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Filtering by Category: Recommended

Surface Pattern Design :: How and Where do I get started?

elena wilken

Over the last couple of weeks I received a handful of messages on Instagram from fellow designers, asking questions on the same subject:

“How/where do I get started in surface pattern design?”

So I thought I would write a blog post and tell you all about it! :) Well, all I know about it :)
And the timing is perfect!

It can be a vast question and I am no authority on it, but I can share where I started, and point you to the experts I turned to get here. I hope you find this helpful!

Surface pattern designs are part of many of the products I already create with Mpix, and the EW Couture templates for photographers. I fell in love with creating seamless surface designs and can hardly wait to see Elena Wilken patterns on fabrics, wall coverings and more stationary!

I stumbled upon the concept of surface pattern design on Skillshare when I found a couple of classes taught by Bonnie Christine and Elizabeth Olwen ...I knew nothing of surface pattern design or that it was even ‘a thing' at the time. Watched all the classes and soaked it all in, and then dug for even more information.

Over time I kept up with and learned all I could from Bonnie Christine’s Skillshare classes. They shaped and grew my business. 

When she launched her Surface Design Immersion course last year, I signed up knowing full well that it would be a life changing experience for me. 
And it was. This past year has been my first to break through the six figure mark.

Also, this is the year I’ve had my first surface pattern printed larger than life. Miller’s Professional Imaging, a professional photo lab, used it to wrap their trade show booth in NYC at one of the largest trade shows for professional photographers. I am beyond thankful and thrilled! Seeing something that was created on an iPad screen printed so large, is breathtaking.

Thanks to Bonnie, it feels like it’s just the beginning!

She keeps alive and re-ignites my love for creating, and her words have inspired and helped me push through imaginary or very real boundaries, failures and fears, time and time again. …Let’s be real! When you are self employed and your income covers a family of 5, the pressure can get to you at times and it’s not too hard to lose your perspective :)

She has a teacher’s heart, and her words of encouragement and inspiration have been just as valuable to me, as the technical and business knowledge she is sharing.

If you are serious about becoming a surface pattern designer, I can’t recommend the program enough! Wholeheartedly. 

I am thankful beyond words for a course like this, thankful for all the research time it saves, and for a teacher that shares her knowledge and the tools to succeed so freely. It has been a game changer.

The sign-up for the immersion course happens only once a year, for a week. It opened this morning and it will be open Feb 19th-26th, 2019. << You can find all the details here.

Enroll through the link included in this blog post, and I will send you a free $75 Amazon gift card, the day after the sign-ups for the course close. …Art supplies, anyone? ;)

To give you a super quick overview, the program is incredibly comprehensive.
It’s a 8 week course that contains over 120 lessons, 90 videos and audio versions of all of the text based lessons. It is truly worth every penny!

…I am familiar with a lot of courses (MATS included) and this is the best and most comprehensive course I’ve come across yet.
It’s the road map on how to became a surface pattern designer.
Starting from the technical side of things - sketches, all about Adobe Illustrator beginner and advanced levels, signature style, building every type of complex seamless repeat patterns, creating collections, building a portfolio - to promoting your work, choosing an industry, how to make a list of contacts, best practices to communicate with companies etc, and further to the behind the scenes and the business of surface design with contracts, licenses, copyrights, keeping track of accounting and finances etc.

I’ll go ahead and repeat myself :) It is truly worth every penny.
...See you in the Immersion Course? :)

I thought this might make you smile, and also encourage and inspire you, if you happen to be at the beginning of your journey - my first surface pattern and two of my last ones.

my first seamless surface pattern design

my first seamless surface pattern design

Wildflower fields at night - Elena Wilken surface pattern design

Wildflower fields at night - Elena Wilken surface pattern design

Tropical - Elena Wilken surface pattern design

Tropical - Elena Wilken surface pattern design

The chances are that some will read this post outside of the sign up window. If so, save the link, and sign up to be notified when enrollment for Immersion 2020 opens.

