We studied Graphic design together and after college, our plan was just like everyone else's: getting a job doing what you've been studying for. However, at the time we finished school, in 2009, Portugal was at its peak of a crisis and there were not many jobs for any area and especially for graphic design, because the market was very saturated with newly graduated designers.
We got tired of waiting for the perfect job, so we decided that, while we were waiting, we would be better doing anything together, without compromise, to build up our portfolios. At the time we did not where to begin, how to start a "company" or to gather clients, so we talked with our professors to get some advice and our course coordinator offered us a year in an incubator at the school that he always wanted to start. And that was how Oupas! was born. We started with some graphic design works for school and some other work that came from people that got to know us in craft fairs or through friends. Cardboard and paperwork didn't start immediately, but the crafty and handmade was always part of our studio's visual language.
We are paper and cardboard makers/magicians. We create anything out of these materials. Our work ranges from store window decorations to event design. Since college, we were encouraged to leave the computer on the side and do things with our hands, so when we started we always had this craftsmanship in us, and we saw in cardboard a cheap and sustainable way to get solutions for us and our clients' challenges.
We started mainly with cardboard creations for events and big spaces, that had a limited timeframe and that needed a solution that could be beautiful, cheap and easily disposable without leaving a big environmental footprint. As time went by, and as our skills improved, we understood that we could also do smaller and more detailed works with paper only, and that paper could also give our work a boost of color, that the cardboard usually doesn't allow. Nowadays we are able to do anything in cardboard, from a 10cm cactus to a 5-meter spaceship.
Our working days can go through several moments. There may be desk work, craft work, photography and meetings. Usually, each of us is in charge of a single project, and larger projects end up involving the whole team in its final stage of construction and assembly. We usually have lunch at the studio, preferably in the garden when the weather is warm, and we might even have some friends to have lunch with us.
We arrive in our bikes and our first steps are to turn on the lights, the radio and to open the back door to let the neighbours' cats inside (they love it in here!).
After these simple gestures and some quick e-mail answering, we put our hands to work. The beginning of a project always starts with a small brainstorming discussion either with the client or between ourselves, we quote the project and after it is approved we start designing. Usually, we start by making some hand sketches and then we transport that into Sketchup (the most simple 3D modelling program). After we are happy with how everything looks and the clients approve the digital model we flat the 3D objects and start transporting it to paper or cardboard. If it's small stuff made out of paper, we have these little cutting machines that ease this process and cut everything. If it's a bigger object we use a beamer to project the drawing into a wall and we sketch the design onto a cardboard piece and then cut it by hand. After we have the plans we start glueing everything, once again by hand, until we have the final shape ready. After everything is done, it's ready to be shipped to the client. If it's something that doesn't require build up then we just ship it directly to the client. If however is something that requires us to build things on sight, we have our transportation partners that help us getting the pieces safe and sound to the place where they should be and we go there and start building up. If it's a store window or similar usually a few hours is enough to have everything ready. If it's something bigger, it usually depends on what the client agreed, but it might take us one to several days on site building everything. The longer we took in a build up was 5 days (and nights!) at Thought for Food Summit in Lisbon. That was quite a challenge.
The best part is, of course, doing what we love and being able to manage our days and projects with some freedom and autonomy. The worst part is that we have to deal with the administrative work of the studio such as calculating budgets, issuing invoices, dealing with project logistics like assembly, packing and shipping (and guys, we do paper sculptures, it’s a nightmare every time we have to let someone handle our super fragile projects)… we inevitably lose time of creativity and concrete work with these kinds of concerns, as it happens in any design studio, but the best parts always surpass the worsts. The studio was born out of our friendship and the love we had for craft work, so it’s pretty obvious that we’re very happy that we made it this far and evolved so much over the years.
The three of us can execute an entire project individually, although the conceptual part is shared by the whole team. However, there is always something that each of us has more ability to do than the others:
Cidália is the most patient person in the studio, which makes her great with very detailed things. She’s the best at thinking structural solutions to make things stand or move and has some skills with electronic stuff when we need to put some movement or lights into our projects. Moreover, she takes care of the accounting, making her the hero of the others.
Joana is the geek one, she once surprised us with an arcade machine she built to put in the studio with all the 90’s games we used to play in our childhood. She’s also great in 3D modelling so she might get the most complex pieces to design. Oh! And she takes care of our bikes when something is wrong with them!
Sofia is the mind of the team, always has the most creative ideas and is ahead of any troubles that might appear in the long run. She has also the best hand at illustration, making a drawing look easy and beautiful. Her main quality, however, is being the cat whisperer: whenever a stray cat enters our domains she’ll be there, feeding them and making them friendly to the world.
One thing we usually tell students is to not wait too long for what may never appear (a specific job, the perfect opportunity?), to stay active, because the conditions will never be perfect and we will only find out what we like and can do if we do and experience many things. As students, we never dreamed that we were going to have a design studio specialized in paper and cardboard work. As we finished college, we couldn’t find a job, but we kept on working, even without realizing that we were starting a real design studio. Today we look at our first projects and we wish we could do it all again, because now we can do so much better, and this is part of the experience: letting you do and experiment things, even though you’re not comfortable with it yet, but that’s the way we evolve and grow our skills until we reach a point we get very proud of our work, although we’re still learning every day and have so much to improve.