Ahead of Semi Permanent Auckland: 5 Minutes with… Mark Gowing

4 years ago by

Ahead of this year’s Semi Permanent event, we spoke with Mark Gowing, founder and director of Sydney’s Formist:

Hi Mark, can you tell us a little bit about who you are, your background, and how you first got started in the industry.
I am a graphic designer and publisher living and working in Sydney. I have been working as a designer for 30 years and have been running my own practice for 20 years. I started in design as an apprentice in a children’s book publisher when I was almost 17. I was straight out of school and had no training, before or since. Most of my early years in design were spent working as a layout artist on fairly ordinary projects. This time was spent learning the details of design craft and production and developing my own design style and approach at home in my own time. Later I moved on to magazine design and was able to experiment with typography and further develop my personal approach. I started working freelance from my spare room in 1997 and slowly secured some ok clients until the freelance became a business. The business traded as Mark Gowing Design for the past 20 years and was based mostly on my own design output. More recently I have set up our new company called Formist to reflect a more collaborative approach to design as well as a broader offering of products and services.

Tell us about Formist: what prompted you to set it up? How many people work there?
Formist is a graphic design studio, an arts and design publisher, and an experimental type foundry. Formist was founded with the vision of combining our design, typographic and publishing expertise through three divisions: Formist Studio, Formist Editions and Formist Foundry. These are fields that I have worked in all my life, so it seems only natural to be able to exercise our expertise to its full extent. I am excited by the new experience of working across multiple genres and teaching staff to do the same. I think we are quickly becoming a very capable and diverse group of people. We are currently a staff of five and are growing quickly, so there might be further additions before too long.

Can you elaborate on the three strands of Formist – studio/publishing/type foundry, and explain how these three independent but related roles are balanced, and also how they inform each other?
Formist Studio is a contemporary practice that executes a broad variety of projects across all mediums. The majority of our services are executed in-house, including things like type design, programming, photography, retouching, animation, video production, content curation and copy editing. Only a few extremely high-end specialist tasks are outsourced. This approach makes us nimble and capable of just about anything. It also allows us to experiment and combine these elements with very little planning, risk or expense.

For a number of years I have been able to offer this broad expertise when working with publishers and clients. It has made the company more effective, so I think it was inevitable that we began publishing our own titles. Formist Editions is the realisation of this expertise via objects and publications that are created around our one personal interests and knowledge. We curate content and produce publications within and between the fields of art and design. Each product is carefully designed and produced to our highest standards. And because we are our own clients in these cases, we are more free to experiment with formats, content and production.

This leads us to Formist Foundry. The type foundry was set up to benefit from the studio’s long-standing experimental approach to design, but the foundry also has a major part to play in the development of our publications. We recently made the decision that every Formist Edition publication would feature a custom typeface from Formist Foundry. This means that the books we design create a requirement for typefaces, and the resulting typefaces become Formist Foundry products. As a result, the design process is a lot of fun, although often quite demanding. We are committed to producing either a display or a text face for every book, and will also be releasing other typefaces that are created outside this system.

What project, personal or professional, are you most proud of and why?
I am always stuck for an answer to this question. I find it difficult isolate most projects in this way. I guess that I have always been very happy with the Labelled poster set. I find the grass-roots hand-made approach very satisfying as it produces a contemporary and experimental typographic execution. I think this is a nice combination in an age of digital production that often pushes us to produce the cleanest and most perfect version of everything.

Formist Poster One
Mark Gowing, 2014
Silkscreen print, 594 × 841 mm

Outside Material: The cover art of Preservation Music
Mark Gowing, 2017
Hardcover, 240 Pages, 165 × 240 mm

Otherwise, I think Formist’s new Outside Material book has been a rewarding experience. The book documents about ten years of my packaging works for Preservation Music and almost every part of it is my own production. I photographed all the packages in domestic environments with Jacob Ring. The intention was to create rich images that make the packages feel like they might be in your own home. The books is also typeset in our new sans-serif Formist Kapitol, that will be released net year.

I am also excited about our upcoming release of the Boulder Mono typeface. The typeface embodies design principals that I have been developing for many years. We have tested the typeface with numerous projects in the studio and have found that it has a charm and playfulness that makes it useful and engaging.

Boulder Mono Specimen
Mark Gowing, 2017

What are you currently working on?
The studio is currently working with a number of high-profile arts organisations on identity and publishing projects, including Entertainment One, Artspace Sydney, the Sherman Centre for Culture and Ideas, Uro Publications, Power Publications, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Sydney.

I am currently working on a few new typefaces and publications, including Kapitol as I previously mentioned and the soon to be released Boulder Mono font. Designed for our upcoming Gemma Smith: Found Ground publication, Boulder is an extensive monospaced family that features strong geometric forms and what I think is a very unique italic. We also have Formist books on the way about artist and designer, Stephen Ormandy as well as one of Australia’s leading artists, Gemma Smith. Both of these books feature typefaces that were created specifically for each project. Recent publications include Daniel Eatock: Pens Paper, Paul Garbett: Year of the Monkey, and Outside Material: The cover art of Preservation Music.

Kapitol Bold Specimen
Mark Gowing & Dave Foster, 2016

In addition I have been working on a dedicated website for Formist Foundry to be launched in the coming months.

Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation
The inventive work of Shigeru Ban poster
Mark Gowing, 2017
Digital print, 594 × 841 mm

Stephan Ormandy: Only Dancing
Elliott Bryce Foulkes and Mark Gowing, 2017
Paperback, 96 Pages, 210 × 280 mm

What can we expect from your presentation at the upcoming Semi Permanent event?
Aside from a lot of nerves and bumbling, I will be presenting our approach of combining custom typography with the creation of identities, packaging and books. Looking forward to being in Auckland soon!

Hear more from Mark, and the huge range of other talented and inspirational guest at Semi Permanent on August 11/12th. Bookings and information here.


Up Next...

DA Film: Helvetica, 10th Anniversary Screening in Auckland

It’s been 10 years since Helvetica the film was released. Join us in this special 10th Anniversary film event showing on the big screen, to celebrate and debate the influence of one typeface on a generation and decade of design. “Helvetica is a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It…

More from 'Graphic Design'...

Interview with Todd Atticus

Written by K. Emma Ng Supported by Creative New Zealand Emma Ng is a contributor to Aotearoa Design Thinking 2017, a series of commissioned critical design essays published by Design Assembly and funded by Creative New Zealand.  This article is the third in a four part series on design and politics that will be published over the course…