that’s very one-sided. And so it's really nice to be living as an artist in these times because finally, people want more artists with different backgrounds. So if I can lean into that and people want to include me [in conversations about women or Asian artists], then I'm all about that because finally, [I feel that] I do have opportunities. 

In the Web3 world, I felt like that was a discussion topic from the beginning. I felt like they wanted more female leadership and diversity [from the start]. [Of course, you still have to really look at] the company and their management team, but I love that the conversation is there and I do feel the shift. It's an exciting time to be in this movement.

Trust Machines: But of course, there are still barriers to entry for many women creators. How have you seen these barriers play out in Web3?

Mary: For me, crypto and Web3 weren't intuitive, so I had to learn a lot. Plus, when you look at engineers, finance teams, or tech companies in the space, you generally see a lot of male-dominated teams. I love that they want to include women, [but I don’t want them to] include us just to meet a quota. There are women who are so savvy with coding, tech, and more, and I would love more women in those roles because of their knowledge and talent. I come from an artist background, but I still also want to absorb and learn. So teach me.

Trust Machines: Despite that, do you still feel like the NFT space is one good option for artists who want to enter Web3? 

Mary: I think so, because [ultimately, the NFT space wants] to bring on artists. It’s a great area to include so many types of people because even though I may not be blockchain-savvy, because I'm coming in as an artist, they're teaching me [about a decentralized blockchain through my work as an artist]. 

Advice from an NFT Artist: Getting Started in NFTs

Trust Machines: How did you learn more about Web3, and what advice do you have for creators, in general, who want to enter the space?

Mary: I didn't initially use Twitter that much, but I always had an account. So when NFTs and Web3 were starting to become a big thing, I started getting more active on Twitter because that’s where the conversations were. I also never used Discord, but all of a sudden, that’s where conversations were. So I think for anyone getting started, you have to be where the conversations are. Twitter was also how I found the open call for like the Stacks Mintery program, and so I think if you join the conversation, listen to those spaces, and tap into them, that's how you're going to find those resources to learn more. 

But also, don't feel like you have to rush into it. The NFT world moves so quickly that you feel like you're always behind. I was kind of on that crazy path and I was burning out. That's when I realized that I have to do it at my speed, in my way, and on my own time. It doesn't mean I have to drop something every week. If I want to drop something I feel really good about every three months or six months and do it with intention, that's just the way I want to do it. 

Aside from creating NFTs, Lai is also exploring additional art styles that combine her love for traditional and digital artwork. On May 11, she will be launching an exhibition at the W Hotel in Los Angeles.