How Chromie Squiggles Pioneered Generative NFT Art

BY Jex Exmundo

November 28, 2022

Surprisingly, the genesis of Chromie Squiggles, Art Blocks’ most notable NFT collection — and arguably, the Art Blocks NFT marketplace itself — can be traced back to Coachella. When Art Blocks Founder Erick Calderon, better known as Snowfro, caught Amon Tobin’s set at Coachella 2012, he immediately fell in love with the art on display that night.

What he saw was generative art — projection mapping, to be specific. And it made Snowfro think about how its limitless potential could help advance artistic expression. “If I had to pinpoint a moment in time where I realized that I could become an artist myself, it was there,” he said in an interview with Bright Moments. “The way projection mapping and light was used in Tobin’s show made me think that I could do something similar. Art didn’t have to be manual, it could be immersive and tech-driven.”

So how did Snowfro go from an awestruck fan at the Coachella festival grounds to an author of one of the most important generative art collections that NFT space has seen thus far?

A squiggle and a keystroke

Before his rise as Art Blocks’ creator and steward, Snowfro held a 9-to-5 job in the tile business, as detailed in an article on Right Click Save. During his free time, he practiced coding and building models for producing generative art. However, it took years for him to come to know how experiments in generative art might yield a full-time career in the arts.

After discovering CryptoPunks in 2017 (back when it was just $35 per mint in gas fees), he realized that NFTs held the key to unlocking the full potential of generative art in a modern, democratized context. “When I claimed some CryptoPunks on that day, I realized that there was this moment where you have the ability, maybe for the first time in history, to prove ownership of something digital. And it got me really excited,” Snofro said in a video interview with nft now. “And all of a sudden, all of my previous history and creative coding and immersive art installations came together with this idea that you could own something digital. I just kind of had this moment where I was like, “Yeah, I think the blockchain would be a wonderful way for generative art to be distributed.””

Blending his desire to create a truly blockchain-native experience with his love for generative art, he started work on what eventually became Art Blocks — a mainstay today in hosting cutting-edge generative NFT art. Fittingly, funding this venture entailed selling 34 of the CryptoPunks he’d originally minted following Larva Labs’ launch.

However, Snowfro had another hurdle to overcome following the launch of Art Blocks. He needed a project to demonstrate its truly unique user experience. Unlike most NFT marketplaces, pieces sold on Art Blocks don’t technically exist until they’re purchased and minted. What collectors receive upon purchasing a piece on any collection hosted on Art Blocks is an unfiltered output corresponding to the generative script originally provided by the collection’s artist. That means pieces aren’t “pieces” per se, but the results of a script. Collection sizes are limited by the number of times a script is set to produce an output, and the rarity of each “piece” within can only truly be uncovered once minting has concluded.

Unpacking the Chromie Squiggle NFTs

That’s how the Chromie Squiggles NFT collection came into being, which as of writing, is one of only two generative art collections created by Snowfro in existence. After all, who could better demonstrate Art Blocks’ capabilities than its founder himself? Ahead of Chromie Squiggles’ launch, Snowfro prepared the script for this collection himself, offering collectors 9,000 chances to claim an output from his script at launch. Initially, the collection was simply meant to serve as a proof of concept for the unique way in which Art Blocks approached generative art. But, down the line, the scope of Chromie Squiggles grew into something much more.

“It has completely disrupted my life,” Snowfro said. “It’s really interesting to see how people have embraced this as a symbol that represents generative art.” Despite how readily the NFT space’s generative art community embraced this unassuming collection of squiggles, Snowfro hopes generative artists looking to have their voices heard in the space won’t feel boxed into believing that Chromie Squiggles represents them entirely. An empathetic and fitting one, given the more intangible aspects of Chromie Squiggles’ legacy. “But it is nice that within the space this is like the sign of empathy. [It’s] a sign of compassion [and] general inclusivity within the space. I think the space yearns [for] a little bit of humanity, as well. So the way that people have embraced the Chromie Squiggles has been completely shocking to me. I’m really proud, and really excited to see where it goes from here.”

But if you want to mint a fresh new Chromie Squiggle, your only option is to go straight to its source. As of writing, there are only 756 Chromie Squiggle NFTs left to be minted, with all keys for mints currently in possession of Snowfro to “give out as he pleases,” according to the Chromie Squiggles website.

Thankfully, the Chromie Squiggles website also notes a healthy secondary market for these NFTs. They won’t come cheap, though. Although not every Squiggle will sell for anywhere close to the $2.44 million price tag one buyer bought Chromie Squiggle #3984 for, floor prices for the collection are north of 13.5 ETH as of writing (keep in mind, this doesn’t account for Chromie Squiggles’ rarity). At the highest end of the Chromie Squiggle value spectrum are the twenty “perfect spectrum Squiggles” that display exactly 256 hues. Despite the collection’s deceptively simple appearance, Snowfro’s code has enabled a litany of possibilities for would-be minters upon minting a Chromie Squiggle.

While even its website admits that Chromie Squiggles can’t always match the conventional (museum-based) artistic experience, this collection nevertheless spearheaded the development and recognition of one of the most important scenes in NFT art today. Through its DAO, users can opt-in to the Chromie Squiggles community via a fractional purchase of a Chromie Squiggle, joining the ranks of a community centered on guiding the generative artists of tomorrow to continue developing this growing subset of NFT art.

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