If anyone truly deserves to carry their pen license, it’s Gemma O’Brien. The Sydney-based typographer specialises in hand-lettering, and her work has received international acclaim. O’Brien’s love of letters was ignited when she studied design at UNSW Art & Design.
“I really became interested in letting and typography – as opposed to all of graphic design – after doing letter-press printing,” O’Brien says. That was the spark. Because it was done by hand, away from the computer, it became tangible and tactile.”
O’Brien is best known for playfully repurposing QANTAS spew bags. The first was done nearly three years ago. “I was flying to Wellington and I’d been working heaps,” O’Brien says. “I was relaxing on the plane when I drew ‘Fully Sick’ on my spew bag. Then I just started doing one on every flight.” Some of the ensuing wordplay included: Queasy Like Sunday Morning, Bigger Than Ben Hurl and Alice in Chunderland.
“I made a hashtag, #spewbagchallenge and encouraged other people to do it as well. The only rules were that you had to think of your spew pun, draw it in the time of your flight and leave it on the plane.”
Since then, O’Brien has crafted neon letters for Angus & Julia Stone and created the brush script for Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan’s EP, Wild. She still enjoys painting and gallery projects, though.
O’Brien will be part of the upcoming Project Five, Voume 7 event, which promotes live art for a good cause. For the event she will paint a public mural over three nights. She’ll work alongside other well-known street artists Fintan Magee, Adelaide’s Vans the Omega and pop-surrealist Apeseven. The event will also host live music and pop-up bars, and the work created will remain on display for a month. Each artist’s live piece will be auctioned, and proceeds will be donated to youth-outreach and creative-education programs.
“Painting is my ultimate form of relaxation,” O’Brien says. “You automatically concentrate. Nowadays, when I’m working so much on my computer, emailing, it’s so easy to get distracted. So it’s good to focus on finishing off one big, live artwork – it’s quite calming.”
Project Five’s live painting event is September 18–21, at Darling Quarter’s Village Green. The exhibition will remain on public display until October 17.