The Downtime Agenda

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  • Words — Julie Haslam
  • Images — Marine Hawson

Australian artist and typographer Gemma O’Brien juggles advertising commissions, gallery shows, speaking engagements and hosting hand-lettering workshops around the world. She talks to us about how coffee, sunshine, movies and pizza help with the creative process.

Gemma O’Brien, our type of gal.

What do you do to unwind?
I used to be pretty bad at unwinding…always working late nights and weekends. But now I’ve adjusted my lifestyle and downtime is a big part of it. To relax I love to ride my bike, swim in the ocean in summer, browse book and antique shops for hours, and sleep in.

How important is downtime to you and what happens when you don’t get enough of it?
Downtime is so important to the creative process. It’s usually those slower moments in between drawing or working on a job that I come up with new ideas, or find the answer in creative block.

When I don’t get enough downtime I think my ideas become a little stale and I end up falling back on old techniques or recycling old concepts. To make something new, I need downtime to let my ideas simmer and fully come to fruition.

To be honest, it seems like you have a pretty stress free kind of job. Do you agree?
Hahahah… I’ve gotten better at dealing with stress and anxiety. I think commercial deadlines and creating work for the advertising world can make the creative process a little more stressful than it might seem to the outside world. But ultimately, once you get a little perspective about what you’re doing, it’s easy to realise there are far more important things in the world than losing your mind over some hand-lettering for a soup commercial!  For me it’s important to balance commercial work, with personal art projects and allow time for free experimentation with calligraphy and new techniques – that helps it to feel more like a creative lifestyle, rather than a job.

What stresses you out and what strategies do you have in place to effectively manage that stress?
I think time-management and multi-tasking are the most stressful parts of my job for me.  I find it stressful to switch between multiple projects and seem to say “yes!”  to too many things! The most effective ways for me to manage stress are to be on top of my schedule and to run and ride my bike.

Do you have any daily rituals?
I am definitely not a strictly regimented person, and don’t have any specific things I do at certain times each day. I do try to get some sunshine and fresh air during the day, then work late into the evening. Other than that it’s all pretty fluid.

What are you reading right now?
I am waiting for Alain de Botton’s “The Course of Love” to arrive in the mail!

Favourite movie of all time?
The Intouchables

Where is your favourite travel destination for downtime?
I’ve had some pretty relaxing breaks at Jervis Bay.

Describe your ideal Sunday.
Sleep in, eggs and coffee, bike riding, sunshine, more coffee, movie at the Palace Cinema, and pizza at Love Supreme.

Who is your downtime partner in crime and why?
My boyfriend Jason, because we’re pretty good at being lazy together.