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Digital artist Elise Swopes shares how to navigate the world of NFTs

Elise Swopes, digital artist and entrepreneur, is the newest name around NFT town.

The Chicago native has been making waves on Instagram for years now with her surrealist urban landscapes. Since 2010, Swopes has been taking and editing photos on her phone that imbue cities from Copenhagen to New York with elements of magical realism.

In some images, waterfalls rush over the middle of a Manhattan skyline. In others, giraffes lean over tall stairwells and drink from puddles like a watering hole. Trains pass through skyscraper forests. Buildings turn to mirages. 

Digital artwork from Elise Swopes (via @swopes)

Following her success on Instagram and many high-profile collaborations with brands like Adobe and Apple, Swopes is on to the next thing.

In 2019, Swopes delivered an inspiring TED talk on her renewed commitment to mental health and growing up on the internet. She has developed apps, started a podcast, and created content as a resource for a community of creatives looking to get their own brands underway.

Most notably, she’s begun working in the NFT world, which she’s met with great success. We caught up with Elise on how she’s navigating the NFT world, and continuing to evolve as an artist. 

Elise Swopes’ introduction into the NFT world

Kulture Hub: When did you first hear about the NFT space, and what was your first reaction? Did it seem like something you could see yourself getting involved in?

Elise Swopes: I first heard about the NFT space through my manager, Eddie. He told me about some friends he had involved, and we didn’t take it too seriously at first.

A few months flew by before we leaped to apply for Nifty and SuperRare [tokenized digital art collectives]. I noticed an old Instagram friend of mine, JNSilva, making waves on Nifty, so I figured we’d need to step it up and make it a priority.

Once I got accepted into SuperRare, I made sure to pace myself. I learned a lot about marketing through Instagram influencer projects during the last decade, and one thing I’ve realized is you want to think long-term. Skill is essential, but consistency and the ability to go with the changing flow (authentically, of course) are crucial.

My first reaction was, “this is for me.” I knew it immediately. I’ve been creating digitally for years, and trying to figure out how to make my art come to “life” in traditional galleries has been difficult until now.

People are open to seeing it in VR. People are open to spending a lot of money on it because they see my value and worth. And they’re right. I’m here, forever.

Is the NFT world sustainable?

KH: Do you think the NFT world is a sustainable way for artists to garner visibility and earn a living?

ES: Yes and no. I think people need to be careful with anything putting all their eggs in one basket. It would help if you had your hand in many things at once because things happen.

One day you’re on the top, and the next, you’re not. It’s just the way it is. So find what brings you peace and let everything else be a challenge to test your strength. 

Elise Swopes for Kulture Hub

KH: You juggle many projects at one – from Urban Jungle App to your podcast ‘Swopes So Dope,’ to NFTs. How do you do it all, and keep yourself sane?

ES: It’s crazy because it doesn’t feel like that much to me. I’m incredibly organized and particular about how I spend my time.

This hasn’t always been the case. I wasn’t always on top of things or the most professional, but the more I allowed myself to learn through different projects and ideas, the better I failed at almost everything to know what to do and how it felt doing it wrong.

Nothing teaches you more than embarrassment and experience. I also write everything down! Ideas, to-do’s, goals, etc. The Time Paradox was one of the best books ever. 

Elise Swopes in NYC (via @swopes / Amanda How)

Finding solace as a creative of color, online and anywhere

KH: In your TEDx Talk, you mention turning to the Internet to find a space for yourself in a world that seemed to alienate you at every turn, particularly as a mixed-race kid growing up in Chicago. Do you still take refuge online, or do you think the attitude towards creatives of color has changed since then?

ES: I still take refuge online, for sure. It’s my haven, and I’ve learned to navigate it thoughtfully.

Like I said, this has only come from failure. Lol, I learned valuable lessons through each interaction throughout these years. What makes me feel good, what takes up my time? What gives me anxiety? Self-reflection is a crucial component of how I interact these days.

Elise Swopes for Kulture Hub
Elise Swopes self-reflecting in Chicago (via @swopes)

But creatives of color are still in a tough place. Colorism is still a challenging topic for some, and I’ve grown to understand I’m not a victim, as much as I’m just a bystander to what society has shaped people to think.

All I can do is be who I am as a person and understand what people think and say has nothing to do with me. I see color because color matters. But color shouldn’t depict who is blacker than another.

Though, darker individuals are affected tremendously by more systemic violence. So, I know my privilege. It would be ignorant to say otherwise. And I think that’s where the issue lies. The system is the problem.

Mindfulness in entrepreneurship

KH: Have your experiences with mindfulness of mental health and recovery from addiction influenced you as an artist and a businesswoman?

ES: Mindfulness is everything. It’s like this superconscious operating system that I didn’t even know I had until the last five years. There are upgrades and all types of good stuff, lol!

I like to tell my mentees; there’s no going back once you “upgrade” or learn something. 

Elise Swopes for Kulture Hub

KH: You’ve spoken about getting your start selling digital art in the form of myspace templates from a young age. Did you know that you could be an entrepreneurial artist at that point?

ES: I had no idea. I was just a kid, I was just addicted to designing and making a few dollars here and there. I loved the exposure I could gain from creating popular girls’ MySpace pages or how I could get someone to bring me McDonald’s for lunch. It was an early idea of leveraging, I suppose, more than anything. 

Navigating through the online and NFT worlds

KH: How did you come up with the 3-Week Online Presence Challenge?

ES: Many people were losing their jobs and feeling so much defeat at the beginning of the COVID shutdowns. One thing I’ve always loved about the Internet is the possibilities it offers anyone to do anything they love because if I can do it, I know anyone else can.

To lift spirits, I thought I would design some tips and tricks where people paced themselves and focused on what they wanted to do. Once the three weeks were over, they [would have] an outstanding online presence to build the brand they wanted and needed.

KH: What advice do you have for young people trying to find their own as artists right now, as life becomes even more virtual?

ES: Virtual only works if reality is taken care of properly. Practice self-care and continue to educate yourself, whether you’re reading a book or asking for help. It’s challenging to navigate [any] space if you aren’t sure about who you are.

KH: Is anything specific inspiring you these days?

ES: I love living in a new city. I miss Chicago every day, but New York is unbelievable and offers me a new perspective.

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