Cre­ative col­lec­tion Meet Gemma O’Brien, a Syd­ney-based de­signer who knows how to paint a pic­ture with words

SYD­NEY-BASED DE­SIGNER GEMMA O’BRIEN KNOWS HOW TO PAINT A PIC­TURE WITH WORDS

Home Beautiful - - CONTENTS - WORDS HOLLY BYRNE STYLING LISA HIL­TON PHO­TOG­RA­PHY CATH MUS­CAT

AT A GLANCE

Who: Gemma O’Brien What she does: Il­lus­tra­tive ty­pog­ra­phy and cal­lig­ra­phy. Where she’s based: A stu­dio in the at­tic of her in­ner-Syd­ney home. Why she does it: “Mak­ing a liv­ing from be­ing cre­ative forces you to con­stantly look at the world around you and rein­ter­pret it in a dif­fer­ent way – and then ex­press it visu­ally.” Visit: gem­mao­brien.com.

“I LOVE THE IDEA OF CRE­AT­ING SOME­THING THAT IS RE­ALLY BOLD BUT ALSO HAS AN EX­PRES­SIVE QUAL­ITY” ~ Gemma O’Brien, artist

NO TWO DAYS are ever the same for artist, de­signer and cal­lig­ra­pher Gemma O’Brien, who works out of the at­tic of her in­ner-Syd­ney home, which is a source of con­stant in­spi­ra­tion. “My stu­dio is filled with lots of nat­u­ral light dur­ing the day and you can of­ten see fire­works at Dar­ling Har­bour on week­end nights,” she says.

Gemma’s first spark of in­ter­est in let­ter­ing and ty­pog­ra­phy came back when she was a stu­dent at UNSW’s then Col­lege of Fine Arts, where she be­came an ap­pren­tice type­set­ter at a let­ter­press on cam­pus. “Then I started my blog and posted my own ex­per­i­ments and ex­plo­rations, and that’s when I re­alised I ac­tu­ally loved draw­ing,” she says. “Over the course of my de­gree, my ap­proach to let­ters be­came more il­lus­tra­tive and artis­tic.”

To­day, she bal­ances com­mer­cial com­mis­sions for big-name clients such as Adobe and Google with her per­sonal art­work, but if it wasn’t for a dar­ing change in di­rec­tion, Gemma’s beau­ti­ful work and suc­cess­ful ca­reer may never have been.

“I ac­tu­ally started out study­ing law,” ex­plains the tal­ented artist, who de­cided to change her course over to art a year and a half into her stud­ies. “I feel very lucky to be in a cre­ative job now, and I prob­a­bly ap­pre­ci­ate it even more, be­cause I al­most went down the le­gal path.”

It’s the uniquely hu­man el­e­ment of the craft that ini­tially drew Gemma in. “When I first got into ty­pog­ra­phy, I started to no­tice it in the en­vi­ron­ment around me and how much it’s taken for granted,” she says. “If you see fonts, you just as­sume they were made by a com­puter – there is a mis­un­der­stand­ing about how much crafts­man­ship goes into cre­at­ing these let­ters.”

Af­ter work­ing for a hand­ful of large de­sign firms post-grad­u­a­tion, Gemma stepped out on her own al­most six years ago and at­tributes her growth as an artist to so­cial me­dia. “It’s not some­thing I knew would have such an im­pact, but Instagram, in par­tic­u­lar, be­came a place where I could ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent ideas and tech­niques, throw them out there and get a re­sponse from a com­mu­nity,” she says.

From large-scale, hand-painted mu­rals to shoe de­sign col­lab­o­ra­tions (with US la­bel Rol­lie Na­tion), Gemma’s work boasts a dis­tinc­tive style, most of­ten in­spired by words or phrases she’s col­lected over time. “Bold and beau­ti­ful is what comes to mind if I had to de­scribe it,” she says. “As an artist, what­ever you cre­ate al­ways has your own mark on it.” As for what’s next, the sky is lit­er­ally the limit. “I would love to paint a gi­ant rocket for NASA or Elon Musk that goes into space, but that’s more of a pipe dream,” she laughs. For now, she’s quite con­tent with where she is. “Each time I do a wall that’s a lit­tle bit big­ger or a mu­ral that’s a lit­tle more in­tri­cate, there is an in­ter­nal sense of sat­is­fac­tion,” she says. “There is al­ways a new goal to reach.”

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Once crisp white, Gemma’s shoes are now a colour­ful re­flec­tion of her work; the artist is per­fectly at home at the main draw­ing desk in her stu­dio; the cre­ative’s trusty tools; cal­lig­ra­phy for a ti­tle card shown in the SBS doc­u­men­tary K’gari adorns a stu­dio wall be­hind hang­ing plants. OP­PO­SITE PAGE: Gemma puts brush to pa­per to cre­ate a wa­ter­colour cock­a­too il­lus­tra­tion for a client.

TOP LEFT & RIGHT: “I fi­nally found the brands and tools I like to work with the most,” says Gemma, who has spent years fine-tun­ing her col­lec­tion; The ‘Good Vibes’ piece is part of a print se­ries based on a mu­ral she cre­ated for Of­fice­works. BOT­TOM LEFT: Gemma work­ing on a com­mis­sioned wa­ter­colour il­lus­tra­tion.

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