Alabaster creates books and Bible collections like most people have never seen before. They are beautifully designed, with stunning photography and elegant layouts, all on high-quality paper.
Each book is its own work of art.
We recently spoke with Alabaster’s founders, Brian Chung (who is also the company’s business director) and Bryan Ye-Chung (also their creative director) about how the idea for Alabaster came about, the power of great art and reimagining the Bible.
How did the idea for this project for come about?
Bryan: Brian and I met in college. We also bonded because we had the same name.
I was studying art and film in college and was also part of a college ministry on campus and just always felt like those two parts of me were separate. So, I would go to the art studio and then leave Bible study, but those two experiences of who I was always felt separate.
So I was wrestling with that, trying to think of ways to bring those things more tangibly together. Toward the end of my senior year I read a book by a pastor out here in Los Angeles whose name is James Choung. He wrote this book called Real Life, and it was basically this book based off his dissertation in which he did this study on how every generation asks a different spiritual question that leads them to things like God or Christianity, and how each of those questions are contextualized to that generation.
For Baby Boomers it was “What is true?” So that’s when things like Apologetics was really big. For Gen X it was “What is real?” So, Don’t tell me what is true just be real with me. Today, he predicts millennials are really into the question “What is good?” Millennials are really into doing justice work in the world … things of that nature. And then he predicts that what even younger generations will be asking is the question “What is beautiful?”
We just felt like that is very true. In an increasingly visual culture, everyone has a smart phone with a camera, we all love to pick up beautiful books or we judge websites based on how well they’re designed. We were just really captivated by that question and thought, ‘Could we build a brand around that question and figure out ways to explore beauty and explore art within that and explore as we ask the question, “What is beautiful?’’ How do we show that the Gospel is a beautiful thing.
It was the other Brian who had the idea, “Oh, we should start with the Bible.”
Brian: I didn’t grow up in a Christian household. I grew up in a Buddhist household, went to temple growing up and came into college agnostic. It was through a campus ministry that I became a Christian.
I remember getting my first Bible as a Christian and I was really excited, but also a little intimidated. It was a black, dark purple, leather bound ESV Bible, and the first couple pages were things to fill out—it was about the translation, it wasn’t the story of Genesis. The text was condensed, some words were black, some words were in red. I didn’t understand what that meant at the time and it was on really, really thin paper. It was just unlike any other book that I had gotten. And next to me was my marketing textbook and it was designed like a magazine. And for the first time in college, I felt really excited to read my marketing textbook or just like any textbook in general.
I was a business major but I was also studying design and I just thought ‘Could this be done differently?’
It was 10 years later where I’m just having this conversation with Bryan about our faith … I think for us as Christians we hear the story of God and Jesus [and] it’s beautiful and what if we created a beautiful reading experience?
Bryan’s eyes lit up. He told his housemates. I continued to go back into campus ministry, and then Bryan came back to me with all these ideas of like, “Make the Bible like an art book or a lifestyle magazine.”
We thought it would be a good idea to not tell anyone until like a week before the launch date, which in retrospect was probably a bad idea, but we put it out there, our friends started sharing, it got some national media coverage and this little side project turned into something a little bigger than that.
The idea of looking at beauty as this value, not just this luxury is so interesting. Throughout history Christians have built these grand cathedrals and commissioned these great works of art. It seems like Christians have long been inspired by God’s Word in particular to create. Do you guys feel like you’re taking part in that legacy of Christians inspired by God’s Word to make something beautiful to get people to see it in a new light?
Bryan: People ask us, “How does it feel doing a new thing?” and I always think, “Well we’re not actually doing anything necessarily new. We’re actually taking very ancient and historic ideas and just bringing it into kind of modern times.”
Brian: Yeah I think for us, we were inspired by like what you said Renaissance paintings, stained glass windows, the cathedrals, all these people who created beautiful pieces of art that ultimately pointed people to God, and we just saw the Church being the center of art and beauty historically. And we wanted to do something similar in a modern day context.
How did the exercise of putting these books together affect you both on an individual level when it comes to how you actually read and view the message of Scripture?
Bryan: For me, what I’ve reflected on most about in terms of building Alabaster—in terms of my spirituality—is when you think about most of the ways that we experience God in the church, it’s through word-based formats. The first is you’re listening to a pastor speak. The second is you’re reading text or a book or the Bible, and that’s word-based as well. And then the third you’re listening to worship songs, which usually have lyrics. So it’s also word-based. Those are all good things, but I think as we built Alabaster, which is obviously a very visual brand, I’ve just been challenged to think about experiencing God through a picture or a landscape or though this image that we created or just this visual language that I feel like opens up ways in which someone can experience God.
For me, that’s been huge in my own spirituality and in how I have experienced God for myself.
I’m sure there are a lot of people this Christmas who are going to receive these books as gifts What do you hope that the readers and the people who receive these books will be challenged and inspired by? What is your ultimate hope for people that receive these?
Bryan: I think first and foremost the primary thing is we want to have a conversation. We want to have a dialogue.
I always like to talk about the difference between art and design: Design is problem-solving by creative means and art is not problem-solving. It’s actually making you ask more questions rather than less. And so we’re creating art within the Bible and we want that to help you ask more questions rather than less and become a conversation starter.
That can take many different forms. If maybe you’ve grown up reading the Bible and you pick up an Alabaster Bible, it can give you a new perspective or new questions or new ways to kind of dialogue with God.
We love art because it’s able to start conversations both internally and externally, and I think that is a huge hope for us.
Brian: Our vision as a company is to see all of humanity to experience God as good and beautiful. And I think it ties back into those initial questions from that book that we referenced which is, “What is good?” and “What is beautiful?” And our hope is that after reading our Bibles, that people’s experience with God would increase to see God as good and beautiful.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.