Gemma Obrien: Typographer: Sydney

“It would be a tragedy to spend all your life desperately wanting to be something that you’ve been all along.” – David Berman
Name: Gemma O’Brien
Occupation: Artist specialising in lettering and illustration.
Hometown: Brisbane
Currently residing: Sydney
After dropping out of Law School in QLD Gemma O’Brien moved to Sydney and studied a Bachelor of Design at the College of Fine Arts. The young designer made a name for herself when she released the video Write Here, Write Now (a university project) which became a YouTube sensation. AR met with this delightful and inspiring lady to take a look into her world and creative space…

What did you want to be when you were a kid? In kindergarten I wanted to be a ballerina, in primary school I wanted to be marine biologist, and in high-school I felt like I should be a lawyer but secretly wanted to be an artist.
What did you study to get into your current profession? I studied Bachelor of Design at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney.
Any significant stories to tell that might have kick started your career? In my second year of university I made a video for a graphics project where I wrote all over my body in hand lettering. This video was spotted on my blog by the Marketing Manager of Font Shop Germany who then wrote a critical article about my blog titled “Amateur-Designerin hat Sex mit Buchstaben” (translates to Amateur Designer has Sex with Letters!). At the time I didn’t know that anyone was even reading my blog, let alone being negative about it! Anyway, a lot of German designers wrote comments on his piece disagreeing with his views. A year later, that same Marketing Manager from Font Shop withdrew his comments and invited me to speak at their inaugural TypoBerlin International Design conference in Germany. They flew me over and I spoke to an audience of 1000 people about my passion for typography. It was a bizarre series of events to occur in the very early days of my design career but undoubtedly the thing that put me on the radar of the typography world both locally and abroad!
What tools can’t you live without? Paper, brushes, pens, pencils and my Wacom pen.
What obstacles have come your way? I think the biggest obstacle was the initial fear about going out alone to work as a freelancer. I had worked for a couple of bigger creative companies which provided security, but taking the leap to be a sole practitioner to build my own name was quite daunting at first.
What was a highlight for you over the past 12 months? This last 12 months has been the busiest yet most rewarding professional year for me. Highlights include my first solo show Better Left Unsaid, the ridiculous Spew Bag Challenge and hand-painting 38 billboards with custom brush lettering for a Kirin Cider campaign.
Advice for readers wanting to get into your profession? Let history of your craft be the foundation, practice your skills, observes trends so you can consciously diverge from them and put yourself to your work… it’s is the only way to make it unique.
Music: Working with words everyday I feel like the closest analogy is writing song lyrics or poetry. Music is often an integral part in coming up with the content for what I write and draw.
Art: I feel like my practice sits between design and art. Art provides me with deeper conceptual inspiration in a way that design sometimes cannot.
Technology (what do you use): Paper, pen and brush comes first…. then onto the computer where I digitally finesse my work in Photoshop or Illustrator.
Lifestyle (hobbies): Riding my pushbike, swimming in the ocean, 80s aerobics, using emojis.
Photographer: Katie Kaars