If you’re reading this during sign-up time and you’re on the fence and have questions, I’m happy to answer them. A lot of the information and knowledge I now have, is because other people took the time to answer my questions and help me, as I was learning. I believe in paying it forward and helping as much as possible.

Start today.

Start today.

The sign-ups are open Feb 19th-26th, 2019. << Find all the details about the Surface Pattern Design Immersion Course here.

Is becoming a surface pattern designer your goal, but the Surface Design Immersion course is just out of reach right now? Start taking Bonnie’s Skillshare classes today. Don’t wait on your dream!

...These classes are gold, really. Like I said, I started with Bonnie and Elizabeth’s classes. I’ll list them below.

Intro to Surface Pattern Design: Learn Adobe Illustrator / with Bonnie Christine
Surface Pattern Design 2.0: Design a Collection | Start a Career /with Bonnie Christine
Introduction to Designing Repeat Patterns in Illustrator / with Elizabeth Olwen
Pattern Design II: A Creative Look at a Full Pattern Collection / with Elizabeth Olwen
Pattern Design: Bring Your Artwork to Life on Products / with Elizabeth Olwen


I'm an affiliate for Bonnie Christine’s Surface Pattern Design Immersion Course, so I will earn a portion of every registration that results because of my testimonials and promotional efforts. I applied to be an affiliate because her classes had such a tremendously positive effect on my business and I absolutely value what I've learned. She is committed to excellence and empowering and changing lives through her teaching. I am one of those students with a changed life.

Two of the books on my desk this month

elena wilken

It's all about branding this month - when it's not about Christmas :)
As I've working through the process I came across 2 fabulous books from the same author - Fiona Humberstone. They are too good not to share.
An interesting read, even if you are not working with brands or planning a re-branding of your own business (if you have one). The color psychology theory she dives into is quite interesting.

I found both extremely inspiring and walked away with major aha moments while working through the worksheets. And speaking of worksheets, check out Fiona's website, The Brand Stylist.  So much of the information and worksheets she presents in the book, are also available on the blog.

Hoping you enjoy these books, as much as I did!


...Mood boards - and picking and narrowing down color options and choices for EW Couture Collection. Here is a peek at one of the directions explored.


Christmas season, all year long

elena wilken

It's Christmas season over here - as it is for probably every other greeting card designer out there. I am also going through a brand overhaul for EW Couture Collection, so there are books and notes everywhere around the office :)
...But, it is one of those days when the room is soaked in sunshine. And I thought it would be so fitting to share this image, along with these snapshots of illustration details from one of last year's holidays cards available in the EW Couture Collection line with Mpix.


Hope you enjoy the close up look :) It was so much fun creating the numbers for this design!
For the curious minds, the vector based floral illustrations were done digitally, with the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro, using the Adobe Draw app. The final design was created using Adobe Illustrator CC and Photoshop.

Watercolors and pen & ink

elena wilken

Using watercolors and pen and ink together is a recipe for success.
Regardless if you choose to lay down the watercolors first and then come in and add details, or sketch your drawing and then add splashes of watercolor, the results are always very endearing, I think. The mediums compliment each other beautifully. The starkness of the ink lines and the looseness and expressive quality of the brush strokes are a marriage made in heaven if you ask me :)

Garden flowers • watercolors &amp; ink pen exploration --- I love laying down the watercolors first, and then letting my imagination see shapes and forms in the color pigments

Garden flowers • watercolors & ink pen exploration --- I love laying down the watercolors first, and then letting my imagination see shapes and forms in the color pigments

Jamie, of inksnthings is an Illustrator sketching the everyday, everyday :)
If you love this technique, you'll find her work worth following and sharing.

*edited to add - Recently, Ohn Mar Win, an Illustrator surface designer teacher just published a great online class on the subject. You'll enjoy her lovely style, the step by step demonstrations and easy to follow instructions. The class is available on Skillshare (an online resource I absolutely love and have used again and again to learn new skills over the last few years) and is called Sketchbook Practice : Create Freely with Ink and Watercolor.

