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Industry Innovators 2024: Elke Sudin

The founder and CEO of Drawing Booth describes her team as both "visual technicians and entertainers for some very posh events."

Industry Innovators 2024: Elke Sudin
Sudin's first event in the U.K. was for Tate Britain, where her team of artists was asked to sketch guests dressed in cosplay inspired by works of art.
Photo: Dan Weill Photography

Industry Innovators 2024: Elke SudinPhoto: Courtesy of Elke SudinElke Sudin is the founder and CEO of Drawing Boothwhich provides digital sketch artists for events in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, the U.K., and beyond. She lives in Brooklyn and recently launched Elke NYC, a line of scarves described as "wearable works of art."

How she got her start: "I started in the underground art event scene, mimicking the events I attended on secret lists where variety acts accompanied live music and exhibitions. Having studied illustration, I would get my way into these events or my friends' concerts by sketching portraits of guests with a paint marker on a pad of paper, walking around, and handing them out.

I did a few underground art events like 'Art After Dark,' selling my on-the-spot portraits for $20 each. It wasn't until I was connected with a small fundraiser where I sketched my expert brush pen portraits that the event planner followed up that experience by having me sketch celebrities at a television cast holiday party. When one of the actors followed up to sketch for her wedding, I wasn't available and didn't know anyone else who could do what I could offer.

I had no idea how to create a business out of what I was doing, and it took four years before I would decide that that passion was where I wanted to focus my efforts. I knew I had to create a team to do so. Being digitally savvy, I was aware that artists had started drawing on iPads (pre-iPad Pro) due to the invention of pressure-sensitive styli. It took some navigating the events world and a lot of trying to explain what I was doing before people really got the concept. I've been interviewing and working with artists ever since!"

What sets her company apart: "Drawing Booth has always stood apart thanks to its mobility and agility—our artists mingle among guests, and their portrait drawing quality and speed allow guests to experience a lightning-fast and flattering image. Having our artists mingle with guests creates surprise and excitement, leaving the guests with a gift they will not forget.

We train our artists to present themselves well, being both visual technicians and entertainers for some very posh events. Our drawings included custom branding, and clients love the ease of the digital aspect and zero floor plan footprint with our mobile setup." Industry Innovators 2024: Elke SudinFor Interior Design Magazine's Giants of Design trip to Cancun, Mexico, Sudin was asked to sketch scenes from the event, providing illustrated memories to complement traditional photography.Photo: Courtesy of Drawing Booth

What innovation means to her: "Innovation means bringing together a combination of things that already exist in a way that is hard to pin down at the start—but once it's introduced, you couldn't imagine a world without it. Innovation means staying on top of trends but seeing what other directions you can take them. That's how you go from a trend follower to a trendsetter who is right on the pulse of the culturescape.

We are always looking to innovate, and have partnered with other vendors to bring unique ways of integrating our experiences—but when it comes down to it, guests and clients benefit the most from the human interaction we bring to their events, creating a touchstone moment that gets people to feel good about themselves (we do a little Photoshopping in our drawing!) and coming away with a positive feeling from the event.

Now, 'digital sketch artist' is a common commodity—but I really was alone in that space and made it my own."

Memorable moments: "My first event in the U.K. was for the Tate Britain. They came to us in a meeting and asked if we were familiar with Comic Con. Upon hearing that we had just come off a Comic Con in San Diego where we sketched guests to be characters from a brand, two people in the meeting actually high-fived each other! The concept they presented was for us to sketch college-aged guests dressed in cosplay inspired by works in their permanent college. 

Another memorable event was sketching for Interior Design Magazine's Giants of Design awardees on their luxury trip to Cancun, Mexico. Upon arrival, I was told that they didn't want portraits and didn't want printing; they wanted me to sketch scenes at their event to have illustrated memories of the different moments captured with drawing in addition to the typical photography. This was one of the most enjoyable events by far. Not only was I in paradise, but I got immense freedom in the content of what I was creating and I was surrounded (and appreciated) by creative professionals on a high level." Industry Innovators 2024: Elke Sudin"Having our artists mingle with guests creates surprise and excitement, leaving the guests with a gift they will not forget," says Sudin.Photo: Courtesy of Drawing Booth

Her biggest hope for the event industry: "I hope to see events get quieter. This might be blasphemous, but I think it's impairing our ability for strong human connection. I wrote about this for Forbes Business Councils, hoping to evoke an event industry version of the 'quiet luxury' trend, but I actually enjoy having conversations with people and it's difficult to do so when the music gives you tinnitus for days.

I also think we can do better than every event being the color purple for some reason. I call it the pervasive purple uplighting, but I think we could create more diverse event experiences by embracing soft, warm tones and more of an earthy-inspired element to events."

What's next: "My latest new venture, Elke NYC, made its New York Fashion Week debut on Feb 11. In addition to the scarves you see on the site, I've been working with a team in DTLA for my own unique travel apparel to complement new scarf designs coming out. My travel apparel is inspired by the travel mileage I've experienced in the event industry, with the need to pack light and versatile event-friendly clothing that can go from corporate daywear to eveningwear to the airport and back."

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