Emily Yang, also known as pplpleasr, did not always have expert knowledge of the cryptocurrency industry. In fact, she began her career as a digital artist, creating visual effects for films, commercials, and more. When she was faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic and losing her full-time job, her path changed completely by forging her own career in the NFT and crypto world.
Blending her love for the digital arts with her curiosity for the evolving crypto industry, Emily began creating artwork for popular NFT companies. Her fanciful illustrations show a new perspective of the space, bringing new audiences to the phenomenon and displaying that there is no specific target audience for NFTs — anyone can partake in the movement with the proper tools and initiative. “The best way to learn is just to get your hands dirty,” the artist shared.
Hypebeast sat down with pplpleasr to discuss how novice adopters can approach the learning curve, how to defy common misconceptions within the space, and her most valuable advice for investing in your future.
Hypebeast: Your career in crypto started with an interest in art and digital animation. What initially drove you to bring those skills into the crypto world?
pplpleasr: Mainly being unemployed, actually. I had been passively investing in crypto since 2017, and then in 2020 I lost my job and was applying for jobs for over a year. During that time, I created artwork for myself just to pass the time and also started looking into cryptocurrency again as an alternate revenue stream. While I was surfing crypto Twitter, I noticed that there was a shortage of creative talent in the space. So I thought of how to insert myself or make myself valuable within the space. And I started making animations to promote various crypto companies.
H: As a creative individual, it has to be extremely fulfilling to get to practice your passion in your everyday work. How did you feel when you learned you would get to bring your artistic background to this new space?
P: I thought it was rewarding because when I was working in visual effects before this, I was always executing other people’s visions. I didn’t really get that creative freedom to do artwork for myself. So when I started making these little animations for crypto, I had a lot of freedom. I was able to pretty much direct them and just do whatever I felt like. I think there are a lot of really complicated concepts in cryptocurrency that are really hard for people to wrap their heads around. So it was a way for me to take that information and then regurgitate it in a more digestible way so other people can understand it too and make it more fun.
H: Because there is a learning curve in this space, what was the biggest challenge that you had to navigate while you were integrating yourself into the realm?
P: I think the biggest challenges and hurdles when tackling the space come from the fact that it’s actually combining so many different areas. So you have to have a basic understanding of finance, as well as at least a moderate understanding of how technology works. Beyond that, there are also other aspects within NFTs, like art. What has really helped me is to sort of adopt a ‘fake it till you make it’ mindset
H: Was integrating yourself into a heavily male-dominated space also a challenge for you? Was there any doubt or frustration that arose with making that jump?
P: Actually, being in a male-dominated industry is not new to me because in visual effects it was very much like that already. Fun fact, in a previous role I was a contractor and in the entire history of my department, there had never been one single female staff member. So all of their staff were always male and females were only brought on as contractors. This is just an example to show the dynamics within that space. I found that entering crypto was less frustrating compared to my experiences working in visual effects because the type of people that would embrace crypto have to be more open-minded and willing to take risks, and I think that inherently makes them a little bit more inclusive. I don’t think the crypto industry is a discriminating one. I think it is just a spillover effect from, for example, more males having an interest in working in tech and finance. But my experience so far has not been one that it is exclusive.
H: On that note, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about your work and the wider crypto community?
P: Well, the obvious misconceptions about the nature of the work is the speculation around whether NFTs and cryptocurrencies are scams or cash grabs. It’s understandable why people can think that. But what really drew me in back in 2017 is the underlying technology. There’s a unique experience that everybody who’s been converted to understand crypto kind of experiences. I don’t know how to describe it other than it feels like a switch that’s being turned on in your brain. And once it clicks on why this technology is revolutionary, you start to focus less on the monetary aspects and how you can use this technology to shape our society in the future.
H: How do you plan to work to debunk some of those misconceptions through your work?
P: In debunking the whole cash-grabbing situation, that’s why I started doing a lot of philanthropy work. As soon as I entered the space, with my first sale we donated $25,000 in grants to 24 different organizations supporting the AAPI community. Since then I’ve supported a bunch of other philanthropies as well from free journalism to autism research. It’s really cool to be able to do that. It’s sort of a new way to use your platform to raise awareness for causes that you care about.
H: Why did you choose to work with Coinbase for your recent NFT drop?
P: Myself and Coinbase have strong values around trying to educate and onboard as many people as possible to the new paradigms and concepts of crypto. Coinbase is probably the most widespread platform, especially for onboarding normies into crypto from fiat. We recently dropped a series of 250 NFT posters for my latest project White Rabbit, a web3 anime series about going down the crypto “rabbit hole.” Each poster was inspired by a specific element — earth, wind, light, or water. The NFTs themselves will be able to redeem physical posters and have additional utility in the Shibuya ecosystem.
H: What is something you wish you knew before launching a career in this space?
P: Well, I wish I knew that Bored Apes were going go to hundreds of thousands of dollars — then I would’ve bought a lot more. But jokes aside, I wish I better learned how to say no to people. That’s a muscle that I didn’t practice enough in my life. And as my career started growing, it became more and more of a challenge.
H: What is the most valuable advice that you would give to novice adopters or someone who doesn’t really know where to start?
P: The best piece of advice that I received when entering this space is: first, don’t invest anything more than you’re willing to lose. So whatever money you put into cryptocurrency, whether it’s through NFTs or investing, if that all goes away tomorrow, your life should be essentially unaffected. And the second best advice is to just get your feet wet. I think a lot of people are unsure or hover before just diving straight in. Not knowing what you’re doing, in the beginning, is totally normal. And then once you get into the motions of the experience of buying your first NFT and then selling it — losing a little bit of money and then gaining a little bit — those are the best ways for you to learn. Instead of doing a bunch of reading, I think actually just going through the motions is the most effective.
H: What else do you hope to contribute to the world of crypto through your work, and how do you plan to continue evolving in your work as well?
P: I hope to continue contributing to philanthropy through my work in crypto. That’s something that is a personal value of mine and hopefully will never change. And I also hope that as my brand grows or if people find my story interesting or inspiring, I can continue to use this platform to evangelize crypto and debunk the negative sides of it. And also to tell people to be careful because there are definitely scams out there and helping people see beyond just the monetary aspects of it is really cool to me. And lastly, I hope to continue to entertain people with my art.
H: Your art definitely brings new audiences into this world and bridges that gap. How do you hope to see the crypto space transform and grow over time — whether that involves new audiences being brought into that world or in other ways?
P: I think an ideal future is one where people aren’t even using the terms crypto or NFTs anymore and that this technology is embedded into our everyday lives. I hope that people begin to focus less on the financial upsides and more on working together toward a more positive singularity.
H: Your digital art has influenced this space heavily, as well as the realms of entertainment, as you have credits in major films and even recently collaborated on a Vogue Taiwan cover. Do you hope to continue producing work that blends the world of cryptocurrency with other spaces?
P: I love making artwork that, to a regular non-crypto person, looks cool. And then for somebody who understands crypto, they’ll see the Easter eggs or the meaning behind my artwork because in a way that kind of reflects my own life. I am an artistic person, but crypto has changed my life and shaped so many parts of who I am today. So that’s always going to be something that I look forward to doing in the future. And as long as crypto hasn’t gone totally mainstream yet, if anybody continues to ask me to do magazine covers, I’m just going to be putting Web3 propaganda on there.