How To :: Coloring Easter Eggs with Grandma

elena wilken

Several years ago I posted about how we've been dyeing and decorating Easter eggs in my family, ever since I remember. It is a natural, pretty simple process, and a lot of fun. Just ask my kids :)

I will re-post the steps here, along with pictures I took of my mom and the kids last year while coloring our Easter eggs. For this year's Easter eggs we're getting together on Saturday and will try to dye blue ones too, using red cabbage. Last year's 'blue eggs' experiment wasn't too successful so we'll change a few things and hope for much more intense colors - more vinegar, salt and longer simmer time, and white eggshells this year. Will keep you posted ;)

Enjoy the process, if you decide to try the method this year!

It might be worth checking out the original post as those pictures are a little more focused on the process than these.   


I grew up in Romania, in Eastern Europe - somewhere in Transylvania.
Coloring eggs with dry red and yellow onion peels is one of the things I remember vividly about our every Easter preparation. The fun part for us kids was always the hunt for herbs and leaves. Mom did most of the work through the process, until my 2 younger brothers and myself grew older and could help more.
A symbol of new life, and always a part of our Easter celebrations, dyeing Easter eggs using this onion peels technique brings back such fond memories of growing up. It's something that I want to pass on to my children, and it makes me really happy that mom is excited to share and teach this tradition to them :)



  • eggs (brown and/or white)

  • a small grocery bag of dry onion skins from yellow and red onions - the darker the better! (I definitely prefer the red) - about 6 packed cups

  • freshly picked herbs and leaves or flowers for decoration

  • nylon stockings (to wrap the eggs in - individually)

  • string

  • scissors

  • a few tablespoons of white vinegar (and/or salt)

  • stainless soup pot or sauce pan

  • slotted spoon

  • strainer

  • olive oil (or other edible oil; or unsalted butter) - to polish the eggs at the end


• Carefully wash the eggs with lukewarm water and remove anything that might be clinging to the surface of the eggs.
• These instructions assume you start with raw eggs. The eggs are boiled after you decorate them, along with the onion skins.
• Each egg needs to be wrapped individually, so the leaf/grass blades/herbs/flower petals stay tight to the egg shell. That way the plants will be able to keep the dye color from penetrating the eggshell in the covered area, and you will have the pretty shape, at the end.
• The eggs taste normal, no onion flavor!
• You can use any kind of leaves - the kids went outside and picked some from the lawn. ...Clover leaves, small dandelion leaves, parsley, dandelion blooms - they'll work perfect!



1. Collect a small bag of red (and yellow) dry onion skins. Most often the local small grocery store will save the skins if you ask.

2. In a stainless pan or pot, place the onion skins and the white vinegar in 4-6 cups of water - depending on how many eggs you will be dyeing - and bring to a boil. You need enough water so all the eggs will be covered while boiling.
Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for about 20-30 minutes. If decorating and wrapping the eggs is taking longer, you can always turn off the heat and let it sit on the side, until you are ready to place the eggs in.

3. Meantime decorate and wrap the eggs. When applying the leaves, apply them wet - it makes it easier to get them to stick to the egg and they stay in place when wrapping them in the thin nylon stocking. Wrap each egg gently and tightly in the stocking, and tie the stocking around it. Cut the excess stocking and gently place the wrapped egg on a plate

4. Gently place the eggs in the pot with the onion skins, with the slotted spoon. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

5. When boiling, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about another 20 minutes. Remove from the heat.

6. The longer the eggs sit in the dyeing liquid, the deeper the color.
If they are not red enough, allow them to sit in the warm liquid for at least 10 more minutes or until the desired color is achieved. You may even refrigerate them in the liquid overnight for a nice deep color.
(I don't remember mom ever keeping them overnight. She always seems to get the color just right. The few tablespoons of vinegar and/or the salt in the boiling water, will always help darken the color of the egg shells.)

7. Transfer each egg to a plate and cut the stocking with a pair of scissors.
Peel back and discard the herbs. Pat the eggs dry with a paper towel, or let them air dry on the plate or in a strainer.
Mom never seems to wait long for the eggs to cool off, as the plants tend to dry quick. It makes it hard to peel them off. However, if that happens, you can place the eggs in water again, so the plants get moist and easy to handle.

