Aug. 27 2019
Welcome to our new monthly series, “The Unconventional Office,” where we step inside the workspaces of women with atypical jobs to capture their unique working style, and learn how they landed their role in the first place. First up, Elizabeth Sutton is an artist and entrepreneur making New York City more colorful, one piece at a time. Known for her whimsical and glittering creations, Elizabeth has exhibited at the Hamptons Designer Showhouse, was showcased on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing, and has been featured by The New York Post. Most recently, Elizabeth launched a capsule collection with Bari Lynn Accessories that was sold at Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, and Harrods. She also partnered with Joe & The Juice in locations across NYC, to make extremely stylish coffee cups. Newsette HQ is lucky to be home to one of Elizabeth’s beautiful custom pieces (pictured), and we were curious to know how this artist launched her successful career in the city. She shares her surprising journey, including an app and getting clients through Instagram, below.
Did you always know you wanted to be a professional artist?
Seeing the question phrased that way actually makes me chuckle. Usually, people ask me how long I’ve been an artist. I actually first picked up a paint brush for the first time in 2015, so definitely not. My 25-year-old self wouldn’t even believe where I am now. My career happened as an ugly/happy accident. I studied business in college, worked in fashion, and got married at 21, at which point I became a privileged housewife and mother. I helped my ex-husband start an app called Priv that had a majority exit to Comcast Ventures, but after a number of significant life losses, all occurring in a very short period, including financial loss, I needed to start working and making some changes. I could no longer afford the art that I had envisioned in my son’s nursery, so I picked up a paintbrush for the first time ever. I posted my first 3 paintings on Instagram and someone reached out and said they were interested in purchasing my work. It was all hustle from there.
Did you study art/design in college?
I studied marketing and finance at Baruch’s Zicklin School of Business. My academic studies there definitely helped me way more than any art class I believe I could have taken. I never studied art and my art and designs are beautiful, but also exemplify quality and technique. My business education, however, allowed me to learn how to make money from natural talent – something that many artists struggle with. If more artists were able to understand the business end of things, the phrase “starving artist” would be less common. Many artists get attached to their work or don’t understand the numbers. But if you can’t figure out a way to create revenues from your passion and pay your bills, you won’t be able to pursue your love of the arts. I teach myself most things on the fly though, both in art and in business.
Were you ever hesitant to become a professional artist? What advice would you give to someone looking to turn their creative passion into a career?
When we lost our money and I needed to start working, I thought I was going to become a chef. That was my creative outlet at the time. The advice that I would give? Work harder than everyone else. That’s it. Be smart, be kind yet aggressive when necessary. But nothing replaces hard work and having a thick skin.
Do you have a mentor?
Now I am blessed to have a number of them but it took me a while to find them, as mentors need to feel you are worthy of them giving you their time. My first mentor is an incredible, strong businesswoman and mother of 5, Bari Erber, who owns the largest luxury girls accessories line in the country, Bari Lynn Accessories. Love her. We did a best-selling collaboration. She helped guide me a lot in a time of need and she continues to be a friend and “goals.” Strongest woman I know. Another dear friend and mentor, Andrew Fox is a serial entrepreneur, whose most recent startup is called Charge. He gives me amazing advice, but mostly encourages my hustle and workaholic entrepreneurial behaviors that many might find a little intense. Sometimes the exhaustion and a certain level of intrinsic instability requires a bit of encouragement. A brilliant woman named Gina Grunfeld, who developed Equinox’s sales strategy, helped me really put down my numbers into real, defined sales goals that are crucial to me achieving the things I have set to achieve – that I NEED to achieve – in order to support my business infrastructure and my two kids (and help) as a single mom. I also have a number of brilliant friends who I seek guidance from on a continuing basis. If you want to be strong, you need to surround yourself with the strongest.
Do you consider yourself a creative or an entrepreneur first?
Probably an entrepreneur. The creative is what I LOVE. That’s my passion. But without me turning it into a business, I’d never be able to exercise my passion. Life in NYC is freaking expensive. The things I love most about what I do are painting and creating designs for thousands of products. But I understand numbers. I understand sales and marketing. I understand creative partnerships and synergies. I am an extremely tough negotiator. I oversee a team of 13 and have become a pro at delegation and logistics. And I learn every facet of my business (to a degree), and outsource all my weaknesses. Apart from my art, strategy is my greatest strength.
What is a typical workday like? Can you walk us through your schedule?
Because I have such a hectic work life and am a single mom of 2, I have a very rigid schedule. I wake up anywhere from 4am-6am. Hop on emails. My 4am wake up days are my most efficient days ever. I usually do them twice a week, but love early sessions on Monday. While the world is still asleep, I type out my 5+ page long to-do lists and both specify and delegate each task to a specific employee. I get major communications done via email, which ensures an efficient and successful day and leaves my hands literally free so I can paint. At 7am, I spend an hour cuddling and eating breakfast with my kids, then I get myself ready, my nanny gets my kids ready, I drop them off at school and head to my studio. I work rapid-fire all day and I try to get home no later than 6pm for my kids. I go phone-free for 2 hours so I can give my kids real, quality time. With my schedule, quality over quantity is key – I do puzzles, we go swimming, go for ice cream, walks, the park, the playroom. Whatever my kids demand from me. Then I do all my design work and social media at night until at least midnight. I also work weekends when I don’t have my kids. I don’t have much of a personal life but I love my life so I’ll get to it at some point. A little tired though.
What’s your typical work uniform?
Funny question. I should paint in crappy paint clothing or at least wear a smock, but because I am on camera all day long in front of 30k+ eyes, I definitely feel pressure to look normal and put-together, especially considering part of my career is being a designer and tastemaker. But 40% of my nice clothes have paint on them somewhere. I just ruined my favorite Ultracor leggings. 3 streaks of white paint on my tush. Not happy. Those leggings are expensive as hell.
What inspires your work the most?
Special memories and travel inspires the creativity and my children inspire my work ethic. I am also highly inspired by architecture. The color comes from inside my crazy head.
How have I not used social media to grow my business? Its existence is responsible for my career. The answer to that question is VERY long. If you really want to know, I’ll be launching a blog in September that will include an entire vertical on Entrepreneurship, as well as many topics that are social media-related.