Celebrating her unique aesthetic: Get to know the self-taught graphic designer known as Soft Bwoi
From album artwork to branding and fine art pieces, meet the graphic designer setting new ground for Kuala Lumpur’s up-and-coming creative scene.
- Jyni Ong
- 18 November 2021
The graphic designer known as Soft Bwoi first ventured to Photoshop at the tender age of ten. “All because I wanted to create GIFs and blends of my celebrity crushes (cough Hilary Duff) on this online community platform called Nicksplat by Nickelodeon,” she tells us. Though the platform no longer exists (she has tried to find it, of course) we can be thankful of this introductory creative experience because this is where the Malaysian creative first started out.
Born and raised in Subang Jaya, a small city not far from the capital of Kuala Lumpur, the self-taught graphic design has “never really left”. She grew up surrounded by creative people but has only recently started to meet more graphic designers. In terms of the design scene in KL, she remarks on the small but strong community of design academics: “Speaking from my lens and the social setting of KL,” Soft Bwoi says, “I noticed that certain aesthetics tend to be celebrated and appreciated more in KL, to the point that it becomes the look when you want to attract an urban crowd.” In recent years, she’s noticed a collective shift in design, “that people are becoming more open to exploring less conservative methods, be it through typography, layout and design style, which is pretty exciting to see.”
For the designer, KL’s bars, cafes and festivals tend to have a “super polished” aesthetic to “resemble this ideal lifestyle that we hope to achieve”. She sees arts and crafts markets pop up, drawing inspiration from London and Singapore; both countries that Malaysia has close ties with. Soft Bwoi has pretty strong opinions when it comes to Malaysia’s visual culture and admits it’s something she “talks about a lot.” She describes the city as being noisy from the sound of construction and drilling, building malls and apartments “that no one can afford.”
Recalling the loud grittiness of the diverse landscape – the honking cars, the bad traffic and the constant hum of road rage – she adds, “there is so much to explore when it comes to embracing what KL actually is rather than forcing what is isn’t.” For Soft Bwoi, Malaysian culture is “very pent up” appreciating courtesy over honesty and, in turn, modesty before self expression. She points out the national slogan used throughout the early 2000s: “Budi Buhasa Budaya Kita” which translates to “being polite is our culture”.
With this in mind, much of Soft Bwoi’s work aims to amplify self expression. She recently completed two personal projects while working outside her busy day job (at digital agency C27 where she is creative group head), and also the weekends spent at the arts space Safehouse, which she runs with her friends championing local talents and hosting some pretty crazy parties too. In her personal work, Soft Bwoi pushes her creativity beyond traditional categorisation and immerses herself in a pure form of creative expression. This can take the shape of collaging, interior design and video editing to name a few. In Isolation, a three-piece artwork created during Malaysia’s first lockdown in April 2020, the designer poured her feelings of scattiness and loneliness into a grayscale series of works.
She worked on it non-stop for a week, hardly leaving her desk (even though there was barely anywhere she could go). Soft Bwoi looks back on the work as a deeply personal creative expression. She depicts a universal feeling felt by many at the time, picturing what the world feels like during a time when the word ‘unprecedented’ popped up every couple of minutes. “I wanted to make sure it felt mundane as much as it felt hopeful,” she says of the artwork, “that amidst the bleak darkness, there was a glimmer of light that was just as much as stagnant as it was floating.”
Elsewhere, the designer has created the album cover for the local KL artist known as Bastard. In one of her most challenging but enjoyable designs, Soft Bwoi found a way to encapsulate the essence of the enigmatic artist into an image. It started out, however, with her taking a photo of Bastard and then collaging it into an image of him kissing himself. It was another project completed over lockdown, which this time, had its benefits in the fact that the collaborators had time to experiment. In turn, the resulting album artwork is a record of this collaboration, featuring random sketches and collages that intuitively came into fruition. But most of all, the project marks a “super fun” time involving a group of friends and an album that was “genuinely a lot of fun to listen to.”
Though she has lots of plans for the future including all the “normal stability stuff”, one day, it’s her goal that her work with Safehouse can become a full-time gig. She hopes that soon, the art space can become an alternate school for creative learning, nurturing young people to gain further access to creative opportunities and eventually, contribute to the local ecosystem of thriving creativity.
Soft Bwoi: Bound with frame (Copyright © Soft Bwoi, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.