Artist Elizabeth Sutton On The Art Of Licensing
Elizabeth Sutton is one of today’s most popular contemporary artists. Her designs have been displayed everywhere from Bergdorf Goodman to Frette’s Madison Avenue flagship location, The Plaza Hotel, Saks Fifth Avenue in Brickell, Eden Rock in St. Barth, and even on Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing.
You may have also seen her work in some unexpected places, such as on bathroom tiles or one of her signature butterflies on a headband. This is because Sutton has mastered the art of licensing, which has given her the financial stability to focus on painting and creating. “My fine art currently sells between $5000-$30000, as my paintings can take up to 400 hours, and I only intend on my art getting more expensive as I have bigger deals come my way,” Sutton tells me.
Licensing her work also allows for people of various budgets to appreciate it. “I don’t want my brand to only be expensive,” says Sutton. “I can’t even afford my own products, and that’s not what my brand is about. My brand is about spreading positive energy and resilience through design integrity and hard work. But I value my time and my art has a much lower ROI on my time when you compare it with the ROI on my time for my licensing deals.”
Sutton’s rise to prominence in the art world has come fairly quickly. A self taught artist, she started painting in 2015 and became a full-time artist after a challenging divorce. Her first paintings were a series of three colorful freehand, geometric abstractions that were created using knives, tape, and paint.
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During the last quarter of 2017, she launched her first licensed products with Bari Lynn Accessories. Just a few months later, she designed a series of cups for Joe and The Juice along with employee uniforms for seventeen of the brand’s New York locations.
However, these deals weren’t exactly moneymakers, according to Sutton. “The initial Bari collection was royalty-free, and I wasn’t paid for Joe and the Juice either. Remember that sometimes in the beginning, you have to work for free to establish a name, but these deals put my name on the map in a serious way as they proved a successful track record. This enabled me to get paid on subsequent collections along with future deals with other brands. I was grateful I was even able to design for brands that large so early on in my career.”
Still, the exposure turned out to be incredibly beneficial for Sutton’s brand. The Bari Lynn line was sold at Bergdorf Goodman and ended up being featured in the store’s New York City bus stop ads. “If ever there was a Carrie Bradshaw moment,” says Sutton. “My collections for Bari have been best-sellers at Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstroms, Harrods, and Bergdorfs. They’ve also been featured in multiple gift guides, as well as many mom-and-pop boutiques. We will be launching our fourth collection this year.”
Working With Tilebar
In 2018, Sutton launched three marble collections with acclaimed brand Tilebar. “My Arc, Timeless, and Wing collections won ‘Best In Show’ twice, at two of the largest hospitality conventions in the United States, HD Expo, and the Architectural Digest Design Show.”
Unlike simply translating her designs to products or selling prints, working with tile as a medium is a different process entirely. “With tile design, the most important aspects are price points, material choice, and patterning. Once we’ve determined the size of the tile, it’s about making sure to achieve the right scale and pattern for the design,” she tells me. “Then we determine the material (marble, porcelain, glass, etc) based on the retail price point and overall aesthetic we are looking to achieve.”
Sutton’s tile is also far less colorful than paint. “Additionally, as tile is a permanent fixture, I try to focus on palettes that are more neutral, versus my typical ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet) color palette. One of the things that keeps my creativity so dynamic is that every product I design has a different process, so it is always new and challenging for me to figure out when it comes to manufacturing.”
Sutton and Tilebar plan to launch a porcelain collection called Art Geo towards the end of 2021. They’re also launching glass chevron tiles in eleven different colorways by the end of 2022. Sutton’s three marble collections are currently available at top major retailers including Wayfair.
From Art To Jewelry
In the first quarter of 2021, Sutton expanded into new territory by creating a capsule collection of fine jewelry with Luisa Alexander. The line features three trademark butterflies along with a Good Vibes statement piece.
“The manufacturing and design process of this collaboration was way more involved and specific than I ever expected, from mock-ups to mold creation to changing the types of stones so they could properly fit the surface area of the mold. It was very interesting to learn. I really connected with the founders, Sari and Jessica, who are strong, female entrepreneurs, and mothers as well. I loved their energy and their designs.” she says.
