Mason El Hage on Turning Cultural Experiences Into Visual Stimuli
As a graphic designer, Mason El Hage has a visceral approach in all his artistic pursuits. “Whatever works for you is the way to go,” he told us, trusting his visions more than the process it requires to get to them. He is inspired by all sorts of things — sometimes outside “the sphere of design” — and creates profoundly experimental pieces based on them.
Among these inspirations is a love for different places and cultures. expressed through many of his posters, including the beautifully contemporary ‘Angels & Demons’: a modern fusion of 16th-century Western engravings and overtly Japanese stylistic elements. You may purchase the piece as framed wall art here.
[Note: The interview below contains minor edits for clarity and brevity.]
Tell us about who you are. How did art come into your life?
My name is Mason, I’m a 25 year old graphic designer born and raised in London. Currently I’m working at creative agency monopo in East London. We specialize in creative services, from branding to web design and video ads.
I’ve been designing for the past 10 years or so, but only professionally since around 2016 when I graduated from Ravensbourne University with a degree in digital advertising and design. More recently, however, I studied at Shillington — a design course — to try and upskill on a few areas I felt were lacking.
I’ve always been interested in the creative arts, especially as someone who has dyslexia and struggles with processing written information. I find visual stimuli to be much more engaging and easier to digest. As a result, I’ve always been interested and had a fondness for the visual arts.
What does the creation process look like for you? How do you feel while you’re creating a piece, and after a piece is complete?
My creative process differs significantly depending on whatever task I’m working on. With regards to the Instagram posters, [they’re] a lot more straightforward and less detailed than the process for a client brief, as these pieces would always be created within a few hours. I’ll either have an idea or concept in mind before I start the piece, or pick a word or phrase that acts as the basis for a core visual direction.
The Instagram project was started as a means for me to experiment with different visual techniques, and try to replicate and build upon certain aesthetics I was familiar with. It was very much a creative exercise to make sure I was developing my software skills, and most importantly, spending my time during lockdown wisely.
As a consequence of that, the process is never really the same. Sometimes I’d begin by trying to source imagery without much idea of what it was I wanted to create. I try not to get too caught up on the process of things, [although] I used to. I find that whatever works for you is the way to go.
When creating a piece, I definitely experience a rollercoaster of emotions. Almost always I’ll be questioning my own abilities, asking myself why on earth I thought I could be a graphic designer. Then there are times when I’ll battle through that mindset, and place something in that really elevates the composition and brings it all together. That ‘ah’ moment is something special; when everything clicks, and you just know that it works.
Seeing a finished piece and knowing that it is something you created is a really hard feeling to describe, but it’s very special. That goes for any creative discipline that involves using your imagination to create something.
Who are your biggest influences?
It’s hard to say. There are a lot of places I draw inspiration from — especially with regards to the poster work — that aren’t always within the sphere of design. Specifically for the posters, I would go through phases of trying to emulate certain aesthetics, or I’d pick a movie genre that I really liked. You’ll see a lot of science-fiction influences scattered throughout my work, and you’ll be able to see clear start and end points of where I change styles and shift aesthetics.
With that said, there are designers whose work I admire and by whom I was definitely influenced — Supremat Platz, Roy Cranston, Patrick Thomas, Faith Hardal, David Carson, Mark Weaver, and Lana Soufeh, to name a few. I feel like I’ve done many others an injustice by not naming them, but there are far too many to name here. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the ones I named above, definitely go check them out. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
You work across a variety of media, from branding to editorials. What kinds of creative projects excite you the most?
Each poses their own set of creative challenges, and are quite different experiences. Personally, I love working with typography. I find typesetting very therapeutic, as well as working on compositions and layouts. My favourite projects to work on are the ones that allow for the most creative expression. Working with clients who believe in what you do, and allow you to explore and push things — those are undoubtedly the most fun and rewarding projects to be a part of.
Many of your works feature interesting aspects of Japanese culture. What do you find most fascinating about it?
I spent a bit of time there back in 2017 and there were a few things that really drew me in. First, it’s the way in which they view design. Their approach towards it is fundamentally different and a lot more considered — things are created with purpose and attention to detail. It was such a culture shock to be somewhere so dramatically different to where I’d grown up, but also incredibly fascinating.
One of my favourite things about Japanese culture is how drastically different the language is to English. I get a lot of inspiration from old Japanese movie posters, and the complexities in the way they are designed compared to the Western versions. This is initially what inspired me to experiment with Japanese type within my poster work.
Aside from Japanese culture, you explore lots of thematic elements in your posters. Where do you usually get the ideas behind them? Are you inspired by specific places, cultures, or philosophies?
It’s certainly a mixture of many different places and sources. Often I’ll be influenced by the things I’m experiencing in my life at that time, whether it is something new I’ve learned, or something that I’m dealing with.
For example, over the course of the pandemic, many of my posters featured and were inspired by living through these lockdown restrictions, not being able to socialize, and having to live this somewhat repetitive day-to-day life. However, there are certain stylistic elements and aesthetics that I seem to always be drawn towards, no matter what the subject is that I’m exploring.
Follow Mason El Hage on Instagram here.