Design × Health

Designer of pop-art toothbrush: “I wanted to create something to make people smile”

Graphic designer Michaela Chmelickova’s exciting portfolio includes brand identities, eventstape drawing, and even VJing. When CURAPROX asked her to design the limited edition Pop Art toothbrush, she happily accepted the challengeFind out more about her distinctive professional and personal style. 

We visit Michaela at her apartment in the quiet Nivy suburb of Bratislava, where 1950’s residential buildings are surrounded by trees and flowers, birds singing and children playing – a calm oasis just outside the city centre. This popular area is gradually becoming gentrified by a new generation bringing new ideas and a breath of fresh air.

Michaela renovated the space to reflect her style, and the whites interspersed with vibrant colours in the kitchen and bathroom are also elements in her creative output. Her workplace is cosy and organic, with a spacious French balcony overlooking a tranquil green backyard.

“I have everything I need here – the city centre is just a stone throw’s away yet the area is very quiet. Which suits me perfectly because I need tranquillity and order to be creative. It’s even great for my free-time activities such as going to nature, playing sports, and chatting with friends,” she observes.

Influenced by Chris Ware

Michaela has been passionate about arts and graphic design ever since elementary school, when she created magazines and comic books and sold them to classmates. She enjoyed stylising and transforming using simple techniques of expression, and her comic books strove to capture essence in single images.

She has been strongly influenced by Chris Ware, the American illustrator and graphic designer, after first finding his autobiographical comic book in a dusty Prague bookshop. “Me and a friend both had to chip in half to afford it. That book changed my outlook,” she confesses.

Famous for duct tape drawing

During her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, Michaela and her friends’ pop-up stores sold local designs. She wanted each pop-up location to have new décor and unique visual style, and to leave no trace behind once the event had ended.

By using duct tape as her medium to paint walls, she created the impression of a cosy atmosphere – even in a featureless room. Her approach came to the attention of the Slovak Design Centre, which commissioned her to redesign a gallery. “After the exhibition, this type of interior design became very popular. Clients were very interested in my style … and it’s been sought after ever since.”

From London to Bratislava for VJing and tape

Michaela completed her postgraduate studies in London. There she also worked at the innovative graphic studios Jaguarshoes Collective and Confederation Studio; meeting creatives whose work she had admired for some time.

While London was a major source of creative inspiration and immersion, she frequently returned to Bratislava for major projects, toured with Slovak musicians to perform her original VJ sets, and exhibited in the Czech Republic. Call it nostalgia or being homesick, but while in London she returned to her tape technique to create huge pictograms of Slovak icons: that’s when she realised that it might be time to return home for good.

Such nostalgia continues to play a major role in her work. As the tape arts exhibited at the Czech gallery were a success, she applied the same approach with smaller-format graphics. New motives and objects were then available as part of her Planeta 220 brand.

Visual identity supremo

Visual identity for festivals is a major part of her work. For example, White Night, the biggest Slovak contemporary art festival. “Our four-year collaboration succeeds because we share the same aesthetic values and I have full creative freedom. The festival has strong and well-promoted outdoor features that utilise my visuals, so each edition is like a big creative exhibition,” she explains.

Michaela was the first designer to illustrate an entire issue of the Slovak daily newspaper Denník N. “I received the first articles on Friday and the last on Sunday. The deadline was Sunday 2 pm. So on Friday I stocked up on food, then locked myself in at home, turned off the phone, didn’t talk to anybody, ate at my desk, didn’t leave the apartment, and slept very little. I was wondering how to illustrate the articles and how to present myself as a creative…. I became entirely consumed by the project and by Sunday was exhausted. When I saw the newspaper in print I felt ecstatic, and I was even happier when I saw people liking the contents.”

Simple great-looking toothbrush 

As Michaela loves creating tangible products, she was excited to design CURAPROX toothbrushes. Having been a long-term loyal customer and an advocate of the brand’s philosophy, she fit perfectly into the team both professionally and personally.

And what approach did she adopt? “The keyword was smile. I knew that I wanted to create a design that makes customers smile. So I selected elements that are pleasing to the eye and simple such as icons and pictograms, and combined them with my original elements.”

“I used the same colours for the packaging and toothbrush bristles. Each tuft has a different colour. I used all six available colours, selecting combinations based on my feelings and how well they matched. The main colours are bright and easy to combine and work well together. Vivid colours are grounded by white, which nicely balances out the bright bristles – so the final design is compact and clean I think it all played out nicely.”

“I submitted the digital design. Then some time later I received a package, and was delighted to see my designed toothbrushes in real life! I was sent pictures of people with my toothbrush! It was such a full-on experience. The cooperation was very enjoyable and successful, and I’m glad that the result makes people smile.”

Michaela’s creative approach is unique. She likes immersing herself completely: “In my favourite projects I’m part of the process. The role of a graphic designer continues after a design has been submitted: I remain part of the project, I care about it, it’s still ‘mine’. I’m interested in every stage of the project life-cycle. That’s why I pay a lot of attention to how my designs are produced, I’m actively involved in installations, and I check the final presentation. That’s an important part of my work’s success.”

Photography by Nora & Jakub