Gemma O’Brien

If you've been anywhere near an apple store you know the work of our good friend and mega-babe Gemma O'Brien. Totally killing it across the globe, Gemma took some time out to answer a few questions—telling us how she started out, some of the naughty things she's done ;), and hey keep an eye out on her insta—you never know there might be an opportunity to assist her!

Where did you study and what were some of your first jobs?

I studied at the Queensland College of Art in Brisbane for a year, then moved to Sydney and completed by Bachelor of Design at the College of Fine Arts (UNSW). My first graphic design job was in Brisbane, in my first year of design school, at a small studio called Vaux Creative. While I was studying in Sydney I worked at a lighting shop and sold flowers at the market to pay my way through the degree. In my final year of uni I did an internship as a designer at Animal Logic and this turned into my first full-time gig in the design industry!

Give us the elevator pitch on what you do. 

Artist and designer specialising in lettering and illustration. 

Design work by Gemma O’Brien The Design Kids interviews Gemma O’Brien work-2

What does a typical working day include for you right now?

I spend a few hours replying to emails, try and go for a run or ride during the day while the sun’s out, then settle in for 6-7 solid hours of work from 8pm-3am. 

Whats your take on internships? (do you take interns now?)

I don’t take on studio interns, but I do take on painting assistants for large scale murals. I usually do a call out on Instagram a few weeks in advance. 

Design work by Gemma O’Brien The Design Kids interviews Gemma O’Brien work-4
Design work by Gemma O’Brien The Design Kids interviews Gemma O’Brien work-4

I think there was a lot of “fake-it-til-you-make-it” in the early stages of my career. When I was in university I listed my address as “Suite 53/74” instead of Unit 53….ha ha I thought it sounded fancier!

What do you look for in a great portfolio?

Craft, versatility and one thing that is completely unique to you. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and the studio that you work for.

I am a freelance commercial artist — so most of the time my studio is just me! I do have two reps: The Jacky Winter Group in Oz and Levine/Leavitt in the U.S — so that’s helpful for the production side of things. 

Design work by Gemma O’Brien The Design Kids interviews Gemma O’Brien work-6

Do you ever wish you were a freelancer or in-house designer?

When I was full-time I wished I was a freelancer. Now that I’m a freelancer, 90% of the time I love it, 10% of the time I wish I had the structure, sick pay, security and work cookie jar of an in-house designer. 

Tell us about any collaborations you have been working on.

I just worked on a very fun project with Apple for their Pencil and iPad Pro campaign. The artwork is now live in Apple stores and I’ve been receiving photos from people all around the world — which is super cool. 

What three naughty things have you done in your career to get ahead?

I think there was a lot of “fake-it-til-you-make-it” in the early stages of my career. Actually, there’s probably a fair bit of that happening still! One particular obsession of mine was always the idea of the “designer’s studio”.  When I was in university I was living in a tiniest, shittiest studio apartment yet whenever I applied for uni grants, wrote professional type letters or sent invoices I listed my address as “Suite 53/74…” instead of Unit 53….haha I thought it sounded fancier. 

What role does digital design play in your studio in 2017, and how to you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age?

I’m an analogue girl at heart – I try to include pencils, ink and painting in most of my projects. That being said, technology is so important to help speed up the design process and in the last year, digital drawing apps and the Apple pencil have become a staple in sketching up roughs and colouring my work. 

Whats the big goal in the next five years?

More personal work and passion projects. 

Who would be the “dream client” that you would do anything to work for?

I would love to receive an email from Alain de Botton asking me to paint a huge mural of one of his quotes somewhere! 

Whats on the cards professionally and personally in the next 12 months?

Professionally I’ve got a fair few exciting projects and trips booked in. I’ll be painting in Sweden as part of No Limit Festival in September, speaking at Smashing Conference in Barcelona and Adobe MAX in Vegas in October, then coming home to have a solo exhibition at the Jacky Winter’s new Lamington Drive gallery at the end of the year. Personally, I’m hoping to expand my cooking repertoire, spend more time with family and friends and try to get better at managing stress. 

Design work by Gemma O’Brien The Design Kids interviews Gemma O’Brien work-13
Design work by Gemma O’Brien The Design Kids interviews Gemma O’Brien work-13

Where to find Gemma O’Brien online.

Website: gemmaobrien.com
Instagram: @mrseaves101

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