Raphaël de Courville is Coding Digital Carats 💎
Find out the creative process, background and inspiration behind Sableraph NFTs
Today’s #30NFTartists30days edition is about Raphaël de Courville (aka Sableraph). He is a generative artist that broke into the NFT scene early last year on the hic et nunc platform. His creations are made with code, sometimes on-chain like his carat series on the FxHash platform (where the blockchain stores the code) and sometimes as isolated works. He has been involved in technology and art for many years, creating pieces and working on innovations that resembled NFTs even before they came to life.
How did you discover NFTs?
I heard about modern NFTs around November 2020, back when the controversy about the environmental impact of Proof-of-Work was ramping up. Because of the issues raised by Memo Akten, Kyle McDonald and Joanie Lemercier, I decided to wait for alternatives. Then I heard about Hic et Nunc from Joanie himself, shortly before it launched in March 2021. I created a Tezos wallet and minted my first piece there soon after.
My first weekend on HeN was transformative. You could say it revolutionized how I looked at my own work. I’d been making generative art for more than a decade but that was the first time that I made any significant income from it, and it happened very quickly. I can’t tell you how grateful I was to everyone who collected my work! I also loved the community around hic et nunc and how it gave opportunities to many creative coders like myself.
That said, it wasn’t my first brush with crypto or even with the concept of digital ownership of art on the blockchain. For years I’d been fascinated by the question of how we decide what art is valuable and what art isn’t. If you take digital art in particular, because you can make an infinite number of copies, it used to be worthless as a commodity. Obviously, this has changed quite dramatically with NFTs.
In the early 2010s, I explored this question in a conceptual piece called “Pricetag”, a physical artwork that showed its own price. It was my attempt—probably naïve —at protesting the way that digital art had been valued until that point. While working on Pricetag I was looking for ways that the piece could objectively determine its own market value, and it sounded like the blockchain could be a way to do just that.
In 2015, a friend put me in touch with Masha McConaghy, one of the co-founders of Ascribe. They were a Berlin-based startup who’d been building a digital art platform on the blockchain since 2013. Their tech was mostly focused on tracking ownership of digital art and it didn’t have a marketplace component, but it was years before Ethereum itself had even launched so they were using Bitcoin! They were true pioneers. The team later pivoted and launched Ocean Protocol.
I attended the Ascribe hackathon and came up with a concept quite similar to modern-day NFTs, including editions and artist royalties. We won the hackathon with that concept which was really exciting. My teammates wanted to keep working on the idea, but I personally wasn’t interested in becoming a blockchain entrepreneur. Besides, it felt like the tech was still not where I needed it for my artistic purposes. So my interest in crypto took a backseat to other projects for a few years.
This article is part of the #30NFTArtists30days series, where I write a daily newsletter edition about a different NFT creator during March 2022. Consider getting a premium subscription to support my writing journey ✌️
Can you tell me a bit about your creation process?
It usually starts with a rough idea, theme, inspiration, or concept. I rarely have a preconceived idea of how things are going to look and I do very little planning as I like the unguided serendipity of the creative coding process. I just start coding, not worrying too much about performance or optimization in the exploration phase. These early prototypes usually get discarded or scavenged for parts later on.
I like to divide a big project into smaller problems I can hold in my mind at once to solve separately. For this I typically use the p5js online editor since it lets me jump straight into coding. Once I have the main parts working in isolation, I put the puzzle pieces together in VSCode and start doing proper version control and optimization. I also sketch on paper when I need it to solve some specific issue.
The images above are from the making of 0.20 carat, a collection of generative gems I minted on fxhash in December last year. This was my most ambitious collection so far. It took a month to complete and was dedicated to my mother. Her lifelong passion for precious stones and their beauty inspired my aesthetic sensibility and led me to become an artist. I shared more behind the scenes about the process in this Twitter thread.
When making a generative collection like this, you want each variation to be truly unique, but also make sure that they all belong to the same family, visually. Real world gems are a wonderful inspiration for a generative token in that, stones of a specific cut look similar, yet when you take a closer look, you can see that no two gems are ever exactly alike.
There is a special kind of art in creating the right parameter space for this, and you must also select an edition size large enough to show the possible variations, but not so large that it feels like the generator is repeating itself.
I’m working on a follow-up to the 0.20 carat series. In the meantime, I’m publishing a series of collaborations inspired by the original collection.
Who are your favorite NFT artists and why?
There are too many great generative artists to pick from but here are some of my personal favorites.
The work of Iskra Velitchkova is fantastic. She has an incredibly subtle sense for texture.
I’m also a big fan of Licia He’s unique style. She makes watercolour paintings using an AxiDraw writing machine and they are spectacular!
I love the minimalist work of Yazid too. His eye for composition is unparalleled.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Manoloide whose work and humility are an endless source of inspiration.
Sableraph has a clear idea of how he intends to use technology to make NFT art. Although he has created generative pieces where the code is on the blockchain, he doesn’t believe that’s the only way.
When approaching any technology from an artistic perspective I like to ask myself: what can I make with this that could not exist without it? To me, this is what turns a mere technology into an artistic medium. Some people think that NFTs can only be considered a medium if the code is on-chain but I think that viewpoint is too limiting.
I’m particularly interested in works that use their own market data as a parameter and change over time. I’ve explored this conceptually in my work with “Adam”, a multi-editions piece that slowly erases and overwrite itself as it gets collected. The text is from Book IV Chapter 2 of "The Wealth of Nations", by economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith, a book that is often cited as the origin of the concept of the "Invisible Hand" in economics.
Each of the 10000 editions sells for 3.9508 Tez and the purchase of one edition erases the same number of characters from the text. By collecting the piece you become part of a participative performance that will last until all editions of "Adam" have been collected.
Until next time,
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