Elke Reva Sudin, 29, developed her now internationally renowned company, Drawing Booth, right from her Boerum Hill home in Brooklyn back in 2014. After Sudin graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York with a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree in 2009, she skipped the day job to launch her art show, “Hipsters and Hassids” based on her blog and illustration subject. After “Hipsters and Hassids” went viral she started the organization “Jewish Art Now” to create opportunities for other similarly minded artists who were working on identity themes with according to Sudin, “no venue for their work.”
Now she is in demand by brands such as L'Oréal, Godiva, Coach and Absolute for the ultimate party favor: sophisticated three minute portraits of event attendees hand drawn on iPads that are instantly branded, shared, and printed on-site.
Sudin also happens to practice Orthodox Judaism but tells me that she cringes at being called the Orthodox Jewish Girl Boss. "I didn't grow up Orthodox and I didn't know being an artist was a possible career path, but in college I found the inspiration to pursue them both equally."
We pick her brain on how she did it.
Note, Sudin defines “artrpreneur” (interviewer’s term) as a creative that treats business from an artist' perspective and the business facilitates their own artistic ventures and also a person who embraces their creativity for business.
How did you decide to become a fine arts painter?
I was always an artist. The question is, how did you figure out there was a market for what you are passionate about? Being an artist is something you are born with, it is like a condition, and the trick is to find a way of not losing your identity and purpose while also still being in the world/part of society.
NY Drawing Booth
Why did you decide to skip the day job and try and be an entrepreneur instead? Tell us about that progression?
I would do anything to not have to go into an office or the same place every day. If it means starting a company with multiple employees, sure--just so I can sleep in when I need to.
Photo by David Zimand
This has been a long road from art student to entrepreneurial success. I tried everything with my art. It is hard. It teaches you to work hard and to consistently change and adapt to the needs or interest of a market that is so driven by emotion instead of necessity.
By starting Jewish Art Now, we religious artists had our own scene and could do whatever we wanted. Even so, I craved institutional support and validation and when offered to start an art-meets-diversity program at Brooklyn College, I jumped on it. I founded a program called Creative Coexistence, which still operates today. Through all this I was still making art, exhibiting, on new subjects and media. I've dabbled in all kinds of things, but at the Jewish start-up accelerator, PresenTense, I was asked, "Okay, but what do you really want to be doing?" and my answer, was drawing. Making something new every day. So I thought long and hard about what really brings me joy, and the answer was in quick portraits. I had done an event for celebrities, drawing my minimalist paint marker style at an event for their cast holiday party, not knowing anything about the event industry, and it was the most fun I had ever had, it paid well, and the celebs loved it! I love people, they give me energy, and they are always creatively challenging and exciting as a subject matter. I knew I was good at it but still enjoyed it so much. So I thought, well now I have all these years of managing experience around art, why don't I focus that on the art I really want to be doing? So I did. Drawing Booth came out of my interest to draw and make my drawing sustainable as a career but also turned out to be an opportunity for me to nerd out on my interest in technology and embrace the technologies that have developed in recent years.
How does your religion influence your work as an artrepreneur?
Since I do not work on Shabbat or Jewish holidays it pushed me to fill in my company with qualified staff who can. Also having a minority identity (though not such a minority in NYC!) allows me to show that religious women can be in business, they can do art, and be proud, which I hope helps other people be proud of their own identities and not hide it for fear of it effecting how their business is received.
What’s the toughest thing about being an artrepreneur?
The toughest thing is having the space (especially in New York City) to be creative and think expansively which is so critical to the artrepreneur experience. This is why I'm constantly on the road.
Do you have a particular daily routine?
What I am extremely consistent about is my gear. I'm an obsessive ultra-light minimalist traveller gear junkie. Each item is a tool carefully chosen and tested for very specific purposes, whether it is my multiple devices for digital needs for drawing or admin work, or cooking kosher meals in odd locations. My tools are everything to me as it opens unlimited possibilities for productivity and creativity.
What is the biggest business lesson you’ve learned so far?
Artists are so mistreated. Most other professionals in the corporate world are not. It's a learning curve to know how to treat others better than what you have received yourself.
Who has been your favorite mentor?
My favorite mentor was the CEO of eShave which is where I first interned in college. She was really inspiring to me. She is an artist turned businesswoman who used her creativity in her business. Now she is living it up in Miami.
Tina Fey is my dream mentor. She is the ultimate lady boss; nerd-powered, self aware, and clever as hell. She knows how to work within the system without it damaging her individuality.
What are your future goals and big plans?
The future is never certain but here are some ideas: Become a creative consultant for companies to vision better, be more creative. I want to draw some very important people.
