You might have seen the Pudgy Penguins club night if you were in Miami for Art Basel Miami December. Cole Thereum, the founder of Pudgy Penguins was present. He was surrounded by penguin art on the wall and even etched into the ice. Antoine Mingo was also there, sipping a gin-and-tonic in the back, but he kept his profile low. Although he drew the bodies and faces of the penguins’ heads, his connection to this project has been kept under the radar. Cole was not recognized by anyone at the party.
Mingo’s unique career as a NFT artist was marked by the Miami event. Tokens built from his art have sold for upwards of $400,000 even as he remains largely on the sidelines. The NFT world regards the founders of Pudgy Penguins as the true leaders. They coded the variations and promoted the project to potential buyers. Mingo’s case is a good example of this. The visual artists are considered hired guns. They also benefit from the boom mainly through their reputation.
Mingo began his interest in art when he was at Woodbridge High School, Virginia. He started drawing portraits of his favorite players and tried to capture the details of the game. As Mingo grew older, he began to take on smaller commissions — first creating album art for Woodbridge rappers, then logos for local businesses. Each gig lead to the next.
“I was trying find my niche. He says that he wasn’t sure who he was selling to. “Work just fell into my hands.
He started his community college education in graphic design and typography after he graduated. These skills were essential, but he was disappointed by the slow growth of his freelance business. He recalls that time as a low point of his career as an artist. He says, “Honestly, I didn’t even know [clients] were that into the art that deeply.”
Mingo was looking for new challenges and found it in Upwork, a gig-work platform that caters to graphic designers. Although Upwork has its issues with artists, such as the 20 percent cut or abrupt labor policies, Mingo found it to be a perfect fit. Mingo was able find gigs all over the globe, sometimes paying more than his local clients. He was able to see the portfolios of other artists and get advice. He started his career designing rugby jerseys for an Australian client. He began to drift into logo design and learned the techniques that make it work on the platform. Although he still needed to work part-time to survive, he was beginning to master the game.
He was then offered a job with an NFT company. He had no idea about NFTs, but he did know that cryptocurrency was volatile and one of his friends had lost lots of money when he tried to time the market incorrectly. At first the pay was $150, more for consulting and brainstorming than creating a product. He was not used to cartoons and the trait system most NFT collections ran on was completely new to him.
He recalls that although he is a natural realism artist, [the founder] wanted him to draw simple penguins. “When I was drawing them they, the penguins of Mario 64.” were always in my head.”
Cole Thereum, the founder of Pudgy Penguins, taught him how to create separate traits from the same penguin shape. The trait can then be swapped out for new tokens. Antoine designed a variety of hats and colors for his penguins. There are more 100 unique traits. As an additional rare find, there were penguins with different backgrounds and themes. After Mingo had given the traits to developers, they combined them into eight ,888 images. This was the first batch Pudgy Penguin NFTs. The finished product came with a huge payday: $23,000 in dollars and $37,000 in Ethereum.
Cole Thereum reached back two weeks later to rave about the success of the project. Mingo didn’t know that Pudgy Penguins was so successful, as Mingo did not have any connection to NFT Twitter. The founders soon appeared on CNN and Bloomberg TV, with many people comparing them to the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Mingo was the artist behind one of the largest NFT collections.
He said, “Everything has changed.” “I had a wild view of it all. It was all just me watching it explode.”
He didn’t have to look for Upwork commissions. People approached him to create NFT collections for them, such as the Unbanked NFT Project. He was still involved with Pudgy Penguins, helping to create a second collection and other content for their website and social media channels. He was invited to Miami’s party, but it wasn’t enough to make him the centre of all the action. Pudgy Penguins was his most notable client, but it is only one of many.
He was just as shocked by the scandal as anyone else when it happened. Twitter user @9x9x9eth wrote a thread explaining how Cole Thereum, founder of Pudgy Penguins had empty the project’s Treasury before trying to sell the company for 888 Ethereum (over 2 million). Cole was soon kicked out of his company, and Mingo was implicated in one of the greatest betrayals of the NFT scene.
Mingo admits that she felt a bit betrayed, but not enough to where it was so overwhelming that she wanted to post something insane online. Luca Netz, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, bought Pudgy Penguins back from Cole. She launched a new Miami headquarters and set up plans for a book.
Mingo plans to move to Miami shortly too, in response to Pudgy Penguins’ popularity and the wider buzz surrounding crypto art. He still sits in his same room as he did last year, at the exact desk where the Pudgy Penguin artworks were created.
Although it’s not the typical reward for artists whose work sells for six figures, there are other types of satisfaction. Mingo remembers the moment Steph Curry bought a Pudgy Penguin. Mingo had to step back from the computer and return to the feeling that got him started drawing.
“It was confirmation of my ability to be good enough. Mingo stated that I needed it to keep going. “If I kept going the same way, I don’t think I would still be drawing as I do now.”