With a team of illustrators in cocktail attire, each armed with iPad and stylus, visual artist Elke Reva Sudin is turning technology into a livelihood. Her company, NY Drawing Booth, offers a techie party favor that is luring a wide range of corporations, including L’Oreal, IBM and, not surprisingly, Apple.
“To make art and make a living making art is really liberating,” Sudin told The Times of Israel ahead of speaking at a new Apple flagship store in San Francisco on January 24.
Her idea took off in the spring of 2014, when Sudin, who earned her bachelor of fine arts from Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute in 2009, launched a small business for on-the-spot portraits. The service works much like the popular photo booths featured at parties and promotional events, in which guests pose for photos and, by inputting their email or social media links, almost immediately receive digital images branded by the event.
However, in this case, Sudin’s team circulates like wait staff, and instead of passing champagne or hors d’ouvres, they offer digital portraits. Guests receive a sketch quickly created by a trained artist. Far from caricatures, the realistic images are also available on archival quality paper via mobile wireless printer.
News of Sudin’s NY Drawing Booth spread by word-of-mouth for private and corporate events, including weddings and product launches, around the country. It gained more traction when media coverage picked up. Event wedding planner, Bjorn & Co., named NYDB one of five essentials to add to events. She also landed press in Biz Bash and Meetings & Conventions magazine that helped drive business.
“2015 was filled with people asking us to do crazy things,” says Sudin.
‘2015 was filled with people asking us to do crazy things’
Her business has rapidly tapped into a wide mix of industries, from sports, finance, technology and health care, to fashion, food and cosmetics. Her client roster includes ESPN, L’Oreal, Marriott Hotels, Bain Capital and IBM, which brought guests aboard an evening cruise in the New York river basin.
And although her clientele typically offer party fare, Sudin, an observant Jew, declines — unless the client happens to serve kosher delights, as Godiva did at their Columbus Circle event. “They were the nicest people,” Sudin says.
When she worked an InStyle magazine fete for its new StyleWatch Editor-in-Chief Lisa Arbitter, the event yielded unexpected fashionista praise for her modest head covering.
“One of the head people there told me she liked my turban,” Sudin says.
The two met at Pratt’s Jewish Student Union. Sudin, who frequently attended the weekly Thursday night Cholent arts scene in New York, created a painting series entitled “Hipsters and Hassids.” She says she is inspired by “new and imagined cross-cultural intersections as they converge with her Jewish identity.”
Her current team, which is now expanding to the west coast, includes about 15 part-time artists and an administrator. The Times of Israel caught up with Sudin during her travels from the East coast to California.
What prompted your transition from painter to entrepreneur, and what gave you the idea for NY Drawing Booth?
I wanted to get back to the art that I was always best at: drawing quick portraits, something I had done since high school, in a minimalist style. Around the same time, the technology for using a pressure sensitive stylus on the iPad was emerging. I wanted to offer a digital option so once I started working on the iPad, it became immediately obvious that we should only do that.
How do guests encounter technology at an event?
The artists are mingling and they come to you. It’s all very engaging.
Our package is super minimal. Everything about it is a sophisticated experience, from the technology that we use and the drawing… We use Apple Pencil stylus and the iPad Pro — the only iPad that works with the Pencil.
We usually send two to four sketch artists to an event. A tech person runs a printer and produces 4” by 6” portrait. It’s a scratch resistant, archival thermal printing process, and we are always innovating new technologies. But the digital file is usually what people are more excited about.
I understand you are expanding to San Francisco and Los Angeles. What do you look for in an artist?
They’re usually people who went to art school and have been in the field for a while who are still hustling to get experience under their belt so they understand what a great opportunity it is to make a living as an artist.
You consult behind the scenes on your content, with marketing materials and collaterals with your husband, Saul. How does being married to a fellow artist support your work?
Giving each other creative direction from an outside perspective is an advantage. He also studied art and gives me critique that I can’t see from my perspective.
What do you love about your job?
I love being able to draw, travel, meeting people in all kinds of industries. It’s extremely social and I just get to draw and get back to art. When you do fine art, you are limited to the amount of art that you can do. You spend years getting it on the canvas and schlepping.