8. To add luster and close the pores of the eggshells, the eggs need to be smeared with a little olive oil, wax, bacon or unsalted butter.


And here is mom, wrapping one egg, with a step-by-step take. :)

I didn't take any pictures of the eggs being placed in the pot with the onion skins (or being taken out and unwrapped) but if you'd like to take a peek at that part of the process hop over to this past blog post.

...Aren't they pretty? :)


Along with our Easter Eggs, we also created a little Resurrection garden that we now keep on our little patio. I love looking at it all year long - and the reminder and meaning of it. My most favorite little memento :)
There are a number of posts floating around pintrest about how to make one, if you'd like a how-to.


Thank you for stopping by! Happy Easter!

How to Install your Own Cork Board Wall Area

elena wilken

Whether you want to add a giant cork board wall in the play room to display the kids' art, or you want a giant pin board for your office, this method will work for either.

I think cork boards are awesome! We installed one in my home office, and it was the one thing I knew I wanted before anything else, in the new office space!

Let me introduce you to my husband Paul, who wrote the post and the instructions. I helped with the installation but he's the driving force behind this.


How to add a little class and utility to any given space…
~ a step-by-step guide to how we installed a cork board wall, and you could too

Inspiration needs a home! What better way to fuel the fires of creativity than displaying found gems/nuggets - and self created notes/pics?

Over the last couple of years we have installed two cork walls to do just that! Not to say that we are professional cork wall installers. Simply, after two installations we have some experience (and know what worked for us) so we thought we'd share that.

We looked up all kinds of tutorials on the best way to do this and decided to screw a plywood sheet to the wall first, then glue the cork sheet to it. The advantage was that there would only be a few screw holes to fill and paint over in the event of a move or change of decor.


1. Decide on the size of your cork wall area.
2. Order the Cork sheet.
3. Get and mount the plywood board to the wall.
4. Apply the adhesive.
5. Roll cork onto board.
6. Trim if necessary.
7. Load it up with Inspiration!

MATERIALS/Tools needed:

• Plywood Sheet
• Screws (roughly 10) & a power drill
• Furring Strips - optional
• Cork roll or cork sheet - Manton cork
• Adhesive - Henry’s 356 Adhesive
• Paper towels (damp - to clean up any adhesive drips or spills)
• A cheap plastic kitchen spatula (to spread the adhesive), and a small plastic trowel for texturizing
• Hook blade/Utility knife
• Rolling pin


The nitty gritty and step-by-step details:

1. Measure and decide on the size needed - both for the plywood board and the cork to mount to it.

2. Order the cork. The cork we used was a pre cut 4x8 1/4” sheet of Manton cork
You could buy it directly through the company (note that the shipping fee is on the high side), or you could look it up and find the product on Amazon (which we did). Even with a 2 day shipping fee, the total came in a little lower. The shipping through Amazon might be free, with Prime (if you have the service). Worth checking it out.

Tip: Don’t order the cork unless you are planning to install within a few days of delivery. The manufacturer states that shrinkage could occur if it dries out too long.
Tip : The day before installation, unroll the cork on the floor curled/convex side up and put books on all the edges to allow the cork to completely flatten before install.

3. Based on our wall area you want covered,  once you pick the size of your cork sheet, pick up a sheet of plywood as well. We picked up a 1/4,” 4x8 sheet of smooth surfaced plywood from Home Depot.
For the first cork board we mounted the plywood directly to the wall, with roughly 10 screws (we hit the studs where we were able).

As an alternative method, mount furring strips to the wall first and then mount the board to them. Both methods work. However, we preferred the more finished look of the furring strip method when mounting on a big open wall.

Tip: Make sure the plywood is stiff enough to not warp.

After the board is mounted securely in place, proceed to place your cork. We did it several days later actually, while the kids enjoyed a movie with the grandparents. So if you need to, you can split the process in these 2 steps: installing the plywood first,  and then at a later time, installing the actual cork board.

