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.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."