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‘OK’ and other online commands inspire artist’s calligraphy designs

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Gemma O’Brien, Australian artist and designer specializing in lettering, illustration and typography, prepares for her upcoming exhibit, “Mrs Eaves101: The Hand-Painted Typography of Gemma O’Brien,” at the Laguna College of Art + Design Gallery. The words behind her read “Prove you’re Human.”
(Kevin Chang / Coastline Pilot)

Gemma O’Brien began to notice a pattern each time she would access her personal web accounts.

She’d have to click on a repetitive list of phrases and words that would help her navigate to the next screen.

When she wanted to log out of a website, she was prompted to click on a box that read: “OK.”

When she wanted to refrain from typing in her user name and password on a website that she used often, she had to click a button that read: “Remember me.”

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And when she had to prove verification and security to help prevent automated spam, she had to type in distorted words under a sentence that read: “Prove You’re Human.”

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Gemma O’Brien prepares for her upcoming exhibit, “Mrs Eaves101: The Hand-Painted Typography of Gemma O’Brien,” at the Laguna College of Art + Design Gallery.
(Kevin Chang / Coastline Pilot)

It’s these common expressions used in everyday actions — whether accessing a bank account, shopping online or reading email — that O’Brien, an Australian artist, decided could be turned into art. So she tried to beautify the phrases, using hand-painted calligraphic brushwork — applied directly to the walls of the Laguna College of Art + Design Gallery.

The installation, titled “Mrs Eaves101: The Hand-Painted Typography of Gemma O’Brien,” opened Thursday at the gallery, on Ocean Avenue in Laguna Beach.

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“I had been noting all these Internet interactions, and I thought it was always so funny,” O’Brien said recently at the LCAD Gallery. “The language used appealed to me.

“Like, for instance, ‘OK.’ You click on it 20 times a day, and now it’s this big beautiful thing on the wall.”

O’Brien, 28, specializes in hand-lettering, illustration and typography and has created work for clients including Heinz, Qantas, Volcom and Smirnoff. She’s garnered a number of fans on social media site Instagram, where she posts thousands of pictures of her artwork for nearly 90,000 followers.

Her latest project with LCAD developed from her profile on Instagram. Catharin Eure, LCAD chair of graphic design, stumbled upon O’Brien’s page two years ago and began “liking” and commenting on the designs. She also followed O’Brien on Twitter.

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Gemma O’Brien, Australian artist and designer specializing in lettering, illustration and typography, prepares for her upcoming exhibit, “Mrs Eaves101: The Hand-Painted Typography of Gemma O’Brien,” at the Laguna College of Art + Design Gallery.
(Kevin Chang / Coastline Pilot)

Eure sent O’Brien a message and asked if she’d be interested in coming to Laguna Beach to present an original exhibition in the college’s bachelor of fine arts program in design and digital media.

“She’s so cool and rad,” Eure said. “She has a super fresh point of view, and you can tell she’s a master typographer. She loves what she does, and she loves sharing what she does. She has that heart.”

O’Brien arrived from Sydney last Thursday, and six LCAD students chosen by Eure were waiting to help her with the installation.

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To get those chosen six, Eure sent a message to her LCAD design students asking for a team of artists to assist O’Brien with the exhibit. Each applicant was required to explain why he or she wanted to work with O’Brien on creating the site-specific work.

One of those selected was hand-letterer Philip Park, a junior at LCAD who is majoring in graphic design with illustration.

“It was a great moment for me,” said Park, who follows O’Brien on Instagram. “I wanted to see her process of creating a mural, and I wanted to get to know her journey as a designer. It was awesome to be a part of her project.”

Together, O’Brien and the group of students worked on the installation over four days, going through five bottles of Jo Sonja’s carbon black paint and finishing five murals.

The creative process, O’Brien said, started with her concept of phrases, followed by figuring out how many panels of walls she would paint in the LCAD gallery.

She then looked at different fonts and designed the words and phrases. After she scanned the original designs onto her computer, she flashed the art on a projector and penciled the designs on the wall.

The installation’s title was named after Mrs Eaves, a typeface created by graphic designer Zuzana Licko in 1996. Mrs Eaves was named after Sarah Eaves, the wife of John Baskerville, who designed old-style typefaces in the 1700s.

“It’s looking at the way we experience typography,” O’Brien said of her installation. “With text, I can create lots of different styles. I wish for people to see the art form in itself and physically experience it and be immersed in the art world.”

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IF YOU GO

What: “Mrs Eaves101: The Hand-Painted Typography of Gemma O’Brien”

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays until March 26

Where: LCAD Gallery, 374 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach

Information: (949) 376-6000 or visit lcad.edu


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