Yousef and I have been friends for over six years. He was one of the first friends I made when I joined Central Saint Martins.
It all started late one evening when I spotted him down the hall, struggling to move a monumental plaster sculpture. I offered to lend a hand and ended up chatting with Yousef for hours about what had brought us to be studying there what inspired us most. I quickly discovered that he was a kind, intelligent and creative person who was talented in so many ways. Over the years we have collaborated on small projects here and there, but sadly fell out of touch after he returned to Egypt a few years ago.
After inviting me to visit his hometown of Cairo, one too many times, I took the decision to jump on a plane and visit my friend and some of the world’s ancient and most special wonders. Whilst we were together in Egypt we traveled around the country and marvelled at the ingenuity and longevity of Ancient Egyptian civilisation. We felt so inspired and decided to work together on a design.
- Noah Bier, Founder.
Tell us a little bit about your journey?
I moved to Goldsmiths university in BA Design after my foundation year at CSM. After that I stayed in London for a couple of years until Covid hit. Started a Digital Design company with my flatmates and friends, The Sourdough. - We were essentially all parts of a puzzle; one drew, one researched, another could write but then the pandemic happened and I moved back to Egypt.
So, I was then very keen on getting a Risograph machine to Egypt and started my own design company and print studio called RisoMazr.
In the studio, you house the Riso, what else happens there?
We are a print and design studio that helps our community. We are hoping to have more classes and workshops around Risography weekly and life drawing and things like that.
What is Risograph printing?
Risograph printing was invented in Japan around the 1950s, they created a type of ink made from soybeans, which makes it so sustainable. It’s an organic material unlike toner material and made a machine which was halfway between a photocopier and a screenwriting machine. You use a stencil to print duplicates on mass through layer by layer, colour by colour. And this makes it easy for independent publishers, designers, artists to create their own prints, books and zines and you can only print on paper from: 80-280g uncoated.
I wanted to bring Risography to Egypt in hopes to make the culture thrive. In the past 10 years there has been a melting point and momentum across the youth globally and the machine has been a catalyst for society’s abroad in Asia, Europe, America, Latin America, and I felt like it needed to be here itself. I had a machine in London and studied it, even did a commission with Makers Cabinet on your first postcards for your stationery.
Yousef refilling his Risograph printer.
You were chosen to design the cover for Acne Studios editorial magazine, Acne Paper. Tell us about it?
Acne Paper: Age of Aquarius.
I made the cover and some internal illustrations for the newest Acne Paper issue, which was the first paper in 7 years since 2014. It is a new editorial design, rebranding and rebirth with art director Fred Burtsall. I was approached by the creative director Thomas Pearson who invited me to do this, which was the first time I had been pushed to such limits commercially and asked to be my complete self.
The cover is a star map of all 12 horoscopes. The issue is about the Age of Aquarius which is an era which occurs every 2,000 years and it’s the new era, the last one was paces and the next Capricorn, I think. Yeah, pretty cool, a map of all 12 signs.
We made a cover that folded out into a poster and over thirty spreads which lead to an international campaign with Acne Studios. We made a limited-edition scarf as well as decorated over twenty stores worldwide. I consider this my first big break and am extremely thankful for the opportunity to make such beautiful work with beautiful people.
Within the studio, you have carried out a number of projects. The most recent one is the Naguib Mahfouz publishing project, can you tell us what it was?
Diwan Publishing recently got the rights to Naguib Mahfouz’s work for 15 years. They brought me onboard as the Creative Director to be in charge of the Naguib Mahfouz project which was my idea of creating a foundation style initiative based around one author and his legacy and to grow it and keep it alive and make it relevant to a more contemporary audience. Naguib Mahfouz was an Egyptian author, with a career of 73 years of writing, and he is considered to be one of the Arab world’s most prolific writers and the only one to win a Nobel laureate for literature. He is a key component of Arabic and Egyptian culture.
As Creative Director what have you done for the project?
I have mostly been working on the identities for the books, including covers and the foundation itself. There is a big umbrella for the identity which is called the Naguib Mahfouz project and underneath is all the things we plan to do. The first project encompasses the attitude and model of the foundation: which are the book covers. Originally Diwan Publishing reached out to me to design all 55 books of Naguib Mahfouz, but I instead made them an offer. I suggested instead that we work with a group of Egypt artists instead of just one. Working with just one was the standard practice and had been done with Naguib Mahfouz already three times. Here was my chance to create a new chapter in Art History to be able to give the platform and window of opportunity to a much younger group of artists in Egypt.
Using four separate artists contributed to diversity of perception which is a big thing we are working towards. When the books came out there was controversy that people didn’t like the covers, and they shouldn’t have been done that way. With news articles, tv Shows and hosts making a lot of accusations and feedback negative and positive towards the books and the covers all because of the diversity of perception and that the inevitable thing we chose to embrace and capitalise by inviting the several artists rather than just having one carry one man’s legacy.
Which is your favourite cover you have designed for the Naghuib Mahfouz project?
Children of the Alley. It was quite different to what I have made before and was a good push for my artistic and creative decision making skills. I feel like I was out of my comfort zone and the newest thing I’ve done.
