We live in an age where everyone from your friends and family to your hairdresser have probably come across the terms metaverse, NFTs and cryptocurrency at least once in the past couple of years. Still, not everyone knows what these words really mean—especially what it signals about the future. But André Wee isn’t like most people. Armed with the knowledge and skills he acquired at the Rhode Island School of Design, Wee was perfectly poised to not only venture into the NFT marketplace, but also thrive and make a living through it.
In layman’s terms: A metaverse is a network of three-dimensional worlds focused on social interaction, through the use of virtual and augmented reality headsets. An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a blockchain. Essentially, a form of digital ledger that can be sold or traded. Typically, NFTs are associated with digital files such as photos, videos, animated illustrations and audio. And cryptocurrency is a digital currency designed to function as a medium of exchange through a computer network. In other words, a decentralised form of currency. Think of the metaverse as Habbo Hotel, cryptocurrency as Habbo Credits and NFTs as the things you purchase.
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Why is any of this exciting, you ask? Well, we asked Wee the same question. “What excites me most about it is that digital artists can finally be compensated more appropriately for our creations. Also, that Art in the space is very much alive and still being defined. It’s not set in stone. There’s room for anyone and everyone to steer it in a way that they dream it to be,” he posits.
More on André Wee
While you may not be too familiar with who André Wee is, chances are you’ve probably already seen some of his works on Instagram or at an art exhibition. The Singaporean artist describes himself as an experimental illustrator who jumps between both the virtual and physical worlds while creating his crafts. In other words: His artworks combine art with technology.
Apart from switching out paper for a virtual canvas—in his case, an iPad—Wee creates animated layers within the physical world through augmented reality. He embeds narratives within his illustrations, too. Some of his most notable clients include: Apple, Google, Facebook’s Oculus Rift, the United Nations and The New York Times.
Wee is also deeply committed to giving back to society. He teaches drawing and introduces technology-based approaches to illustration at the Nanyang Technological University and LASALLE College of the Arts in Singapore. His works are currently being represented by the Mulan Gallery (Singapore), which have been exhibited both locally and internationally.
Ahead, Wee talks more about his journey into the NFT marketplace, his creative process, art genre and more.
Tell us about your relationship with art.
While I was growing up—in whatever spare time they had—my mom made paintings, and my dad created dioramas. So I have always been surrounded by art and art making—though I didn’t think much of it at that time. I think I only began to take it more seriously as a potential career path when I enrolled at Nanyang Junior College, and took it up as an ‘A’ level subject.
There, I was exposed to art history and philosophy and was also constantly participating in gallery shows and competitions. This built my confidence in my work. I later went on to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) to further my studies in illustration. It was there that I felt truly able to explore and hone my craft more freely. I was exposed to the limitless world of art. And met other artists who saw and harnessed the world in a different light.
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What made you decide to craft a niche in the NFT marketplace? And what’s it been like so far?
About three years into experimenting with unconventional and up-and-coming tools—such as video game engines, procedural generators and 3D visualisation softwares—I had the opportunity to work with a client during my graduating year at RISD.
I was hired to create a some real-time animated visuals for an annual Electronic Dance Music festival in the Dominican Republic. The visuals were not only used for the interactive booths and on three gigantic stage screens, but were also referenced to design the stage itself as well as the sci-fi costumes for the performers. I loved working with the creative digital tools I had experimented with during the course of that project so much that I started exploring other ways of using them for all kinds of projects.
Another big project that came my way—that I am so grateful for as it eventually established one of my more recognisable series of works I have ever made to date—is the website redesign I worked on for Pat Law’s Goodstuph. In this isometric cityscape featuring Goodstuph and her clients in the form of buildings and crazy over sized landmarks, visitors navigate through the different pages of the website by driving through the stylised city. The aesthetic for this project went on to create a whole body of works and collaborations that spanned from projects with the MeshMinds Foundations, Today at Apple session at Apple Orchard, the UN, OCBC, VICE, Straits Clan, SilverKris and even a feature episode on CNA’s “The Ships that Shaped us.”
