Designer Interview: Sarah Maxey

Wellington based graphic artist Sarah Maxey has a style most of us wish we had. From award-winning work on literary books and working on the Nice Work brand with fellow Wellingtonians Sarah has got mad skill, we quickly catch up between jobs.

Have you always been into graphic art? What’s the journey been so far?

I’ve always been a drawer, ever since I could hold a crayon, and I’ve never stopped. I opened my first publishing company at the age of 11, in a treehut in a walnut tree in the back yard, where I wrote stories on an old Remington typewriter, designed the covers and handstitched the spines. Very limited editions, none of which have survived, sadly. I studied textile design at Wellington Design School, but almost immediately got into book design (after a short stint as till jockey at Unity Books). I worked for various publishing companies in NZ, before landing a plum job as graphic designer at Bloomsbury Publishing in the UK. Since returning to NZ I have run my own graphic design studio, offering a complete publication service: from design & illustration, writing & editing, through to print management and production, winning numerous awards for book design in the process.

Victoria Birkinshaw

From bespoke stationery, to limited edition prints to publishing books… what is your favourite and why?

My first and greatest love is handlettering, and I’m busy carving out a niche providing handlettering for packaging & identities, often for other design houses. A recent high-point was being commissioned by the New York Times to draw some type to accompany their regular column ‘On Language’, and being included in their group show in New York alongside such type luminaries as Ed Fella, Paula Scher, Marian Bantjes & Jessica Hische. I’ve recently had two really challenging commissions from the City Gallery Wellington, one to produce the drawing ‘I did this instead of going out‘ for the Courtenay Place lightbox series, and the other for a huge type installation on the wall of the Hirschfeld Gallery. I’m also getting some interesting private commissions for handlettering, including designs for a classic yacht restoration, and various architectural features in home renovations.

What’s the main inspiration behind your illustration style? Wellington weather got anything to do with it?

Words and letterforms are my main inspiration. I have been preoccupied with drawing letterforms from a very early age, and I still find it endlessly inspiring. I also have a great love and fascination for language, for nuance and meaning and hidden meaning. Wellington weather is more of a damn hindrance than anything else. I said that through gritted teeth…

Wellington is cool, it has a natural creative energy thats hard to describe and different from many other NZ cities… whats in the water down there?

Maybe it IS the weather. You have to be tenacious and hardy to withstand it, particularly the wind, and maybe that has become a defining influence over the creative energy here. I’m guessing of course, but maybe there’s something in that. Perhaps we have to put our heads down and bury ourselves in creative endeavour to block out the horror of the elements…


What’s your favourite product on

My life has been an endless search for the perfect handbag. I think the Paris House Bebe Tear Drop Bag is getting pretty close. While I save up for that, I could be very content with Miss Ellie’s Miracle Tote Bag.

Thanks for your time Sarah and we’re all looking forward to seeing more of your work on soon.

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