Typography – Gemma O’Brien

“Write here, right now

This 2008 clip above shows Gemma O’Brien writing very nice lettering on every square inch of her body as part of the campaign to promote writing on designated graffiti spaces rather than someone elses property.

8 hours of writing / 5 permanent markers / 3 baths and 2 showers to clean off.

Would you write all over your property?

Photos by Alexander Blumhoff

Gemma O’Brien

As part of a university project, I was given the brief to identify an issue with a community, and create an awareness campaign to respond to this. Initially, it was supposed to be purely a print campaign…but I wanted to a take it a bit further and incorporate an ambient element and a viral campaign. So the issue was graffiti and vandalism, which was a problem in the community. But it wasn’t only vandals who were writing on the walls, it was also well-educated, opinionated individuals who wanted to get their views out there.


So the whole campaign was about creating designated writing walls/graffiti spaces where the community voice could be heard. In order to make people aware of this, a type-covered girl (who in the video was myself) would walk down the street, followed by bus stop posters, which would appear in the following few weeks.

So I got out a black pen and started with my hands as a test…then the following week did my whole body, well, nearly my whole body. The YouTube response was amazing.

For the Love of Type with Mrs Eaves

For the Love of Type blog site click here

An interview via Australian Edge    August 2009

For those that love type design, maybe you’ve heard of Gemma O’Brien. Also known as Mrs Eaves, Gemma first came to the public’s attention with her “Write here, right now” video. She has recently returned from Berlin, where she gave a presentation at the annual TypoBerlin Conference hosted by FontShop.

What is inspiring you at the moment?

At the moment I am inspired by cupcakes, black pens, details, swash capitals and photos of Surry Hills from the early 20th century with lots of cool handwritten signage type. I’m also excited by the news of the next Some Type of Wonderful exhibition happening in Melbourne in October.

Who are some of the more exciting type designers you have seen in recent years?

Some of my favourites…

Tobias Frere Jones and Jonathon Hoefler …for consistently producing quality, extensive families of type; Jean-Francoise Porchez; Gerard Unger … for his beautiful body faces and one of my favourite typefaces Swift; Alejandro Paul for his lush script faces and of course Zuzanna Licko. Without her my pseudonym Mrs Eaves would not make sense… plus there’s the myriad of great typefaces produced by Emigre. New Zealand’s Kris Sowersby’s work is pretty new and exciting too.

What sparked your initial interest in typography?

It was working with metal type in a letterpress studio about 2 years ago. Hand setting every individual letter of 6-point type is very time consuming and it certainly makes you gain a great level of respect for how traditional typesetters worked. I was also working on a submission for the International Society of Typographic Designers around the same time which involved a lot of research into typography and printing practices in Germany and Great Britain at the beginning of the 20th century. There were lots of great type pioneers at that time – Jan Tschichold, Stanley Morrison (designed Times New Roman), Paul Renner plus more– and reading about this history was very inspiring for me. This sparked my initial interest and of course once the typomania sets in its difficult to look anywhere without noticing the letters. Documenting type, experimenting with type and making cupcakes with type was all too much for me to keep to myself…which lead to the beginnings of my blog for the love of type.

What is the type scene like in Australia?,..our feeling is it is pretty quiet.

Well its quite niche everywhere – but thats not to say there’s not a lot happening. Obviously places like Germany, where there was such a rich printing history there seems to be more of a “type scene” but I think there are a lot of people really into type in Australia there just scattered around the place. As part of my presentation in Berlin I presented a short documentary which was essentially talking about type in Australia, through that I discovered the many people with varying levels of typomania.

There are so many people working with type in interesting ways; whether it be really refined body setting, using type as an illustrative tool, type in motion and designing type too: people like Mark Gowing, David Pidgeon, Wendy Ellerton, Stuart and Jeremy at Chase and Galley, and Michael and Eva from Toko. There’s also some really exciting hand generated type from Timba Smits with his titles in Wooden Toy Quarterly and lovely stuff from Luke at Lifelounge. There’s definitely a growing interest in type from the design and art world and I’m sure it will continue to gain momentum. Stephen Banham (Letterbox) really has done a huge amount to increase interest in typography in Australia for a long time now…especially in Melbourne, and his work always had an added dimension of interest because he’s always telling a story, emphasis the content and taking it beyond simply the ‘look’ of letters.

You recently gave a presentation at Type Berlin. How did that go?

It was amazing! It was the 14th annual TypoBerlin conference held in Berlin and hosted by FontShop. The theme was ‘SPACE’ and there were 60 speakers from around the world, and around 1000 guests. I was the youngest speaker they’d ever had and the only one from Australia …so it was very daunting!!! I spoke about my blog, presented a short documentary about typography in Australia and about the Write Here Right Now project I did where I wrote lettering all over my body. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many typophiles in one place at one time… but it was great, plus Berlin at the onset of Summer is an amazing place to be! The theme for next year is Lust ;-), hopefully I’ll go along and maybe some more Australian designers can come check it out.

If you could only ever use 3 typefaces in your life again, what would they be?

Oh god that’s like asking a sommelier if they could only drink 3 wines for the rest of their life what they’d be…. or having only three different tones of voice forevermore… or asking a movie buff to pick only three movies to watch ever again ! Variety is what makes type exciting. Ultimately…as long as I have my hand to write, and my voice to talk … then just one digital typeface to use that would suffice.

What are you working on next?

I’m working on a type-based illustration for a German design magazine which is coming up soon and an identity for ridiculously good-looking and good-sounding band called the Salvagers. I want to start playing with type in motion too…and then I need to attend to the storage bank of ideas in my head just waiting to be realised! :-)

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