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Meet Jason Duckmanton - and the creatives building Peterborough's crypto art scene

Peterborough is becoming well-known as a hub for the growing digital art scene - according to one of its best-known proponents.
Love-and-Death
Love and Death

The work of Jason Duckmanton (35) will be familiar to many in Peterborough; dark, but not offputting, and the characters retain an innocence.

No-one will be surprised that one of his influences is Tim Burton, with other inspirations from university including the films of Studio Ghibli and American artist Alex Pardee, whose work will be known from many dark, gothic album covers.

Jason, who lives with wife Dannii and daughter Kassie (6), was always drawing at both primary at secondary schools in Spalding, taking his art and design GCSEs a year early before studying multimedia at Stamford College and branching out into animation.

From there he went to Lincoln University at the Hull campus, where he also studied illustration, and first picked up a digital tablet, affording it by "living on biscuits and pot noodles."

"I wanted it to become a career but thought it was simply an idea, because the level at that time was so high. So I knew I would have to do more commercial work.

"After university I went into a web design job, making website for Bauer and Emap which I'd learned at college. 

"I did that for a few years and was always trying to push illustration into it, and in 2007/08 I went to the Overground Festival at the Green Backyard, where there were street artists painting. I did a big mural which people liked, and I met loads of local artists.

"I had thought that Peterborough was more of a corporate location and didn't realise what an arts community there was, and the creativity. I joined the Blok Collective and that opened my eyes to it - so from 2008 I started to go back to my digital stuff in my spare time.

"I had an idea in my head for dark children's stories and explore the character, but I could never find a writer for the stories, so instead I just did the illustrations to sell. I did a market stall with Metal when they first opened

"Dawn (Birch) from Art in the Heart spotted them, and shortly after that she invited me to place my work in the shop in Westgate, which was when I first started selling items as a hobby."

The Baker household has several of Jason's works on our wall, including Heartstrings and a series of works based on children's rhyme One for Sorrow, which was exhibited in 2015 at Peterborough Museum - the work was hurriedly completed as he prepared for the birth of his daughter, and around the day job.

But now Jason has branched out into the world of NFTs - Non Fungible Tokens, or perhaps more commonly known as crypto art.

Digital files are still a new concept and many are cautious, but buying items digitally - downloads, additions for video games and the like - are now commonplace.

Now, in the past two years or so, the provenance of owning a digital piece of art that is authenticated by its creator has gone mainstream.

The scene has its detractors. Many are skeptical of the ownership of a JPEG, to put it crudely. Others just say that you can 'right-click' and keep the pic as your own file, missing the point completely.

But there are many benefits to it, not least the cryptocurrency benefits and the fact that the work can appeal to others artists and communities across the world, and help build followings.

One of the pioneers of the movement is Peterborough's very own Lee Mason, who can be found on Twitter as Metageist, and he has used his knowledge in the field to benefit other local artists. 

At that point Jason wasn't selling any work as Art in the Heart had shut, and he said: "I hadn't heard about Bitcoin until about 2019, and thought it was just something for stocktraders.

"Then last year, (Peterborough poet) Mark Grist, who I was working with through a project with Paper Rhino, mentioned that Lee was selling NFT art to make a passive income. I had no idea what it all was.

"When I heard about the residuals - a 10% sell-on fee that you can make if your work is purchased in the future - I thought it was all too good to be true.

"I still had a few works that I had never released, so I joined a discord (online chat forum) hosted by Lee, and it blew my mind. He got in there so early, and was showing us his cryptowallet and how much we could earn. I thought I had missed the boat as he had been doing it for a year, but still wanted to learn more."

By the start of 2021 Jason started using Twitter for the first time in ten years, which put him in touch with other crypto artists, while also improving his animation skills. The movement in Jason's work is subtle; sometimes a subject's hair will be gently blowing, or perhaps there is a hand movement. Many were originally stills, that have been modified.

The first to be purchased was a digital animated version of In Love and Death - the two skeletons falling through the air, followed by a Beetlejuice-inspired homage to Tim Burton.

"I released them on the same day and there were a lot of artists, locally and around the world, who were interested in the discord group I was in. They invested in it, and they sold out.

"The 25 Lydia Beetlejuice ones sold out for (the equivalent of) £100 each, and the In Love and Death mainly sold out.

"I was out walking in Castor at the time with my daughter during lockdown, and got a message from Lee telling me to check my wallet. I looked and could literally see it going up - I think it was £2,000 that morning. My head was in a daze

"Lee has been amazing in getting me in front of people, and guiding me in the process.

 "It used to be that you would never know who had bought your work, but now through social media I can talk to them, thank them. I would have loved to have been able to do that with prints."

But the biggest buzz was still to come, when his work was exhibited in Times Square in New York with other crypto artists. 

Lee's kudos within the industry was influential in getting an invite for ten artists, from Peterborough and the UK.

Out of the blue the invite arrived for the artists to attend in person, although the complexity of travel and quarantine threw up a number of challenges that initially put him off. In the end the danger of FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - won out. 

Jason chose The Cardinal (below) as the work to be displayed, and the trip was arranged via a trip to Canada, using money from previous sales of his projects.

The-Cardinal

"I'm usually against risk but saw the potential in it all, so went for it. Other artists went via Barbados, but I went on my own to Canada and had to stay in a hotel on my own for two weeks - however it did let me catch up with work!

"I got to New York and when I had made it I just thought 'how am I here, without getting ill?" I had gone from isolating for two weeks to hundreds of NFT artists in Times Square, with banners everywhere, going from party to party.

"Some of these kids have made so much from NFT and were so generous with it. It reminded me of how I imagine the punk era to be, or perhaps the 60s, with pockets of cultural explosions. It was a time that I will never forget."

Now back in Peterborough, Jason is positive about the city's art scene. As is the case with many towns and cities, the main critics are those who live there, and his friends from elsewhere have visited and are stunned by everything from the Cathedral to street art.  

He believes that more promotion, and more shops accommodating art in the high street, could be a way to enhance the offering further.

A final word on NFTs: "Peterborough is starting to be known as an NFT hub. When I speak to prominent artists from elsewhere, they know the city

"I keep thinking this can't go on forever, and yet it still keeps growing. It's a real community and you want people to do well, especially after all this disconnection.

"And it's not too late. You do hear on Twitter of people saying that they're all going to make it financially because they believe it's so early in the movement - and it is."