When Gemma O’Brien first enrolled in a Law degree in her home state of Queensland, little did she know that life would take her on a very different path.
The now internationally acclaimed designer, illustrator and artist is currently undertaking a solo show in Bali’s Canggu.
Gemma was first introduced to letterpress printing while studying a Bachelor of Design at UNSW College of Fine Arts (COFA), now UNSW Art & Design.
Looking back now, the UNSW Alumna Ambassador reflects on that period with fond memories.
“I was really excited to be there. I was embracing my creative side and it felt really natural.
“I loved UNSW because it was quite broad in terms of the range of disciplines I got to explore, especially in first year Design.
“I loved being a student. It was such a great time to be able to explore different techniques.”
Since December last year, Gemma has dressed the walls of Room 13: a gallery space enclosed within Canggu’s stylish boutique hotel, The Slow.
Gemma’s work has been showcased around the globe, but this is the first time the artist has exhibited on the island of Bali.
The show, titled Rest Less Soul, will see seven of her individual artworks flown across from Sydney for the occasion.
“This is a new body of work,” Gemma explains. “I’ve tried a few experimental techniques with the pieces, which is new for me”.
Gemma’s artistic style is distinguished by bold type, expressive calligraphy and detailed illustration. She often works with large-scale installations and murals, however for her solo show, the pieces are smaller and created on custom birch panels.
“Each artwork is a combination of silk-screen print with acrylic painting.
“I have been working on this for about six months now, so it is really exciting to see it all come together.
“Some of the pieces contain phrases that I have noted down over the past year or phrases that I have wanted to incorporate into work for some time and have finally come to fruition now.”
The UNSW alumna has gone on to build a career around illustrative lettering and hand-painted typographic murals, working in collaboration with global brands such as Apple, Nike, the New York Times and Google.
It is no wonder she has quite the Instagram profile. Posting under an alias, Mrs Eaves, Gemma’s account amasses 214,000 followers, and counting. For her, the platform serves as a creative space to bounce ideas off.
“I think that [Instagram] was really beneficial to me. When I started freelancing, it was a place to put ideas out there and get a response. It really helped to build and grow my audience.
“Now it is almost a double-edge sword. For young designers, I think yes, it is one way, but there are many ways to showcase your work and that is just the medium of the moment.
“It’s hard. I feel like sometimes, with a big audience, the expectations are higher to deliver a certain thing that people expect to see or that they have seen from you in the past.
“For me, I need to remember that I can try something new and put it out there, even if it is not what people expect”.
When she’s not in the studio, Gemma speaks at international conferences and hosts a range of hand-lettering workshops at design schools, agencies and events across Australia. For those interested in building a career in type and lettering, she passes on the following wisdom.
“I think that the best advice is to be open to experimenting with different things because that is how you can come up with your own style.
“It is really easy to be derivative when you are young, and you’re influenced by people whose work you love.
“The more that you experiment and tap into your own experiences, then the more your work becomes unique.”
Gemma’s exhibition is on at The Slow in Canggu in Bali until 25 January. Sales from her artwork will be donated to disaster aid relief in Indonesia.
View Gemma’s Instagram account Mrs Eaves.