The artist also had a more accessibly priced line of butterfly earrings with Oradina in 2020 which sold out even faster than she anticipated it would.
Bringing Art To The Office
In 2021, Sutton signed an innovative licensing deal with the Raynor Group, which is the largest manufacturer and distributor of desk chairs in America. In fall 2021, they are launching a collection of home office desk chairs that can also be used for commercial and hospitality purposes. The chairs will be available on Staples.com among other online retailers. They are also hoping to secure Office Max and Office Depot as their exclusive big box retailers.
Most ergonomically designed office chairs don’t offer much in terms of style and design. So, Sutton’s concept brings something new to a rather stale category.
This project was a true labor of love for the artist. “I paid attention to every single aspect of the chair from a design perspective while still looking to maintain an accessible price point. In my opinion, this is the most innovative product I’ve created, as designs like this simply don’t exist within the category. The collection will feature Buy Yourself Roses, Pura Vida, and some of my geometric patterns. All while paying attention to all hardware, color, wheel details, and comfort.”
Line With Rugs America
Several years ago, Sutton had a had a rug line, but it proved to be a false start. “I began making very high-end rugs a few years ago, and they didn’t sell well because they were so expensive and unattainable. For so long, I’ve wanted to make my designs accessible to everyone, and along came Rugs America.”
The line will have over fifty different designs featuring the artist’s best known patterns, including roses, dahlias, butterflies, and some brand new images. Made in Turkey, these rugs are 100 percent polyester and are available in four sizes. Due to Covid supply chain issues, the exact launch date is currently unknown known but it will likely be around the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022.
SZZL Sparkling Tea
Sutton also designed the soda can and packaging for SZZL Sparkling Tea, which is her brother Gilead Ingber’s company.
“I was so proud to see all the tender love, and care that he poured into his new brand, SZZL, and was happy to help him with the design. The can is actually beautiful and textural, incorporating my geometric abstraction prism pattern in color palettes that reflect the flavor of the beverage,” she tells me.
Creating An Inclusive Community Of Fans
For Sutton, the beauty of licensing has meant she has been able to share her work and concept with more people. “The whole purpose of my art, my brand, and my message is to spread happiness and motivation to the world through my designs, and it used to upset me that only very wealthy people could afford my work,” she tells me. “But I don’t only want rich people to have my energy. I want everyone who wants my energy to have it. I want everyone to know, through my art and designs, that whatever they set their mind to is possible. Everyone told me I couldn’t and can’t do exactly what I’m doing— including having very expensive fine art while also having more affordable products.”
Sutton always has new projects in the works. In addition to recently launching her brand on YouTube, Sutton is working on her largest art project yet – creating all of the art programming for the Whale Building, which is a 500000 square foot commercial building in Sunset Park, Brooklyn being developed by Nightingale Properties and designed by Studios Architects.
In spring 2022, the Eden Rock, St. Barth’s will host another solo exhibition for the artist. Sutton’s travels are often inspiration for her licensing ventures, including some of the designs she’s chosen for her puzzle collections with TCG Puzzles, launching winter 2022, with a two year licensing plan already in the works.
Sutton also recently signed a wine licensing deal with I Drink Kosher, which has been a way for her to celebrate her spirituality as well as fight antisemitism. “I made a commitment to donate significant proceeds of Judaica artworks sold to Jewish organizations I support. This wine deal is a result of that initiative. I’m always hosting Jewish holidays and Shabbat dinners and I imagine it will be very special for me when I will be making a blessing over my own wine alongside my family and friends while sitting directly in front of the original painting that inspired my wine label.”
But these aren’t the only things that Sutton is saying “cheers” to. “I have a lot of things currently in discussion, but I don’t say anything until contracts are signed, sealed, and delivered. Internally, I am focused on cleaning house and potentially taking on a strategic investor to help take Elizabeth Sutton Collection to the next level.”