Born in Braintree, Essex in 1903, Bawden was a painter, illustrator and graphic artist, known for his prints, book covers and posters. He studied at Cambridge School of Art (1919-1921) and at the Design School of the Royal College of Art under Paul Nash, together with fellow student, Eric Ravilious, who became a life-long friend and collaborator. While still students, Bawden and Ravilious were commissioned to paint a mural at Morley College, London.
After graduating, Bawden taught at Goldsmith's College and later at the Royal College of Art. He also worked on a large variety of projects for the Curwen Press and subsequently for many other publishers, producing book illustrations and cover designs, posters and advertisements, leaflets and calendars, including commissions for Twinings, Poole Potteries, Westminster Bank and the London Transport for London.
During World War II, he served as an Official War Artist travelling to Belgium, France and the Middle East. He produced mostly watercolours at this point.
In the late 1950s and the 1960s Bawden produced the linocut and lithographs for which he is best known. He produced large prints of Kew Gardens and Brighton, Liverpool Street station and a series on the London Markets.
He was appointed trustee of the Tate Gallery (1951-1958) and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art in 1962.