Creative Dialogue

In conversation with Gemma O’Brien

Make IT is right around the corner and we spoke to Australian artist and designer Gemma O’Brien  who specializes in lettering, illustration and typography. Get set to hear her speak at Make IT on 5 May, 2016.

Gemma O'Brien - Designer and Artist, Adobe Make IT

Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a creative artist?

I have always been creative since I was very young, but after finishing school I ended up studying law. I quickly realised my heart wasn’t in it, and made the switch to a design degree. From that point forward I fell in love with typography and began to shape my career as a commercial artist with a focus on lettering and illustration. 

How did you get started in this field?

I initially got my break in the design world when I was invited to speak at Typo Berlin, aged 21. I was still finishing my university degree so it was an amazing opportunity to put my name out there at such an early stage in my career.  From that point forward I worked as a designer and art director in a couple of big, post-production studios, such as Animal Logic and Fuel VFX, before venturing out as a freelance artist. I’ve now been working for myself for around 4 years. 

How would you define your style? 

Within the realm of typography, I like to think my scope of style is quite broad. I’m drawn to freer, calligraphic brush styles as well as bolder, sans-serif styles. I love black and white, details, pattern, and the impact of large scale typography. 

Where do you draw your inspiration from? 

I love to find inspiration offline – on old book covers, or vinyl sleeves, and hand-painted signs in new places I visit. For pattern inspiration I look to architectural or material surfaces, textures in nature and reflection in water. The history of typography is a wealth of inspiration too : I love the experimental type of the early 20th century and old printing specimens. Contemporary designers whose work I love and am constantly inspired by include Jordan Metcalf, Martina Flor, Alex Trochut and ilovedust.

Can you share one work that is close to your heart and the concept behind it?

My most recent self-titled solo show was held last month in Laguna Beach, California. It was a large scale typographic installation that filled the various walls in the gallery space. The show was made up of four key pieces of text drawn from password forms, wifi-connection error messages and captcha tests:  “Remember Me”, “Re-establishing Lost Connection”, “Prove You’re Human” and five iterations of “OK”. I liked the idea that this language can be so mundane yet when taken out of context, speaks to bigger questions of lived experience – relationships, human connection in the digital age, the desire for legacy and meaning.

Any words of advice for budding creative artists out there? 

The most important thing is creating good work. In the early days: put in the hours, lose sleep, skip parties and make the work that makes you happy. 

Gemma splits her time between advertising commissions, gallery shows, speaking engagements and hosting hand-lettering workshops around the world. Her clients include Adobe, Volcom, Heineken, Kirin Cider, QANTAS, Heinz, Angus and Julia Stone and The New York Times. A number of her projects have been recognised by the New York The Type Directors Club with Awards of Typographic Excellence. In her spare time she travels and draws puke puns on barf bags for the Spew Bag Challenge.

Check out her work on  or  behance



Join the discussion