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.
Personally, I am over the top excited that we are on the cusp of turning the page on not only a new year but also on a new 10-year window of opportunities and possibilities!
You may be thinking, whoa…I am just embracing the fall season…yikes… it is tough to think about a new decade!
Yet it is this groundwork, this forward thought that you put in place TODAY that will propel you and lead you into greatness in 2020 and beyond. Designing a new decade rests in your ability to vision, in your willingness to be curious, in your awareness of where you are now and what you most want to curate. Essentially, curating what's next is about tapping into today with confidence, conviction, and decision. Leading YOU starts now. This is your new next. It is your choice.
Sometimes to get to that 'next', you need to take a step back to reflect. Please pardon my asking you to spend time in yesterday. Those who know me personally, know that I created and continue to grow my business based on enabling the present moment as a springboard for living your legacy. So, indulge me here! True, I am asking you to peek into the past, yet it is only in order for you to bring the essence of that past forward into this moment called NOW.
One of the best ways to tap into what's next is to clarify what drives you. To design a new decade, ask yourself this question about the past ten years:
What worked? What were my successes?
Make a list of your achievements big and small. Don't type them, but rather use ink and paper and sit with and savor them. Move your thoughts and your successes from your head, to your heart, to your pen, to the paper. Remember that on the flip side of goals not attained and New Year's resolutions abandoned, there was more than likely some traction and action that moved you forward, even if the end result was not what you expected. Once you have a full list of a decade's worth of personal and professional accomplishments, think about how this makes you feel. Do you remember celebrating all of them? My guess is no. So, celebrate them now. Give them new life by validating them. Circle the successes that resonate with you most right now. Where can you lean into those accomplishments as you power into the decade ahead?
Now comes a tougher question, one that I used myself in my own mid-life reinvention and a question I adore because in a moment's time it provides you with a quick reconnect to your unique inner voice.
If it were 10 years ago and nothing were standing in your way, no fear or excuses to contend with…what would you do?
Don't overthink it. The brilliance of this question is that it refocuses purpose. Whatever first came to mind when you answered this for yourself is at its core a powerful insight into defining and redefining the FUTURE decade. Bring your answer into the light of today and what small piece of it is actionable NOW? Where is this resonating and aligning with a 2019 version of yourself?
Then, based on your success list and your answer to the above question, what is your 2020 vision for your business and for the business of YOU?
Designing a new decade begins as a collection of 3,650 opportunities. 3,650 blank slates of new days ahead in which to pivot and propel yourself forward. Every single one of those days is a window into your legacy. An invitation to be, create, explore, and chip away at this thing we call life. One 24-hour segment at a time.
While you have a decade ahead to work on design improvements, you have the ability to begin manifesting this project of YOU Version 2020 right NOW. Based on exploring the exercises in this post, begin executing your vision. Ask questions. Be present. Let go of 2019 and the past 10 years so that you can embrace the next 10. Position acceptance and self-trust at the forefront of how you lead you. One choice at a time.
Don't get bogged down in the concept of the next 10 years. Instead position clarity and intention into each new day, starting today. Then chase every one of those intentions with an in-the-moment commitment and solution toward living a legendary life!