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I started my company, Studio André Wee, when I moved back to Singapore after my studies at RISD. And was looking to continue working on my freelance projects for both local and international clients. Usually, I do everything myself, but I do hire part time help whenever the projects requires it. I used to work out of a studio space, but have since become a tad bit more nomadic; bringing the work with me on the go and discovering new spaces to work at.
A typical day begins with making a great cup of coffee to start the day with. Followed by responding to emails and inquiries on social media. I then do a little bit of work and some laps in the pool before heading out. My day ends with an evening run or walk and dinner. I then make time for video games, movies or more personal art making.
Tell us about your venture into the NFT space.
I actually launched and sold three animated 3D illustrations concurrently for NFT.NYC in New York City in December of 2021. These pieces belong to an ongoing world building series of art, animation and digital content that I am creating. They depict a stylised, bustling neon cyberpunk city called Circuit City—it has many locations, systems and characters that inhabit that world full of NFT and video game easter eggs and references. This series continued with a fourth piece that was later exhibited and sold at Art Basel Miami 2021. I am currently building more of this world and can’t wait to share it with you later this year.
Initially, it was tough learning the ropes and understanding the tech. I already had the art, I just needed to learn how to bring my art to the platforms and understand how to navigate that space. I really lucked out here. As I was researching—and getting really confused with everything I read online—I randomly ran into a good friend, John Bai, from college on the streets of Chinatown in New York. He was looking into the NFT space too, and had a friend who was looking to host an NFT exhibition in New York City a few weeks from then. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, I was exhibiting three pieces at NFT.NYC!
Tell us about your creative process. What comes first?
I consume a ton of media be it on social media, audiobooks, art books, movies, video games and walks in the park. These inspire me to create more. I usually pen down these ideas on a notebook or on the iPad as these thoughts are fleeting. I then either move on to sketching it on the iPad Pro or directly in Blender (3D computer graphics software) on the MacBook Pro with M1 Max. This leads to the sketch being further developed to completion in either 2D or 3D.
With the MacBook Pro with M1 Max, the biggest and most obvious advantage to my workflow is that I find that I no longer feel chained to my desk at home. I can actually run some heavy 3D renders on the go or live in front of a client who needs some changes on the fly. Previews of the final renders are also rendered quickly, allowing me to check for any errors as I work so I don’t spend too much time waiting and re-rendering.
Also, for the first time ever, I can actually ‘sketch’ a space in 3D from start to finish while being immersed in that very space. The addition of the SD card reader also adds convenience to my work as I do use it when play-testing the retro video game worlds I build for the Game Boy or when transferring videos and photos over from my camera to edit in Final Cut Pro.
How does the iPad and iPhone to augment your workflow?
I treat the iPad Pro like a sketchbook and it never leaves my side. I am constantly sketching on it. Some of these sketches go on to be developed into paintings on the iPad Pro while others become the foundation of an idea that I bring to the digital worlds I create on my MacBook Pro with M1 Max. Also, like everyone else, I use the iPhone 13 Pro to take a ton of photos and videos of everything. I do however, use it to preview and test Augmented Reality effects that I build in the form of animated AR posters or AR masks. I have also started using the camera and the LiDAR Scanner as a means to 3D-scan objects and people in the real world to use as 3D assets in my works.
How would you describe your creative style?
A playground in a liminal space. I love finding the in-betweenness of things and enjoy work that takes on both characteristics of the old and new. 2D yet 3D, physical and virtual. I draw on visual inspirations from life, video games and film. Also, the retrofuture dreams of the past, Ukiyo-e prints, and pictures of the floating world.
Who is your dream collaborator?
I would love to work with Nintendo, Supergiant Games or Arkane Studios on some cool limited edition promotional material. Locally, I’d love to team up with fellow world builders, dreamers, virtual influencers and community builders. For instance, @pokpokaway, @mindflyer, @phonenomenon and @here.is.rae.
I’d like to keep the momentum of what I have going. What was once art just for my own personal enjoyment has become art for a community. I would love to build this community further. I want to engage with everyone more and also work on a couple of personal and fun projects with friends.
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