Interview with Blair Sayer

Blair Sayer is a kiwi who left New Zealand after he met an Aussie girl. I guess it is unusual to meet Aussies in New Zealand. It’s usually kiwis that go to Australia but I don’t think it was a very good reason to leave his home. Is it possible that having an Aussie girl in New Zealand made the place unlivable? Perhaps a city or a small town like the one where Blair grew up where people are afraid to fart for fear of gossip, but a whole country is pretty unlikely. It may have been an over-reaction but he was young and he has learned to live with his choices.

Somehow having gotten over his fear of Australian women, Blair is now a freelance illustrator in Australia spending most of his waking hours working on commissions and fixing up his house while dreaming of a mixed media of gouache,  watercolor, and colored pencil. (I guess that is some type of New Zealand cocktail.) I imagine he spends a lot of time preparing for a zombie apocalypse too but then again I imagine a lot of strange things. Perhaps it’s better if you just read the interview with Blair Sayer below.

He has had his tees printed by Threadless, Design by Humans, Shirt.Woot! and more. He may draw kittens and flowers for his clients but Sketchy Old Blair comes out for t-shirt designs. Look if you dare.


As usual, the first question is where did the handle Mr. Rocks come from? (Please keep it kid friendly.)
A lot of folks think that this is a reference to certain spherical parts of the male anatomy, but it is, in fact, a lot less exciting. My old yahoo email was ‘Blair Rocks’, and a friend of mine always called me Mr. Rocks when he emailed me. Hence MR Rocks!

Where in New Zealand are you from?
I was born in a small country town called Carterton, population about 6 thousand. The kind of town where if your next door neighbor farts, someone on the other side of town will ring you to tell you about it. After leaving high school I went to Design School in Wellington, the nation’s capital, and stayed there for most of my adult life (apart from 2 years in England and 1 year in Ireland.)

Why did you leave?
I met a girl. An Australian girl. 🙂

Shared Space T-Shirt W.T.F? T-Shirt Doom Regatta, Select Guys Pima T-Shirt Symetricwolf T-Shirt

What do you usually do in your free time? What are your other interests apart from art and design?
My free time is becoming less free now I have bought a home! DIY and renovations, or renovation planning, is becoming my free time. But when I do find myself free to do things I want, I am working on ideas outside of my day job illustration, which usually consists of submitting a design to online Tee shirt comps.


What other design work do you do?
I am a freelance illustrator, with a design diploma. So I would say I do 98% illustration and 2% design. Even when I am commissioned to work, such as packaging, I have enough design knowledge to understand not only the illustration brief but also the final product design, layout, print techniques etc. Actually, I have a secret fetish for packaging, I love it. I wish I could do more.

Photoshop or Illustrator?
Photoshop. I am only about 25% savvy with Illustrator.

Apart from software what is your favorite medium?
I have recently taken up acrylic painting, and love it. But mixed media of gouache,  watercolor, and colored pencil is a long time favorite of mine. It’s just a shame not many paying gigs require it these days.

Casual Friday T-Shirt by Blair Sayer Zombeer T-Shirt by Blair Sayer aka Mr Rocks Dystopia Dark Lager T-Shirt JovobeniNoir T-Shirt by Mr Rocks

[These designs were sold on T-Shirts at Shirt.Woot! but they have been reckoned!]

What do you enjoy most about being an artist? The freedom. In a lot of careers, there’s a certain path you have to follow to make it to the top. With me, although I am far from being at the top, I am choosing my own path. Exploring new mediums and techniques, and new vehicles, for my work. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off, but within my career, I see exploring and challenging myself as artistic growth. You just have to know not to experiment on the paid gigs!

Where do you usually get your inspiration?
Mostly from other illustrators work. If I am in a rut, I will surf the net or look in books. If it’s an idea I am struggling with, I will go to websites with a lot of free expression art. Sites like and

Could you describe your typical design process from concept to completion?

  • Come up with the idea. (involves coffee!)
  • Thumbnail sketch/s. Resolve idea composition and content. Run it by my peers.
  • Final sketch (a tighter almost finished version of the thumbnail) Again, run it by my peers.
  • Ink artwork.
  • Scan and clean up artwork in Photoshop.
  • Colour artwork, again in Photoshop. Also add other design elements if needed, like type, etc.
  • Save the file and send to client or comp.
Blair Sayer Design Process
Blair’s design process for his collaboration with Dick Firestorm


Do you remember your first t-shirt contest win? If so, what was it and how did you feel?
My first shirt win was at Threadless, and it was for the IFC comp, back in 2005:

Don't Shoot The Messenger! T-Shirt by Mr Rocks
Blair’s first win was for Threadless Loves IFC

Threadless still only paid $400 a prize in those days, and today I am surprised it won. Considering the caliber of designers on there now, I am sure it wouldn’t even come close!

