Designer Spotlight: Elizabeth Olwen

HELLO, PLEASE INTRODUCE YOURSELF:

I’m a surface designer and sometimes illustrator from Toronto. I create patterns and illustrations and license them out for all sorts of different products, like bedding, rugs, pillows, aprons, floor tiles, stationery, fabric and so much more. That’s one of the things I love most about what I do — I never know what new kind of product collaboration is around the corner.

IF YOU COULD GIVE YOUR 10 YEARS YOUNGER SELF ONE KEY PIECE OF ADVICE OR AN INSIGHT, WHAT WOULD IT BE?

There will be many challenges, but if you push through, work hard and devote yourself to something you love, they all make you stronger, and your success is so much sweeter. Celebrate what makes you different. And always trust your gut.

WHEN YOU FEEL STUCK OR IN A DESIGN RUT, HOW DO YOU GET YOURSELF OUT OF IT AND BACK ON TRACK?

Top tip: don’t freak out. After many battles with this, I have come to accept that there are ebbs and flows with my creativity. When I’m in a rut, I remind myself that creativity is like a boomerang — sometimes it feels like it’s getting far away, but it always comes back to you. And sometimes it comes back with gifts, like new ideas or directions you might not have had if you didn’t have a bit of space from it.

That said, sometimes I find the hardest part is just getting started. I find myself avoiding work for fear that I might not create something I like. I simply make a deal with myself: just start and spend 15 minutes. If it doesn’t happen in 15 minutes, you’re free to walk away. But usually I sit down, and within 15 minutes I remember how much I love what I do, and am having a blast.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE DESIGN TOOLS?

I love my ipad Pro and apple pencil, as well as my Wacom Tablet, for drawing motifs.

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR DESIGN PROCESS? FAVOURITE APPS AND PROGRAMS

I usually start with good old fashioned pen and paper, away from my computer. I find that I feel most free when I’m away from my computer. I sketch out lots of ideas really loosely and get them out of my head and onto paper. Then I’ll either go back and explore them further on paper, or lately, I find I love just hopping onto my iPad Pro with apple pencil and exploring there. Lately, I’m obsessed with the Adobe Illustrator Draw app, but I also rely heavily on Inkpad — both apps export vector files, but Inkpad also retains strokes so you can further adjust once I’ve exported to my computer. Ultimately, I take my artwork into Adobe Illustrator, where I lovingly assemble all of my patterns.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE DESIGN PROJECTS TO DATE?

I always love designing fabric — I work with Cloud9 Fabrics who are amazing and always really let me do my thing and support my ideas. I absolutely love seeing how people then take my fabrics and create something new… I think creativity is essential to happiness, so it feels so special when I have a part in someone’s creative play, it’s a privilege. My most recent collection with them is called Underwater and it’s based on my first foray into snorkeling on the Mayan Reef.

I also love working with the Land of Nod who always gives me super interesting and creatively challenging projects. Last year, I got to design a set of wooden baby blocks. A big undertaking, each of the 26 blocks had 6 sides and required a different illustration, and I had a blast working on it. I also love doing bedding with them. I have some crib sheets with a nest theme, and I’m always seeing pictures on Instagram of people’s babies curled up in the nest motif and it warms my heart.  

And some projects are just so interesting and unexpected, things that I wouldn’t have dreamt about working on… floor tiles, or lamps, carved wooden chests, paper dolls. You just never know what’s around the corner.

WHO ARE YOUR DREAM CLIENTS OR WHAT IS YOUR DREAM PROJECT?

I would love to do a wallpaper collaboration, pretty office products, or gardening products like cute plant pots. I’d also love to a cosmetics collaboration, doing packaging!

THERE HAS BEEN AN ART SUPPLY SANCTION IMPOSED AND DESIGNERS ARE ONLY ALLOWED TO POSSESS 3 ITEMS/TOOLS, WHAT DO YOU CHOOSE?

Pen, paper, ipad.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?

I find inspiration everywhere I look… I think it’s important to always have your eyes really truly open to what’s around you. I’m inspired by my city — Toronto is an amazing city with a pulsing creative energy, and I have lots of talented friends here! Sometimes it’s the pattern on an old mattress waiting for trash collection, or the shape of a leaf in my neighbour’s garden. I love used book shops and flea markets, and pick up things to bring home to my studio — I think it’s important to surround yourself with beautiful things. I take a lot of pictures when I’m out and about and somehow all of those images culminate in my brain and come out when I’m doodling. And I’m endlessly inspired by nature so I try and escape the city and get out into it when I can. Travel is also a huge inspiration for me — the inspiration from those adventures constantly fuels my work.

WHO WOULD YOU SAY THE GREATEST DESIGNER IS?

William Morris

When I'm long gone, I hope people remember me for spreading beauty