4. We used one -1 quart- container of Henry’s 356 Adhesive for the entire surface.
To spread the adhesive we used a 16” trowel, but it proved to go much faster spreading the glue with a cheap plastic kitchen spatula, and then used a small (plastic, not metal) trowel to texturize the layer of adhesive.

Tip: It dries dark, so if you get any on the wall, where you might not want it, you could either wash it while still fresh - with damp paper towels, or paint over it later.

5. After the adhesive has been troweled onto the board we immediately started to apply the cork starting at the top. Getting the sheet up is pretty easy, as long as you have two people doing it... no special tool used to roll it, either. We just used a rolling pin from the kitchen.

Tip: Initially, the cork seemed to not want to stay down on the board. However, simply keep rolling over and over even after it appears to be completely affixed.

6. If the cork was cut to the same size as the board, there should be no need to trim. However, if there is need for trimming, make sure you have a new, sharp blade!

Tip: Wait 24 hours before trimming to make sure no shifting occurs.

7. Finally, fill up that board with your inspirations and aspirations!


Thankful to Paul for getting the info together and writing out the steps. And even more so, for getting the boards installed ;)
If you guys have any further questions on the process, feel free to leave a comment or email, and between Paul and myself we'll give you our best answer, based on our experience with this process.

A few parting thoughts...

As long as you think through and plan your steps ahead of time the process is very simple, and a piece of cake. The satisfaction and benefits of having the board up, waaaay out weigh the time and work it takes to install the board.

Measure - and double check the measurements of the wall area - and get your plywood and cork sheet cut at the proper size. Have all your tools ready - and most importantly have someone ready to lend you a helping hand throughout the process, when necessary! Have fun, and let us know how it went, if you do it! :)

Thank you for stopping by!

For this first cork board we installed the plywood board directly to the wall, before mounting the cork board to it. It still works great. Because the plywood wasn't of the highest quality, you can notice some warping in the board though. In the long run, it is absolutely worth it getting a good piece of plywood.

For this first cork board we installed the plywood board directly to the wall, before mounting the cork board to it. It still works great. Because the plywood wasn't of the highest quality, you can notice some warping in the board though. In the long run, it is absolutely worth it getting a good piece of plywood.

Over the last month or so, we also hung my picture wall. That was a fun experience that might be worth sharing sometime as well :)

Over the last month or so, we also hung my picture wall. That was a fun experience that might be worth sharing sometime as well :)

Favorite work tool as of late

elena wilken

Not once I opened the web browser for some rather important and legitimate reason, only to find myself 10-15 minutes later on Instagram or some other web land of mindless scrolling. And on top of the time wasted, I completely forget the reason I opened the browser in the first place.
...Do not tell me I am the only one! :)

A couple of weeks ago I discovered (through another artist) an add-on/extension for Chrome/Firefox called Momentum! You can find a number of reviews and tutorials for it on You-tube, and I will link to just one of them here.
It basically replaces your new tab page with a personal dashboard featuring a to-do list, a preset list of links, a count down of the number of days remaining until an important date, weather, daily inspiration and more.
The breathtaking images made me gasp a couple of mornings when opening the browser, and  definitely give me a moment of calm and inspire me to stay on track. I have been more productive with my time, since I started using it. A small, but steady increase. ...I find myself doing less mindless scrolling and being more purposeful with how I use my time.
The images, the Focus, the To Do list and the Countdown are some of my favorite features.

...Personally, it's been a fabulous tool to eliminate distraction! Hope you like it too and find it useful too.
p.s. This is not an ad. I just love it enough and thought I should share it. :)


My Favorite online Watercolor, Modern Calligraphy and Lettering classes

elena wilken

Here is a handful of my most favorite online classes. I promised I'd share them with you in one of my last posts, where I shared a bit about my story.

I am a huge fan of online classes and workshops because they can fit so easily to anyone's lifestyle and schedule needs. Plus it's hard to beat the value! You can not sign up for a 1 term 3 credit college class, for the price of all these  resources added together.

