Mihaela Popa is a Romanian graphic designer specializing in editorial design, illustrative & custom lettering, experimental type, with an interest in manual paperwork and traditional printmaking techniques. She is the former art director of Omagiu magazine, critically acclaimed magazine for contemporary arts & urban culture, which clearly bears the mark of her distinctive style. First got an interest in printed matter and typography in 2004 while working at the Werkplaats Typografie in Arnhem, The Netherlands as a part-time librarian. In 2007, she was one of the ten up-and-coming designers selected for the Editorial Pro category at the Colophon Luxembourg / International Magazine Symposium. During 2009 she attended the International Summer Academy of Fine Arts in Salzburg under the guidance of artist & designer Willem Oorebeek. Currently she is art director of emerging open-platform German magazine deinblick and running her own studio MihaMiha. Inspired by personal mythologies, common life experiences, art as a process and the methodology of chance.

Interview by Ovidiu Hrin
Is there more we should know about you?Lets us not spoil the mystery. ☺
Do you remember your first creative experience?Messing up the white walls with a pen in my parents’ house.
Did you always wanted to be a graphic designer?I was never the kind of kid who knew from the start what was going to do in later life. Most of the time I was confused and intrigued by the level of clarity the majority of my classmates or friends had. It came as a progression from a photography crush I developed in high school and it also probably rooted in the endless hours I kept drawing as a kid.
In your works there is a big thirst in playing with typography, how did you end up doing this?Typography offers endless possibilities and a great support for graphic experimentation. Many of my early posters are actually phrases and statements collected from my own thoughts or just floating around in the dense network of social rhetoric. They allowed me to experiment with various fonts, shapes and sizes. At the very beginning I used marketed fonts but over time I became attracted to a more personal and natural approach. I got more interested in manual work, paper cuts, collage and I started to improvise and mix up drawing and traditional printing techniques that helped me create the letters myself.
‘Omagiu’ – the work you did for the magazine is basically your ‘Signature work’ to date. Can you tell us a bit more about working on it?The freedom I had allowed me to play around and break rules. Also, having that freedom can be scary and counterproductive if you focus too much on what others expect from you. Fear can come from too much respect (towards tradition, profession, certain people you admire, etc).
The best things come when you’re fearless. At Omagiu, the biggest challenge I encountered was to organize this massive diversity of information from all fields (design, literature, photography, arts and so on) into a rigorous structure that was still flexible enough to enable innovation from page to page.
Then, being motivated by an affinity to type work and forced by the constraints of a small budget that did not allow for extravagant font purchases, my innovative problem-solving idea was custom lettering. This is a series of illustrated type work that is especially recurrent in my craft. It is a combination of bricollage/hand-work and computer graphics used instead of fonts in order to particularize every headline. So the headline became the innovation zone and was customized for every article that took quite some time to do since most of the contributions arrived a few weeks before the print deadline and the textual content of the title was changing at the last moment. I still hold on to my belief that great things can be achieved with limited resources. It’s an incentive to push your boundaries. And great teamwork!
How do you know when to stop designing? How do you know a design is ready?When I get too puzzled, I turn extremely practical. Graphic design has to be functional above all.
What do you do when your client gives you negative feedback? Do you even get this? Everyone gets negative feedback I guess. It is a matter of negotiation which designers are not really happy about. A persuasive discourse can help.
What is your biggest fear when designing? And your biggest joy?It’s not fear, I think. It’s just the daunting task of having to choose the best out of hundreds of possibilities of colour, shapes that cross my mind. The biggest joy is that it doesn’t feel like work.
Do you sketch a lot? Do you keep a journal?Yes, I have been keeping papers, files, folders for many years. I have the same notebook from 3 years ago and still got enough empty pages because I write and sketch in miniature. I hate it when I am forced to switch to a new one. It is fascinating to go back to reclaim old ideas that never got the chance to be used or were insufficiently made. It helps me find recurring patterns in my work I was not aware of.
Is there a ‘Romanian-style’ yearning to break out and re-state already rooted clichés in typography? Is there a Romanian style at all in graphic design? Do you even think like / about this?There certainly isn’t the case of a style such as we see in Switzerland or Holland. They have had a long tradition that they respect and internalize in their craft. It’s a fundamental vocabulary. Romanian design is more like mixing bits and pieces without having a strong explanation for it. I think graphic people should be more interested in building a personal style than blindly importing cool stuff. A style is built through many hours, months, years of work and experiment, it is a process. Don’t expect to find ‘yourself’ so fast; it’s quite painful and terribly addictive.
In your short bio you mentioned about ‘art as a process & The methodology of chance’…Can you expand on this?What I meant to say was that I’m not interested in the precision or the absolute beauty but the intuitive approach and the fact that I can allow casual mistakes to structure my work, to become a relevant part of my work. I like to engage elements of chance, random happenings in the construction of my work. It’s the stream of consciousness, doors that keep opening as you enter more doors. You can’t see the finish line yet nor the starting point you left behind but somehow you feel it’s leading you to the right place.