Born on a farm outside the small town of Centralia, Illinois in 1941, where he grew up, Michael Elliston completed high school with honors. He attended the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago from which he received a B.S. in 1964 and an M.S. in 1970. From 1966 to 1970 he taught art and design at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.