The Czech ceramist and designer Johana Hnízdilová was always drawn to working with clay and making palpable art. Having studied illustration, she eventually abandoned screens for her passion, creating and finding purpose in manual craftsmanship, staying true to her own words: it is the needs of spirituality in today's rational world that I respond to in my work.

Let’s start at the beginning. What sparked your interest in ceramic design?

I have always enjoyed ceramics, just like any other creative activity. For my tenth birthday I begged for a potter’s wheel and got it. But, I soon found out that spinning on it is not as easy as it may seem. My mother and I discovered spinning classes at the ceramics school in Bechyně, where we started going every year for our holidays, together. The teachers in Bechyně hoped I would go there to study, but I was afraid that I would get tired of my beloved hobby. That’s why I went to study graphic design and continued at university. However, what was originally fun drawing and illustrating soon turned into an unending job behind a computer and it began to frustrate and exhaust me. I needed to do something manually, something that physically existed and wasn’t just data on a monitor screen. So, in the middle of my studies, I decided to transfer to the Ceramics and Porcelain studio at UMPRUM in Prague, where I have been studying to this day. Fortunately, my fears did not come true and I still enjoy ceramics and I am sure I will continue to do so.

Reflecting on your journey, in what ways has your understanding and appreciation for craftsmanship evolved over the past years?

I think the biggest change for me was the founding of my own ceramic workshop. That decision came at the moment when the coronavirus pandemic started and we were prevented from going to school. Together with my classmate and another friend, we decided to start a clay shop so that we would have a place to work. Soon we discovered how many technicalities were needed for such an endeavour. Getting a three-phase power outlet up and running, getting a kiln, tables, and other equipment… I had to learn how the actual firing of ceramics works, which, for example, is something we were not taught at school. In fact, we didn’t even have access to kilns. But together we managed, and to relieve ourselves financially, we decided to start organizing courses and open workshops. Next came the regular pop-ups, vouchers, selling our work. Before I knew it, I realized we were running a business. We got over the initial stress and panic and now I can safely say that everything is working as it should and we are doing well in Hlínotéka. However, it is not easy to succeed in the Czech market and I just hope that the situation will continue to improve.

Can you share how your personal needs influence your creative process?

I find working with clay calming. Spinning on the potter’s wheel requires absolute concentration. In everyday life I am generally quite distracted, but once I get in contact with ceramic clay, concentration comes naturally. It’s a form of therapy. I like to work all day long, without interruption. I don’t like to interrupt my creative process, so I always organize my days so that I either have a full day in the workshop or I’m dealing with other responsibilities all day. Occasionally, I’ll get so absorbed in a project that I put everything else on hold for a few days just to get the work done. Creating in the studio is one of my top priorities, so I feel it’s right to prioritize it.

I want to highlight that the series “My Name is Dragon” is crafted not only for its aesthetic appeal but also to serve a protective function. How does the user experience contribute to shaping the complex design philosophy of this collection? 

The “My Name is Dragon” series was created during my study stay in South Korea, where I studied in the Ceramics and Textiles studio. I saw a huge contrast in the extremely capitalist country, which manages to balance and disrupt all the bustle and chaos by creating absolutely calm and warm places in the environment of Buddhist temples. The Czechs, on the other hand, are well-known for being a nation of atheists. But what if that is not quite the case? In our country, spirituality is most often expressed in an eclectic form. We adopt only certain elements from different religions without observing all aspects of the faith. It is the needs of spirituality in today’s rational world that I respond to in my work. At the same time, it is also a need of my own. 

The sense of fragility, of being threatened, and the increasing sense of distrust towards the world makes me wonder how to defend myself against these influences? The series “My Name is Dragon” hides under its title a series of objects that not only have an aesthetic function, but also a protective one. Filled with dragon power, which no evil spell can unravel, which no evil spirit or demon can penetrate, they reliably protect the place where they are placed and bring a sense of security.

SWARM is currently running the theme THE ROOTS OF TASTE. So, last question: how do you remain connected to your roots while embracing the future?

I instantly associate the word “roots” with the place where I grew up and where I still love to return. It is our family house, a cottage in the Sudetenland, in the northernmost part of the Czech Republic. I recently moved there from Prague to give myself some peace and time to read and plan the construction of a ceramic workshop that will soon be built there. In the past I used to collect my own clay there, building a ceramic kiln and generally working with local materials without the need for electricity or imports. We also held our first pit firing there in the summer together with Hlínotéka. So I see my future quite clearly, right here in my little paradise in the north.

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Johana Hnízdilová is a student of the Ceramics and Porcelain Studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. She has been developing her talent for clay-working since she was ten years old, when she first realized she would become a ceramicist. Her work transcends applied ceramics, venturing towards other artistic disciplines like graffiti, sculpture, installations, performance, illustration and graphic design which she used to study in the past. She draws on her knowledge of graphic design also in her emphasis on ornamentation, line use and color schemes, which are so characteristic for Hnízdilová’s work.


Designer / Johana Hnízdilová

Interview / @khynko

Photo credits:

Dancing in the Fire – author (Johana Hnízdilová)

First Supper – Viktorie Macánová IG: @wickeimack

Garden of Desires – Adriana Vančová IG: @adra_studio_

My Name is Dragon 1-4 –  Adriana Vančová IG: @adra_studio_

My Name is Dragon 5-9 – Song Hwan Roh IG: @sing_sang_song

Out With My Mind – Adriana Vančová IG: @adra_studio_

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