A Peek into the Fanciful World of Cryptoartist Stina Jones
Manchester-based cryptoartist Stina Jones’s popular GANOODLES creatures are making the evolutionary leap to Async’s programmable-art platform.
One of the most immediately recognizable, accessible and popular artists in the cryptoart scene, Stina Jones’s vivid colors and clean lines instantly catch the eye. But stay with her artwork a moment longer and you’ll also sense something deeper: a thoughtfulness and—sometimes—a melancholy. The adorable, expressive characters she’s most famous for evoke a host of poignant emotions: tenderness, joy, sadness, bewilderment.
Now the Manchester-based artist’s famous hand-drawn, GAN-morphed characters GANOODLES have made an evolutionary leap onto the innovative Async platform. Here, owners of an artwork’s layers—which are individually tokenized on the Ethereum blockchain—can take control of the creatures’ colors, shapes and backgrounds to create an ever-shifting, always-different artwork.
I’m pleased to know Stina as a fellow artist via our work together in our UK-based cryptoart group the 105collective. To celebrate her solo Async launch, I asked if I might delve a little deeper into her background, process, and creative journey. Below, an edited version of our conversation.
Tell me how you started drawing characters — which are incredibly distinctive to you — in general. Where do they come from within you?
My illustration style is the byproduct of a range of artistic influences, including 1990s and 2000s cartoons and video games, ancient Egyptian artwork, and UK street art—with its bold lines and bright splashes of colour in amongst the grey English towns and cities. There’s something about drawing characters that’s always appealed to me: I have a tendency to anthropomorphise, I see faces in objects and I enjoy character-driven movies and stories. There’s a lot you can communicate and explore with characters!
Do you regard your characters as sort of pets, or imaginary friends?
My answer would depend on the piece! The characters from my Bunny Invasion series, for example, are more foe than friend. I see the characters incorporated into photography — such as Songbirds in Osaka and Spring Equinox — more as snapshots of creatures in their environment.
Others interlink in series to create a view of much larger worlds, with each piece being like a page from an explorer’s sketchbook. GANOODLES are more open to interpretation in that sense, as the outputs are so varied. They can be adopted, befriended, studied, observed — and I want to leave that open for the collector.
Tell us a bit about your artistic trajectory and experience.
I’m originally from the northwest, but I grew up all over the place. My childhood was a mix of little English towns and Middle Eastern cities — with a good dose of beach life off the African coast. I’ve been drawing and designing for as long as I can remember. As a kid I loved to draw, craft and create zines.
After high school I spent a year studying Art & Design at college. The course covered a bit of everything: ceramics, graphics, fine art, fashion, photography, art history. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at this point, so it was helpful to try so many different things!
I then continued my studies through an apprenticeship scheme. I managed to find a course in print production, which I then shoehorned into a placement at a digital marketing agency where I was able to assist on the graphic design side of things. I was completely thrown in at the deep end from my first day, without even knowing how to use the software. So I had to learn quickly and practically to keep up in a fast-paced agency.
I went freelance fairly soon after that, doing a bit of everything: logo design, illustration, print and web design.
The street art influence is really strong in your work. How did you first get involved with it?
I was doing a lot of work in the West Midlands in the late 2000s, and some friends introduced me to Secret Walls — a live art-battle event that invited local artists, illustrators and graffiti writers to create huge freestyle doodles with black markers on crisp white walls.
I went along as a spectator and was just mesmerised by it all. I came away feeling so inspired that I went on to spend a year completing daily drawings, using similar Secret Walls rules: black marker pen on white paper. I’d draw whatever I wanted and put it up on my blog without any formal write up or explanation. I was just having fun with it and improving as I went along.
I was pouring in all the inspiration I’d soaked up until that point: the cartoons and video games I grew up on, all the nature, history and heritage that had captured my imagination over the years—from the glossy graphic design work that filled my days to the grimy graffiti and wheatpastes that brighten up the otherwise grey Midlands cities. All of it just clicked into place and ignited a spark.
My Daily Doodles were quickly picked up by Creative Boom magazine, who kindly supported the project by giving it a regular feature on the site. The project also led to me connecting with other artists and doodlers online. We’d organise collaborations on Facebook by posting pieces of paper between each other and add to each other’s doodles. I started taking part in more live drawing events, creating street art, canvases, stickers. I’d pick up more graphic design work that required illustrations and characters, or storyboard work. And as technologies advanced, I started blending more of those traditional drawing techniques with digital media, and the lines between them became more and more blurred over time.
Throughout this, I found that I always enjoyed working in series — creating common themes, characters and style parameters, with each image being a smaller piece of something bigger.
You seem to have very successfully ported all these rich experiences and skill into cryptoart. How did you make that jump?
I was looking for more applications and outlets for my digital work, outside of the usual commissions and merchandise. I was experimenting with things like Patreon subscriptions and printable downloads, so was mainly looking for ways to add more value to digital items. It was around then that I stumbled across KnownOrigin, who’d just launched their platform at an event here in Manchester. They were my gateway into the scene and helped me mint my first artworks!
My first proper attempt to bridge those two worlds was with A kitten called Bastet, which was linked to a piece of street art I’d created on Stevenson Square in Manchester. I minted 100 editions of this wall artwork and gave them away for free to new collectors.
Back to GANOODLES: how did you discover GAN, and why did you feel drawn to work with it? And while you’re at it, can you give us a quick definition of what GAN is?
Experimenting with GAN is something I’ve been dipping in and out of as a side project since March 2020. It’s important for me to make time to go off on tangents and explore new ways of working. It helps me learn and grow, which means my work will improve as a whole!
Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) are a class of machine learning in which two neural networks compete with each other to learn the attributes from training data.
I discovered GAN art when browsing the KnownOrigin gallery. I was so intrigued and wondered how some of my own character work would look if reproduced this way. Playform.io offers a service that doesn’t require any coding skills — and I already had a folder full of character doodles on my iPad, all with similar proportions and colours. So out of pure curiosity, I gave it a go.
What surprised you about putting your work through this process?
Considering how clean and symmetrical the characters in the dataset were, the results were surprisingly messy, but endearing nonetheless — as though the GAN was recreating them using Play-Doh!
Why did you choose to use this particular set of characters as the basis for your first Async piece?
GANOODLES started out as an experiment, so it feels right to use them within my first piece of programmable art, which feels like a whole new experiment in itself. Async allows the collectors to take control of the layers and experiment along with me!
The Async GANOODLE incorporates the “state change” feature on its body, eyes, frame and canvas layers, allowing the owners of each layer the ability to switch between five different variations on the corresponding token layer, giving it the ability to morph and change as the layer owners wish. After going through the Async documentation, I shortlisted a load of ideas for customisations, moving parts, pieces that change depending on the time of day. There’s so much more I want to explore, too.
What would you say are the pros and cons of being in the cryptoart space? How has the experience benefited you?
The whole concept is still very new, so it has been a tough sell for traditional art collectors. There are all these extra steps you are asking people to take: setting up wallets, buying crypto, learning what a blockchain even is, and how it adds value.
On the other hand, I’m very excited about the creative possibilities cryptoart opens up — Async being a perfect example. Just having the option to include a programmable element has opened up a whole new way of working for me.
I’m also happy to have found this small yet energetic group of pioneering artists and developers who were a huge source of inspiration to me early on. It truly feels like we are working to carve out a new world.
The auction for GANOODLES Async edition will close at 16:00 GMT on 23 January 2021. Follow Stina on Instagram & Twitter @stina_jones, and visit her website to see more of her work.
For an introduction to Async Art, watch this video.