Your t-shirt art is very dark. Why is this?
HA! Really? Some of my clients say the same thing. I guess it’s the escapism of day-to-day illustration. Only once in a blue moon do you get a gig where the client wants something dark, it’s usually all very ‘user-friendly’ stuff. I like edgy, dark stuff, so a chance to submit work in this genre is new for me, and new is exciting. A change is as good as a holiday, right?

BATTER UP! T-Shirt by Mr Rocks
Blairs Batter Up! T-Shirt inspired and awesome photo shoot at Design by Humans

Why zombies?
I don’t really know why I like them, I just do. I have always like the concept of zombies, more for their graphic nature than their brain eating abilities. There’s a challenge to do something new with this overplayed genre too. They have an atheistic that’s the polar opposite to all the commercial stuff I do too, so again there’s an element of escapism.

Of the t-shirts that you designed, which is your favorite?
I still wear Urban Goddess all the time (and it’s lasted incredibly well). I like what I was thinking when I designed this, and the fact it’s my first Threadless win outside of a competition.

Urban Goddess T-Shirt
Urban Goddess was printed by Threadless about 7 years ago…time to get a new tee Blair

Do you wear the t-shirts that you have designed?
Yes. I usually only do designs in a style I would like to wear. Some more than others and some have been shelved permanently, but they all got a wear at least a dozen times.

Have you seen somebody wearing one of your tees in the real world?
HA! Yes, a few times. Once I was with friends, meeting friends of theirs, and one guy had a tee design of mine on. I was instantly welcomed into the drinks round and didn’t pay for many that night!


Do you have any role models?
Mostly other illustrators. Like Tomer Hanuka and James Jean. Some comic book artists also, like Frank Cho and J. Scott Campbell.

You’re from New Zealand. I believe you are living in Australia now. You have lived in Ireland. Where else have you lived or would you like to live?
I’ve only lived in 5 countries, those 3 mentioned above, England and Scotland. I loved being so close to Europe while I was in London for 2 years, but I would love to live in the States for a while. Maybe South California or New York or Chicago, my new favorite US city. Almost impossible now I have a mortgage, but never say never! 🙂 Maybe someone reading this will offer me a ridiculously high-paying art director job in the US! (one can always dream…)

First Fruit of our Labors T-Shirt

How was life in Ireland?
Great! Especially because I didn’t let the weather get me down (as it rains almost the whole year) and got some really great portfolio pieces out my year there. I also enjoy a few pints of Guinness, and in Ireland, it was a meal replacement for me. 🙂

From your experience, which country has the best beer and the best pubs?
HA! Pubs, Ireland for sure. They have pubs down to an art form. Of course, most cities in the world have an Irish pub, and these are nothing compared to the originals. Best beer I have ever drunk was in Prague. The consistently amazing, and amazingly cheap Pilseners and Lagers were outstanding. Actually, can I add the Czech Republic to a country I’d like to live in or is it too late?


Which tee designer(s) do you admire the most?
This is tough, because there’s so many. I got to say for today it’s Aled Lewis, because his ideas are constantly strong, 100 times stronger than my own.

Who would you like to see featured on the Shirt List next?
Hmmm… I don’t know. I am enjoying this guy stuff on Threadless lately, Rafael Pereira. He’s got a really great style and amazing content. If a little dark, which I like!


What design trends have made you go WTF?
The giant photographic animal faces on shirts. Freaks me out, and I have no idea who buys them.

Any advice for other designers/artists?
Practice and keep submitting. When I started at Threadless, I was an illustrator who thought he could do some cool shirts. I learnt pretty quick talent won’t carry you alone, ideas, composition, and colour balance are a big deal when it comes to apparel. I think you can learn a lot from the honest critic’s online, so make the most of them. Don’t lament in the shoot downs. Use them and come back stronger and better. Show your critics you can do it. And keep an eye on what everyone else is doing. It’s a hard business being a self-employed freelancer, and there’s a lot of more talented folks out there, so see what your competitors are doing and try to do something different from all the rest.


Favorite zombie movie?
Toughest question last…. Tie between Shaun of the Dead, and Dawn of the Dead remake. But I got to give props to fellow kiwi Peter Jackson for Braindead (aka Dead Alive.) It’s not technically great, but it’s pretty cool.
My ‘dark’ work needs some kind of inspiration, right? 🙂

Website: Blair Sayer
Blog: Sketchy Old Blair

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