There are many great platforms out there, but Skillshare, is one of my favorites. I've been introduced to both surface pattern design and modern calligraphy through teachers on this platform, so that might be why I have a soft spot for it. That, and the fact that the quality of the classes I've been still taking since then, makes it worth spending the time watching.


Modern Calligraphy and Lettering favorite classes

  • Melissa Esplin's Modern Calligraphy online workshop - is a self paced, one month membership to the online class, well structured and organized, with homework and assignments, that you get personal feedback on. I will be going back and taking this probably every couple of years - it's that great and it was that eye opening for me!
    It starts with a more traditional alphabet based on Copperplate calligraphy (which to be honest I wasn't excited about in the beginning), and it works through the assignments to get the students exploring their own personal style by the end of the class.
    After going through this class and others as well, I think this (or another great traditional calligraphy class) should be the first one any student takes. There is something to be said about learning the rules first, so you can beautifully break them later, in the pursue of modern calligraphy.
  • Maybelle Imasa-Stukuls' Beginning Calligraphy class on is another one of my favorite beginner calligraphy classes. The shape of her letters is slender, delicate, emanates strength, and they are just all-around beautiful.
    If you love her style and enjoy the class, I am sure you'll lover her calligraphy kit Belle Calligraphy Kit: Materials and Instruction for Modern Script, published by Chronicle Books.
  • Molly Jacques is the independent lettering artist that opened my eyes for the very first time to modern calligraphy and lettering!
    She used to have a class available through Skillshare - that's how I was first introduced to her.
    While she doesn't teach on the Skillshare platform anymore, she does have calligraphy, lettering and business classes available on her website.

Watercolor & Gouache favorite classes

Skillshare has tons of watercolor classes available, and I watched a number of them. However my most favorite teachers are over on The monthly membership allows you to watch any of the available classes, and is super affordable at $4.99 /a month. You might even be able to find a free 2-weeks trial by searching Google first.

  • Yao Cheng is a wonderful watercolorist and artist, but also an amazing teacher. You can't go wrong by watching any and all of her Creativebug classes!
  • I loved Jennifer Orkin Lewis (also known as August Wren) class Illustrative Painting with Guache.
    In many aspects, a completely different style from Yao Cheng, but she is a great teacher also. Best color mixing demonstration ever!
  • Not a watercolor/gouache, but a favorite drawing and illustration basics class is also taught on this platform by Heather Ross, a surface patterns and fabric designer that I have a lot of admiration for.

    Have fun exploring, and please do come back and share your favorite classes and resources in the comments, if you fall in love with any! :)

Surface Pattern Design Immersion Course with Bonnie Christine

elena wilken

*A little update - A year later…

If you’ve ever dreamt of being a Fabric Designer, I'm here to tell you that YOU CAN. All you have to do is decide to do it, and jump in. Give it your very best, day after day. That’s what I am doing

We all start somewhere. And this is a great place to start. Today is a good day to start. If you are looking for a sign, this is it. ...Turn your goals into a reality with the Surface Pattern Design Immersion Course. 

I am taking Bonnie Christine’s Immersion Course over these next couple of months fully knowing that it will be a life changing experience for me. 

I’ve learned so much from her Skillshare classes, and they shaped and grew my business already. Can’t recommend them enough! Wholeheartedly. The sign-up for the immersion course happens only once a year, for a week. Today is the last day to sign up for this year, and the chances are you might be reading this post outside of the sign up window. If so, save the link, sign up to be notified when enrollment for Immersion 2019 opens, but start taking her Skillshare classes today. Don’t wait on your dream. 

I'm an affiliate for Bonnie Christine’s Surface Pattern Design Immersion Course, so I will earn a portion of every registration that results because of my testimonials and promotional efforts. I applied to be an affiliate because her classes had such a tremendously positive effect on my business and I absolutely value what I've learned. She is committed to excellence and empowering and changing lives through her teaching. I am one of those students with a changed life.