The Bowsers planted Victory Garden Studio to grow beauty and connection.
A line in Carissa Bowser’s Instagram bio—“Waking Up. Working the Garden.”—doesn’t reference a love of tending the soil. Instead, it speaks to the process behind the designs, custom illustrations, and hand-painted murals the artist and her graphic designer husband, Jesse Bowser, create for businesses and nonprofits.
“It’s the idea that we can’t just do it alone. That can mean Jesse and I together or us and the client,” Carissa says. “It’s understanding that creativity and creation is participation. I think that eliminates a lot of pressure on all sides.”
As the duo behind Victory Garden Studio, the Bowsers have become visual storytellers, spreading playful and colorful images across the Upstate one mural, poster, logo, and T-shirt at a time. Birds and bikes, flowers, smiling people, and symbols of the Upstate mark much of their work. “I love getting to share people’s stories; I think that’s one of my favorite parts of creativity,” Carissa says. “And just getting to leave a little mark [of beauty] in this world, it’s honestly a privilege and an honor.”
The couple’s story of becoming creative and life partners grew out of their time at Cedarville University in southern Ohio. They met in their first-year art classes—Carissa majored in studio art and Jesse in graphic design—and their friendship found its roots in regular drawing dates and their shared faith. It blossomed into a romantic relationship during the last semester of their senior year. After graduation, Carissa’s thirst for a new adventure brought her to the Upstate. Jesse headed to Charlotte but spent just ten months there before also moving here. They were married in 2017.
For years, the couple has carried out independent artistic endeavors, working 10 feet apart in their Travelers Rest home studio. Carissa creates hand-drawn illustrations and nature-inspired original artwork through CarissaGrace Art. After a six-year stint at the creative agency Brains on Fire, Jesse became a designer for the church-focused company Church Media Squad. He also produces independent graphic design projects.
The Seeds of Victory Garden Studio
This past November, the couple officially planted Victory Garden Studio, a joint creative venture whose name comes from their conversations about growth and community. Its bird logo in part symbolizes their desire to bring beauty into the world. Victory Garden is an outgrowth of past joint projects and the Bowsers’ long-held dream to market themselves as a team. “I think we’re better as a team,” Jesse says. “Our strengths and weaknesses as creatives complement each other. We approach projects from a different perspective, but it’s actually a cool thing we get to do together.”
The couple creates much of their design work and illustrations using an iPad and an Apple pen that allows drawing on the tablet’s surface. It has “a hand-done aspect to it, even though most of what we’re creating does live digitally. We really like to bring unique personality into everything that we do,” notes Jesse.
Their style, Carissa adds, is “whimsical but there’s something deeper about it that makes you want to look at it more. I enjoy the challenge of: ‘What is the story that needs to be told? And how do I do that in a not-so-literal way?’”
Through their veggie- and garden-laden illustrations for the Travelers Rest Farmers Market, they’ve given a glimpse of the town’s charm and tried to portray “the idea of community and abundance and growth and family, just connection, human connection,” Carissa says.
Their rebranding project for Exchange Coffee Co. has plenty of coffee-related imagery but also speaks to the company’s belief in building community. In addition to designing a new logo, packaging, merchandise, and signage, they also painted a mural inside the Simpsonville shop.
Painted by hand, their illustrative murals cover the walls of several homes and local businesses around Greenville. There’s one at League Academy and another at Eleos, a nonprofit in the Nicholtown community. “Getting to present artwork in such a large-scale and tangible way has been enjoyable,” Jesse says.
This year, the almost 30-year-olds hope to grow Victory Garden by working with more local businesses and illustrating children’s books. “We want to come along with people and help them grow positive, life-changing victories in their lives,” Jesse says. “We think our work can help with that.”
Victory Garden’s murals are sprouting up all over the Upstate. See three of them at these locations:
315 S. Main St., Travelers Rest – Located next to Sushi Yama and Verb Beauty Studio, this mural depicts some of the town’s attractions. The Bowsers painted them inside large-scale postage stamps set against a dark background.
Suds On Stone Detailing, 798 E. Stone Ave., Greenville – Painted in shades of blue, yellow, and white at a coming-soon car-detailing business, this 80-foot mural includes images of some of Greenville’s most recognizable landmarks and activities.
Exchange Coffee Co., 110 S. Main St., Simpsonville – Located on a large interior wall, this mural features flowers and plants, a bird, and even a French press surrounding the company’s motto: “Community Through Coffee.”
A Harvest of Creativity
The list of artistic endeavors Carissa and Jesse have carried out independently is long. She illustrated the Swamp Rabbit Cafe & Grocery’s 12th birthday T-shirt and the children’s book When’s It Gonna Be Christmas Again, written by Brandon Gray and Daniel Thompson, the local hosts of the Deck the Hallmark podcast. Target tapped her to design the packaging for the Harvest Paint Set by Mondo Llama, the retailer’s art brand (it hit store shelves in September 2023). Jesse designed sweatshirts and stickers for Tandem Creperie & Coffeehouse and drawings for Hello Bello diapers. Peet’s Coffee found him through Instagram—like many of the couple’s clients—and hired him to create their 2023 holiday packaging. His design features a festive winter bird carrying a laurel sprig.
For more information on Victory Garden Studio, visit www.victorygardenstudio.com or @victorygardenstudio on Instagram. Carissa’s artwork and illustrations are visible via www.carissagraceart.com or @carissagraceart. Jesse’s Instagram account, @jessebowser, features his design projects.