“Surprising, creative, functional, conceptual and critical” are the adjectives Sebastian Popa uses to describe his work.
“I try to design objects that communicate with people, sending them visual messages that make people understand certain things about themselves or about others,” he said.
The creative objects Sebastian makes are either observational, where people are encouraged to understand the object through contemplation or they involve human interaction, where people can physically use them.
Currently working as a freelance designer and collaborating with a range of furniture studios, such as Designer Atelier Inc production, the Romanian-born talent (who is not related to vampires, castles and Dracula) says each project he takes on is influenced by his vision.
“Through my designs I want to transmit the idea that objects are not solely meant to be manipulated and consumed by people, but that they can also improve our lives, they can tell us things about ourselves or our behaviours.”
Sebastian has three positive traits: he is creative, ambitious and nice! (The whole package?)
His interest in arts and design started ever since he was a child. He studied at the Fine Arts Department in the National College of arts Queen Marie at the age of 10. Four years down the road he moved onto the Design Department.
“My background in visual arts made me a bit dreamy at times, but when I entered into the design world, I started to be more realistic,” he said.
Sebastian graduated with a BA Product Design Degree in 2010 at the National University of Arts Bucharest. Afterwards, he decided to pursue his studies even further and graduated from the MA Industrial Design Programme at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design London.
Sebastian particularly enjoys the diversity in the field of design. “You always do something different and there is no routine.”
He grabs inspiration from various sources, yet lately has shown interest in the artworks of Constantin Brancusi and Romanian folklore.
Most of Sebastian’s works revolve around everyday problems: they aim to solve the problem or raise awareness about it. “I believe in God. I believe in myself. I believe in the power of people to change the world into a better place,” he said.
“Although my works have a contemplative nature, they are a reaction to a certain problem, having a certain functionality aiming to either resolve that specific problem, or to emphasise it in order to raise user awareness about it.”
Some of his achievements include the designing and making of Ashquarium, Alcoholibrium, Louis XIII bonbon for Cognac Remy Martin, playbox for Lucozade and Bubble Bottle, among others. He came in the top 25 awards for Electrolux Design Lab in his unique design: Wirio.
“First, I try to get the essence of the object I want to create or of the problem I have to solve. Then I try get rid of all the unnecessary things around it and stick the point,” he said.
“A good idea is to observe the user’s behaviour related to that specific problem as it can give valuable information that can contribute to the creation of the specific object,” he added.
Although Sebastian says the design process is always very different and complex, he strives to make his objects straightforward. “I often do a lot of sketches, then I make a 3D model. After that, I build some physical models or a prototype, which ultimately helps me choose which one is the best idea.”
Some projects take him two days to make, whereas some can take up to several months. “My projects are very different from one another as I work for clients who have different requirements,” he said.
Personally analysing the problem of smoking developed one of his main works, Ashquarium, said Sebastian. “I am not a smoker, but smoke affects me whenever I go out to parties or I’m meeting my friends since there are a lot of people out there smoking.”
He realised that although there were many campaigns against smoking, they did not seem to have a strong impact on people. “I wanted to create something that would affect them directly by intruding in the normal way of fulfilling the act of smoking,” he said.
Sebastian started this project by observing the key elements that enable people to fulfil the act of smoking: cigarette, source that ignites it and an ashtray. He directed his attention towards ashtrays, which have a lifespan of several years or decades, he said.
“It is an object that is part of many households, public institutions and urban spaces. Most designs related to ashtrays are meant to empower people to fulfil their desires,” he said.
“My main purpose was to design an ashtray that instead of empowering people to fulfil the act of smoking, would actually make them aware of the threats that this desire poses on their lives.”
Ashquarium consists of an ashtray that is replaced by a fish bowl. Inside the bowl is pure life in the form of clean water and a goldfish. Above the fish bowl lies a groove for a cigarette to be placed. The choice to light it and ash into it, ultimately destroying life and ruining the clean water, is entirely left up to the audience to contemplate.
Similar to Ashquarium, another of Sebastian’s works called Alcoholibrium was inspired through his own personal experiences as well. “It was t he drunk people I saw after going out somewhere. They all had recurrent behaviour,” he said.
“As the alcohol affected their stability, sometimes people were balanced and sometimes they fell on the ground.” Through observation, Sebastian designed an object that mimicked the behaviour of those that consumed alcohol.
It took Sebastian about a month to finish his design that consists of a glass, which, if a small quantity of liquid (in this case, alcohol) were poured into it, the glass would stay standing with equilibrium. However, if a surplus of liquid (excess alcohol) is poured into it, the glass starts to tilt, losing hits balance like a drunk person.
Sebastian said his greatest passion in life was anything related to art and design. “I grew up in this kind of medium and I think these subjects can make people see the world in a more colourful way as they emphasise the beauty of things,” he said.
“It [his works] makes me feel accomplished as I feel I can leave my mark on this world through my designs,” he added.
Sebastian acknowledged some challenges while designing. “Sometimes I find there is a lot of subjectivity around these fields and it is quite hard to identify clear criteria out of which I can differentiate projects or ideas,” he said. “I guess most of the time it is just a matter of personal opinion.”
But the pros certainly outweigh the cons and despite any difficulties he may face, Sebastian strongly hopes for a career in the field of art and design. “I believe this is the path I should cross, given my education and all the effort I have put in this direction,” he said.
“Maybe at some point I will have my own design studio, who knows?”