This was the only book that came out after the huge fallout of the initial release of Naghuib Mahfouz books. He got stabbed in the neck in the late 90s and was paralysed by those objecting to this specific book. It’s essentially an allegory on the Abrahamic religions which visualises the prophets who were alike to the Abrahamic religions in a negative way.
I was asked to tone down my very fantastic colouring and decision-making process to create something more real but I think I was able to find the space in between. The cover is an image of a gated castle, a door, a wall with paradise behind it which is what the book is about. It's about a person called Gabalawi who resides behind his gated mansion, a place which we all desire throughout the book. The design in mind was to create a harsh contrast between the gate and the flowers behind it. The gate itself was the first time were I really pushed myself to make something much more realistic in aesthetic, in look and feel, like the colours, the textures and trying to show the materiality through texture which I think was a new step for me as I wanted to make the facade feel like a brick wall or stone wall.
And to be so limited to make one material honestly meant it was the first time where I had to do more illustrating than necessarily creating freely. That was new for me. But I think I succeeded 100% and got out what I wanted to do, and everybody is happy. It is one of the more beautiful pieces I have done recently for sure.
How have you learnt to draw?
I drew from a young age and had stories or visuals that I wanted to depict or get lost in. Mainly at that time it was ancient depictions of characters and gods and wacky narratives and weapons. I just kept drawing for the sake of it and obviously it was one of my more favourite classes in school. But then when I was around 15 I travelled to China and had a bit of soul-searching summer, more like purpose pondering than soul searching, and realised that if there was anything I would like to dedicate my life to, or getting good at or a key tool to my life would be drawing.
Are there aspects of drawing you’d like to improve on?
Yeah, for sure, I split drawing between craft and condition. Condition meaning myself and the process of unfolding ideas, as opposed to the craft which is the toolkit to communicate that self and condition more precisely. And you learn what being precise means. Being precise could mean finding a new form or medium or texture or colour palette or technique to reach a certain level of fidelity of the self that you want to put forward. Especially as a businessman, entrepreneur, designer, I feel more confident in my condition than the ideas I stand for and how I go about them and my process. I always go back to my craft, man, it can always be better.
Many of the illustrations you make depict mystical/fantastical creatures and scenes, why do you choose to do this?
I think it's just instinct, I consider myself a Figurative Surrealist. Means things I draw most naturally are figures in a surrealist process, I don’t purposefully make things mystical but I work in a way that blurs the line between artistic and technique in depictions of things we know and the process of depicting them isn’t too bound. It goes back to craft and condition, the craft is to understand the human body and the condition is to depict it in its beauty, deconstruct it or figure it out and draw at the same time. It’s not a purposeful decision but a variable in outcomes.
Will you tell us about the tools you use to produce a drawing, both digital and analogue?
Sketchbook is my right hand and bible, its where it all starts. But the iPad has been an extremely convenient tool for the past few years nonstop to make all my professional and commercial work. Sure, some things start in a sketchbook but I am an extremely impatient creator in general and the impatience is a part of my condition thus leading to my style. This is why the iPad is so great because once I left fine art I only sketched on BA and then realised that I never had the patience to colour in. So, when I got the iPad, colouring in became a normal tool and was at the same speed as my sketching and drawing. I finally was able to unlock a new level of my craft through the iPad. Definitely consider the iPad and pen as the most potent tools as a creator. I think in general it is about surface and tool and that is why the iPad is so perfect. It's the same sensations flat surface and something in your hand to mark o but way more convenient.
What tools do you love using when drawing in pencil?
I love using the Iris. It is pretty much my go to for circles in my sketch process. I consider drawing to be essentially breaking things one into lines and shapes. Which is why the Stria and Iris are so dope. The Høvel is so cute in the process of shading and more intense as a craft, but I’m more into the major hope maker exactly like the Iris.
If you could see us, make anything, what would it be?
How has Ancient Egyptian civilisation affected you, if at all?
It is something you take for granted as an Egyptian. You instantly feel part of the cradle of civilisation and keep it so. You see this grand history and hope to be part of it. Aesthetically speaking and knowing that this my home, has definitely affected me, not necessarily the hieroglyphs but the structures, forms and shapes and taking such organic forms and turning them into architecture and sculpture and then entire civilisations. That was a big inspiration for me from the start. I have always loved history and knowing this is my history is crazy too, I literally see the pyramids from my house every day and see that “shit, yeah we did that!” Even though it was 6000 years ago and has no relationship to these people, I still have pride.
Does the history of ancient Egypt affect the current art and design scene?
It is an escapable reference point, we tend to feel like the copyright owners of history, but it’s quite impeding to have such a strong and rich visual culture and in a time when everyone needs to stick to their own thing and use their own. It is there and plays a role sometimes, its marketing, capitalism, design, fine art, it's everywhere. It's literally one of the first references to vitals in the first place.
One of the things that I have found inspiring about the Ancient Egyptians is how they have created things that have been so long lasting, and 6000 years later they are still marvels and posing questions. What do you think of longevity?
I hope we live up to it.