Nyla Hayes has found the secret to success, and it's selling her artwork as NFTs.
At 13 years old, a young artist has become a multimillionaire when she started putting her art up for sale as NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. “Non-fungible” means that an item is one of a kind, such as an original song, video or drawing, and each of Hayes' portraits is unique in its own way.
The teenager's drawings depict iconic women — from Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Lucille Ball — as well as everyday women. And when she's done making one, Hayes posts it onto an NFT website, where someone can buy it with cryptocurrency.
"I love drawing women from all around the world because I really like different cultures and different backgrounds," the digital artist told NBC News Now anchor Savannah Sellers on Thursday.
Hayes calls her artwork "long neckies"
There's one detail that makes Hayes' drawings stand out — a stretched neck.
Hayes draws her models with an elongated neck, a characteristic that appears in all 3,000 portraits in her collection, and she explains that the signature feature stems from her childhood.
When she was younger, Hayes was fascinated with the Brontosaurus dinosaur, so she gave them a cute nickname.
"I didn’t know what to call it. So I just thought of them as “long neckies," she said.
And that was the inspiration — and name — she needed to turn her artwork into a masterpiece.
"At first I just wanted to put two things that I love together, and that was a Brontosaurus and women," she said. "I wanted to show how beautiful and strong women were, and I thought of the brontosaurus as that as well."
How did Hayes start making NFTs?
Hayes’ mom, Latoya, said she got her daughter a smartphone at 9 years old because she “really took an interest in art.”
“I could see how passionate she was about her art and I just thought like, if I could support her in any way. That’s exactly what I’m going to do,” Latoya said.
Before Hayes started making the big bucks, she would draw her portraits on her smartphone and only show them to her family and friends. She was "nervous that people wouldn’t like it or think it was weird.”
But with a little bit of encouragement from her uncle, Hayes and her mom decided to look into NFTs to see if it could be a lucrative marketplace for her.
"Honestly, when I first heard about NFTs I was kind of like, I honestly don’t know about this but I’ve been wanting to put my art out for a while so it was a good platform to do it," she said.
What has Hayes' life been like since she found success?
In 2021, Hayes was named Time Magazine's first "Artist-in-Residence," an honor given to those who are advancing their careers through NFTs. As their artist-in-residence, she made a phenomenal collection where she recreated Time's cover portraits of their "Women of the Year" franchise.
When she first started to sell NFTs, she never thought her business would hit off the way it has.
"I just thought it would be cool to put my art out there and show people that but to see how people react to it," Hayes said. "I was never expecting it to blow up like this."
Hayes said it all wouldn't have happened without the support of her mom, describing her as "amazing."
"I need her," she said before cracking a joke.
"She’s like my right hand because I’m left-handed."