Inside design: Elizabeth Olwen
Toronto’s Elizabeth Olwen is fairly new to the small pool of Canadian surface designers, but in only a few years, she’s made a splash. Her growing roster of international clients includes Cloud9 Fabrics. We love her earlier collections for the fabric house, Grey Abbey and Wildwood, but we’re totally obsessed with her latest – Morning Song – displayed on the dress, toss cushion and pillowcase (below) and featured in our high/low: sewing studio.
SAH: What is surface design?
It's exactly what it sounds like: design for surfaces - anything from textiles to flooring to wallpaper to stationery, even the motifs on your favourite teapot. I license my artwork to many types of manufacturers for different kinds of products.
SAH: How did you get started?
I was a graphic designer for 10 years, so I was in that realm, but I had no idea you could make patterns for a living. It’s something I’ve loved from a very young age and always tinkered with it, but the aha moment came in 2012: I went to Berlin on sabbatical to discover what I woke up every day wanting to work on – and this was it!
SAH: Describe your aesthetic.
Fresh and modern with a nod to vintage. I like to think of it as something joyful that brightens your day – a backdrop to a beautiful life.
SAH: What inspires you?
Mostly nature. In the summer, I go camping a lot. I really keep my eyes open in the forest. I pay attention to what’s on the ground, the shapes of the leaves. The Canadian landscape is definitely part of my work, but I’m also inspired by days gone by, especially the ’60s and ’70s.
SAH: Do you have a favourite surface to design for?
I enjoy all of them, but fabric stands out. It’s great seeing people take my artwork and make something else with it.
SAH: Describe your home studio.
It’s got big windows – I need sunlight to feel creative. There’s a gallery wall with my favourite prints and a couple of shelves with inspirational things I’ve picked up along the way, like old folk art books and vintage wallpapers. And plants, which bring in life.
SAH: What’s next for you?
It’s funny, in surface design you never really know what’s around the corner. In fabrics, I was mainly doing quilting weight, but I’m working with Cloud9 Fabrics on voiles and corduroys, which is exciting. I also recently collaborated with floor tile company Mirth Studio. My ultimate goal is to be a household name.
Above ( Cloud9 Fabrics, from $13 US per yard each)
1 Elizabeth Olwen Grey Abbey Gentle Vines in Coral
2 Floral Whimsy in Egg Blue
3 Deco Floral in Spearmint
4 English Garden in Pearl
5 Folky Daisy in Egg Blue
6 Swaying Floral in Egg Blue
7 Wildwood Forest Floor in Khaki
8 Full Bloom in Indigo
9 Morning Song Lush Lullabye in Gray
10 Lazy Daisy in Coral
11 Dancing Vines in Orange
12 Rich Meadow in Ivory