Hi. I’m Gemma O’Brien. I’m an artist specialising in typography and lettering. I split my time between commercial art for the advertising world, art shows, design conferences, personal work and hosting lettering workshops. I’m 27 years old. I’m a Gemini. I stay up late most nights. I am messy and am really bad at replying to emails.
Who is Mrs. Eaves?
Mrs Eaves was the pseudonym I adopted when I started my design blog back in university. The story behind it is that Sarah Eaves was John Baskerville’s housekeeper and later became his wife. Apparently, after Baskervilles death she continued to print his types. In 1996 Zuzana Licko of Emigre designed a transitional serif font and named it Mrs Eaves in honour of the forgotten women in type design history. I thought it was a great name and type persona to take on in my early career. Last year at Typo San Francisco I met Zuzana briefly which was cool. Meet-your-maker type stuff! I still use the name on social media.
What are some of your influences/inspires you on a daily basis?
Sources of inspiration are constantly changing depending on the project I’m working on or my interests at the time. One constant source of inspiration is the typography and lettering I see when I travel. From hand-painted signage on forest walking tracks in Japan, to the neon hotel signs in Los Angeles, and the Fraktur street signs in Berlin, new cities can be a wealth of different styles influenced by the culture and history of the place. I love looking in old, second-hand book stores for vintage book covers and records for interesting type treatments too. There’s also many contemporary designers and artists today who push the boundaries of lettering, calligraphy and typography. I love the work of Luca Barcellona, Ken Barber, ilovedust, Alex Trochut, Seb Lester, Erik Marinovich and Martina Flor. I spend a lot of time scrolling through Instagram and screen grabbing random things that inspire from quotes, to paintings, photographs, scenery … anything really. I’d say I take at least 20 screen grabs a day of interesting stuff which I put in folders and later look through when I’m stuck for ideas.
Tell us about #spewbagchallenge and how it all started.
I started creating artwork on airsick bags in December 2012. I was flying from Sydney to Wellington to eventually board a ship bound for Antarctica. To pass the time on the flight using the mini pencil that comes in the kids pack I illustrated the words “Fully Sick”. The following year I was flying a lot for work and travel so I began drawing a different puke-based pun on the bags when I flew. Most of the text was drawing on popular culure: songs, actors, sayings and phrases. I set the limitations that the artwork had to be created in the time of the flight, which meant some artworks were created on a 1 hr flight and others on a long-haul international flight. The second limitation was that I decided to always leave the beautified sick bag in the seat… hoping that one day an unsuspecting airsick passenger may be pleasantly suprised upon finding it. Over the year I created around 25 airsick bag artworks. I began compiling them online and one year after creating the first bag I had an exhibition titled You Make Me Sick which featured replicas of the originals and a few new works. I also encouraged other people to take part in what I had now titled the “Spewbag Challenge”. They had to abide by the same rules of creating the artwork on the flight and leaving it in the seat. Pictures of the bags from around the world have accumulated on Instagram, with around 500 posted with the hashtag #spewbagchallenge.
Advice you’d like to give other emerging creatives? Why do you think we’re so afraid to put ourselves out there and what made you say, fuck it!
Life is scary. Creating stuff and putting yourself out there is scary. Everyone’s worried that their work isn’t good enough and the majority of creatives even at the highest levels are highly critical of their work. The thing is; you have to put it out there. If you create work it will lead to more work. If you create work that kinda sucks then it will be better the next time you do it. And the time after that. Just work away and focus on honing your skills, try not to worry what people think (although that’s close to impossible). Even if you create work that’s popular that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good either! But you have to start somewhere and once you do you will see your output grow, change and adapt, and that’s the most rewarding part. There is a good list of advice from New York art critic Jerry Saltz. He can be annoying on social media (mainly Instagram!), but this list has been one I’ve come back to a few times, it’s pretty good.
We live in a time where the internet provides us with so many ways to put our creativity out there for free. How important of a role does the Internet play in your career?
It played a massive role for me. But I think the way the Internet can help your career changes super fast. For example, at the time I started my type blog there were a few typography blogs taking off… now there’s shitloads! I don’t blog anymore, I use Instagram in the same way I would a blog: to show process, stuff that inspires me, selected parts of my lifestyle outside design. I think the fact that there are so many free platforms available to showcase your work today means one thing: your work has to be fucking good! Focus your time on making your work great then the Internet will find you. If it hasn’t yet, it will eventually.
Explain the internet in one sentence.
The internet is like this giant second hand book store down the street from me called Gould’s Book Store. It’s massive and messy and there’s lots of cool stuff in there which is sometimes hard to find. Other times you’ll stumble across gold without even looking. It’s open late and you can easily stay in there for hours. There’s a cat that lives in there and it also kind of smells funny.
Okay that was five sentences. But you get the idea.
Your work has been to Hong Kong, but when are you coming out here?
It has! At the Above Second pop show last year. I don’t know when I’m coming - find someone that needs a mural or wants me to host a workshop/do a talk and I’ll visit.
And finally: you’re on death row. (Giving you the benefit of the doubt, let’s say you’ve been wrongly convicted). You have to choose your last meal: what do you have?
HA! I like it that you assume I’ve been wrongly convicted, that’s kind of you. I’ll have a piece of vegemite toast.