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.
We're here. We're queer. Now that it's pride month, it feels like every store and corporation is flooding us with their best rainbow merchandise, capitalizing on a $917 billion dollar consumer market.
The rainbow flags are out. The mannequins are sporting pride tees. And corporate newsletters are full of interviews showcasing all their queer employees ("Look, we have a gay person here! We GET you!").
To me, this is blatant evidence that the future is queer.
These corporations follow the money, and with 20% of millennials and 31% of Gen Z openly identifying as queer, these businesses have to capitalize on the growing purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ consumers. With a recorded market size of $917 billion dollars in 2016, and a growing interest in socially conscious brands among young consumers, this is clearly a market opportunity that corporations cannot afford to ignore.
However, I'm always surprised by how little attention investors and the entrepreneurial community devotes to this undeniable trend, despite being constantly inundated with overwhelming statistics proving the importance of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to women in 2018, less than .1% of funding has been allocated to black women since 2009, and only about 1% of venture-backed companies have a black founder or Latinx founder. These statistics are over-quoted but underacted upon.
This gender and diversity inequality significantly hinders economic growth, since 85% of all consumer purchases are controlled by women, and startups with higher ethnic diversity tend to produce financial returns above their industry norm.
The data is clearly leading to one direction: investing in women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, veterans, immigrants, and other minority groups in entrepreneurship leads to higher revenue and better business results.
As data-driven and forward-thinking as this industry claims to be, we haven't caught up to the queer founders, particularly queer women, who are rethinking the future. These founders understand and speak to a generation of increasing numbers of LGBTQIA+ people whose market share will only continue to grow exponentially. VCs and investors are already behind the curve.
SoGal Foundation, a non-profit on a mission to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, is helping bridge this divide between queer women founders and investors with the launch of applications for the second annual Global Pitch Competition for diverse entrepreneurs. Hosted in 25+ cities across five continents, and culminating in a final global pitch competition and 3-day immersive educational bootcamp in Silicon Valley, this is the first and only globally-focused pitch opportunity for diverse entrepreneurs.
Startups that are pre-Series A (raised less than $3M) with at least one woman or diverse founder, apply here to pitch! The top teams selected from each regional round will join SoGal's final global pitch competition and bootcamp in Silicon Valley for guaranteed face time with dozens of top Silicon Valley investors, curated educational programming, unparalleled 1:1 mentorship, press exposure, and a chance to win investment capital.
Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ founders: what's the best way to kick off pride? Apply to pitch!
Regional pitch rounds will be held August-November 2019; final pitch competition in Silicon Valley in February 2020. Details and additional cities to be announced.
SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation's global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide. Join the SoGal community & follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.