Seoul-based Bowyer studio connects small shapes to form a big picture, inspired by Buddhist philosophy
Positioned between design and illustration, the studio also straddles the distinct approaches of its founders, Hwayoung Lee and Sangjoon Hwang.
- Liz Gorny
- 2 March 2022
Bowyer, a studio operating out of Mapo-gu, Seoul, tends to avoid categorisation. Preferring to not define itself as either a graphic design or illustration studio, it sits between boundaries, a fertile space where combinations allow for greater creativity. This blended approach is mirrored in the coming together of outlooks behind Bowyer. The studio is founded by Hwayoung Lee and Sangjoon Hwang, who met as students at Seoul National University. Each share distinct perspectives on how to create work, which becomes apparent when you look through Bowyer’s eclectic, perhaps even experimental projects.
“Hwayoung often uses her memories as materials for her work,” Bowyer explains. Influenced by Buddhist philosophy, Hwayoung agrees with the concept of “Anattā” – all things in the world are composed of something – and “Anicca” – all things change – profoundly”. To visualise this Buddhist thought, Hwayoung often uses a “modular technique of collecting and connecting small shapes to form a big picture.” While Hwayoung approaches work by fitting together interconnected references, almost like a form of collaging, “Sangjoon is just faithful to the situation”, says the studio. With work that is both “sarcastic and provocative”, Sangjoon will sometimes find an efficient solution to a problem, other times he “creates problems intentionally”.
Direct and disruptive; considered and full of unexpected connections; both of these approaches describe Bowyer’s output. It’s a combination that’s led to some beautiful takes on commercial work, which Bowyer likes to undertake alongside “personal projects from the artist’s point of view”. Since 2018, Bowyer has designed the overall visual identity for film magazine Prism Of, and nine issues of the publication. The challenge, the founders explain, was to translate themes from each film into a design that would spread from cover to cover. The studio’s sense for picking subtle references is evident in its solutions; a cover dedicated to We Need To Talk About Kevin features scribbled, paint-splattered sketches, reminiscent of how Kevin destroys some lovingly-decorated walls at one point in the film. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind cover features airbrushed, abstract lines that double as brain scans.
In a 2020 project, Bowyer created the design for four small poem collections about the four seasons, printed into palm-sized books. Bowyer explains that the work, entitled Four Seasons in Chungmu-ro, showed off the excellent printing technology of Chungmuro, a printing house area in Seoul, through its miniature size, hot foil stamping, and thread-sewn binding. The tiny collections use beautifully interlocking symbols to allude to different seasons. They all feature bright foiling, another medium the studio seems to be particularly skilled at using effectively, cropping up in a few of its projects and bringing a sense of vibrance to each.
Despite Bowyer having its fingers in many disciplinary pies – “we are designers, artists, typographers, illustrators, and merchandisers” the studio emphasises – one only needs to look at projects such as Four Seasons in Chungmu-ro to see that attention to detail is obviously not an attribute that has been sacrificed along the way.
Bowyer: Familiar Future: Value of public design visual identity (Copyright © Bowyer, 2021)