"There are no good men out there," yet another woman my age declared. At 50, I was freshly divorced after two decades of marriage and motherhood. My unhappy marriage had shattered my faith in men and romantic relationships. Based on my ex-husband's opinion of my sexual appeal, I was afraid my naked body would cause future lovers to run screaming from the room. Rather gleefully, I announced to my girlfriends that I was done with men, and sex, forever.
For the first year, I got tangled in my sheets alone every night, overjoyed to have the bed and my body to myself. I felt liberated by divorce—free to be me, skip showering, and make dinner for one. But it bothered me when women decried the scarcity of men, because I'd known so many good ones—college boyfriends, my brother, my best friend from business school, etc. The first of many naked truths gradually crept up on me: I was not going to find my juju again through self-help and yoga. The feminist in me didn't want to admit it, but going for too long without men was akin to starvation.
I didn't want another husband. But I needed men, a lot of them.
The universe signaled its approval by sending Mr. Blue Eyes to me at an airport. He was 29 and perhaps the sexiest man I'd ever kissed. Being with him convinced me, pretty decisively, that men were going to heal me, even though men had destroyed me many times before. I became the female incarnation of a divorced, clichéd older man: I bought a sports car, revamped my wardrobe, and took younger lovers. "I want five boyfriends," I told my best friend KC after that first tryst ended. "Sweet, cute, smart, nice. Enough that I won't get too attached to one." My message from the frontlines of divorce at 50 is that to restore your confidence as a woman, especially in the wake of a crushing breakup, try dating outside your comfort zone, expanding your dating pool to include partners you might never have considered before. It may not be the recipe for a lasting union, but in terms of rebuilding your self-esteem, it can work wonders.
The first thing I noticed—and liked—about dating younger men is that they didn't want to marry me or make babies with me. And I didn't want that either. Frankly, I didn't even want them to spend the night. Since I'd been 11, I'd been taught to seek out and value men who wanted commitment. To my surprise, I found it refreshing, even more authentic, to be valued not for my potential as a mate, but instead for my body, intelligence, life-experience and sexuality.
And the sex! I quickly realized that—warning, blanket stereotype coming—men under 40 are more straightforward and adventurous than older men, maybe since they were raised with the Internet. You hear so often about the scourge of crude, sexist online pornography; and I agree that the depersonalization of women as sexual playthings is deeply destructive to all genders. However, from sexting to foreplay, I found younger men uniquely enthusiastic about getting naked and enjoying sex. Every younger man found my most erotic zones faster than any man my age ever had, with a lack of hesitation men over 50 seemed unable to fathom.
Also, about my big fear of getting naked in front of a younger man? Completely unfounded. I started to shake when Airport Boy took off my sundress in our hotel room. Had he ever seen a woman my age nude? How could I stand to be skin-to-skin with a body far more perfect than mine? I had given birth to eight-pound, full-fucking-term babies. I'd nursed them, too, and at times by breasts looked (from my view at least) like wet paper towels. "You have a spectacular body," he told me instead, running his hand over the cellulite on my stomach that I despised. That night I learned that younger men who seek older women accept our physical flaws—they don't expect perfection in someone 20 years their senior. These men taught me to see my body through a positive, decidedly male lens, to focus on the pretty parts (and we all have them) rather than the flaws that we all have too, whether you're 19, 29 or 59.
I even found the pillow talk lighter, easier and more intellectually stimulating, because a younger man's world view differs so vastly from the pressures of my 20-something kids, annual colonoscopies, 401K balance and mortgage payments. They have simple financial problems, like "Can I borrow a few quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Do you have any advice on consolidating my student loans?"
Everything feels simpler with younger men. Men under 40 seem less threatened by assertive women; they grew up with them. They like cheap beer instead of expensive wine. They don't snore (as much). Leftovers a 55-year-old would scoff at look good to them. Their erections NEVER last more than four hours. Their hard-ons end the old-fashioned way and 45 minutes later they are ready for more.
But what I enjoy most about younger men is not the sex, or the cliché that they make me feel young again—because they don't. Younger men make me feel old, and to my delight, I like that. I feel valuable around younger men, precisely because I am wiser and more experienced in life, love and between the sheets.
I know I'll never end up with one for good. The naked truth is we don't have enough in common to last. One recently put it exactly right when he told me, "I love this, but there's always gonna be a glass ceiling between us." That lack of permanence, the improbability of commitment and "forever," doesn't mean I can't pick up a tip or two about self-esteem, and enjoy the magic of human connection with younger men. And vice versa. The experience can enrich us both, making us better partners for people our own ages down the road.
*My viewpoint is from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, because I am one. But change the gender identification and/or sexual orientation to whatever works for you and let me know if the same advice holds true. Thank you.