Make It: Lettering with Gemma O’Brien


I remember thinking that there was only one aesthetic and the topography aesthetic was slick clean lines and that anything that was kind of hand-drawn was like messy, or clumsy, or not finished. But I think that I slowly realized that there is a way to have something that is considered and refined, but then also has a human quality. I love working by hand mainly because it’s like you’re thinking made physical. Something you imagine can suddenly become real. Whether its on paper, or whether most of wall, whether you’re making something, and for me that’s really satisfying. My name is Gemma O’Brien, and I’m an artist designer and illustrator from Sydney Australia. But some may be just like, we’re going to need a bigger boat. That’s may with the band. I’ll proudly take my paintings pens to change in to. So, I’ve arrived in New York, and I’m about to start painting a mural LRX which is my agency. Today, I’m going to go and look at the space and stop rejecting the pencil outlines. So, that’ll probably take a few hours. Then I’ve got about four days to finish the whole mural, which is quite a tight turnaround given the scale. Am feeling little nervous. I think deep down I always wanted to be an artist, sounds very creative when I was a kid growing up, always painting, drawing making little books. But I always felt like I needed to choose a career that was maybe a little bit more of a smart career or that made more money, and so I actually ended up going to law school. I was coming home and I was spending six hours not reading just like the basic cases and I felt like this can’t be my life. I started to look up design courses one night, and I remember just getting so excited at the prospect of switching, and so it was about a year after. I left law school and made the switch to design. In the first year of design school, I had the first introduction to typography. Initially, I found a really boring until I had an opportunity to set type by hand and the letterpress studio. Suddenly, it’s physical I could pick up an individual letter with my hand, all the fonts we’re going to draw that you can physically pull out, and for me that was the moment where I was like wow this is a whole new world! I became so obsessed with topography at this point. Walking down the street, I couldn’t ignore every form of hand painted sign, neon sign, or anything that was the printed word the written word, I just couldn’t escape it. But in terms of where I would fit within the typography well, I didn’t know exactly where my place was initially. When I first started to go freelance, a lot of the commissions that I was getting, tended to be shaped by the trends that were happening in the design world at the time. There was the grand chalk trend of 2013 which was like shaping a lot of my work. There was a lot of intricate flourished inspirational quotes, and so many of the jobs that I would get were driven by that. So, I really wanted to find a way to make work that was unique to me. So, the way that I did that was kind of come back to what I was really interested in and strip it back to drawing, writing, and finding a way to illustrate lettering and make it into an image itself. When you see a trend, part of me thinks well, it’s easy to jump on board and try and create something that fits within that trend but maybe hasn’t been opened. But for me, I wanted to kind of get ahead, and do something maybe that other people couldn’t do or even if they could, it would take time to kind of catch up in that training cycle. So, it was definitely driven by trying to find a unique voice in a very busy in saturated market. Once I’ve done the design, once I protected the pencil outlines onto the wall a painting pen is my favorite. It’s almost like the hard work has been done, you can have done all the design thinking and the painting bottom most therapeutic. I love being away from the computer and you have to physically use your whole body there’s often a lot of thinking on the go, how can I access this point, and I just love that process. The first time I worked on a log scale paste was about four or five years ago, I was invited to do a solo exhibition. I had the opportunity to do whatever I wanted, and it was a huge big volume and I arrived a week early at student almost like an artist in residence program. I thought why not just paint directly onto the wall? I drew all the artwork by hand, I had a projector and just started painting. Was the first time I worked at a large scale, and it just was amazing. I love the process of creating large-scale letters, it feels like it has like this presence, and the power that I think is really awesome that it takes something that was tradition the link to the page into a large-scale space. People responded to it really well in that kind of motivator, and gave me more momentum to continue down the path of exploring my own style. So, on Wednesday with pencil outlines I finished about 11 p.m, so that was the first time and I came in, did about 10 hours painting yesterday and probably around six today. You’re feeling good about how it’s turning out? I’m feeling really good about how it turned out. Actually, I feel like the design is perfect the wall, when you stand really close you almost can’t see what you have to step back a whole new experience. I think when I do the last stroke of neural, I’m usually sleep deprived, exhausted but also excited. It’s not until the final stroke is done, that I can look back and see its full effect. Even the process along the way, I may describe to see it coming together, but when it’s there and you have to step back and experience, it’s a great moment. I think that they’ll always be a place for handmade work. While that might change and obviously doping you tools, and digital ways that people will work, there’s something about working by hand that just feels more natural, and feels more relaxing. It’s almost like there’s a direct link between hard work and physically moving your body, and then creating something, and I think that that’s really rewarding.

26 Replies to “Make It: Lettering with Gemma O’Brien”

  1. I am a designer and very passionate but lack in modern amenities, I don't have good computer and ipad but I still draw in papers

  2. Gemma's class "Illustrated Lettering: Drawing Intricate Floral Forms" is now live! Check it out on Skillshare: http://skl.sh/gemma_lettering

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