A couple of months a go, we stumbled, as one sometimes luckily does, upon the treasure that was DC writer and cartoonist Mari Andrew’s instagram feed (@bymariandrew). The crush factor was instant: her sketches and her word spoke to the girl we once were, the woman we hoped to become (and DID become, dammit), and all the in-between messy, glorious parts. She was like Daria and Leanne Shapton and your best friend, all rolled into one.
And apparently, she was spending the year posting one funny, heartbreaking illustration at a time on her feed. Pretty soon, the world caught on (yes!) and now 120,000+ followers tune in daily to see what Mari has been thinking and drawing, and as her project drew to an end, and new, exciting things emerged on the horizon, we decided it was time to stop admiring her on the internet and use this opportunity to catch up with Mari.
Is there a moment you remember when you consciously thought: I am going to be an illustrator? What made it all click?
Oh no never! I never thought I had any ability to draw whatsoever, and thought that was sort of a prerequisite for being an illustrator! I always enjoyed making little doodles, but I had never made the connection that if you just do what you enjoy, you develop your own style and your own way of doing art. It wasn’t until I was 28 that I thought, “This is something that brings me joy, so I’m just going to do it.” I wasn’t making it for anyone, so I wasn’t competing against anyone. It came out of a pure drive to do something that makes me really happy.
The first time it really clicked was when I realized that, by illustrating every day, I had unknowingly become an illustrator–by definition. I remember being at a show and meeting someone who asked me “What do you do?” I’ve always dreaded that question and never knew quite how to answer since I don’t identify with my day job, but I just naturally blurted out “I’m a cartoonist.” Since a cartoonist is just a person who makes cartoons, it felt natural and right. I caught myself by surprise; I had become something I didn’t think was possible.
Do you do illustration full time?
No, but wouldn’t that be the dream! I have a day job in Marketing. I have so many more directions I’d love to go in my art–my newest goal is to paint a mural–so I hope to have more time and space in the future to do that and keep playing around, keeping it fun for myself. This project has completely re-shaped my future; I now have so many more dreams than I had a year ago, and I’m looking forward to going into my 30s with a new way of expressing myself and a new list of goals.
Describe your typical work day? Where do you work? How do you work?
I go to my art studio (The Lemon Bowl) from 6-8am every day, before my 9-5 day job. I write a lot of ideas for illustrations throughout my days, and then in the mornings I listen to podcasts and draw them out. Depending on the concept, it can take 10 minutes or an hour to figure out exactly how I want to express a certain idea.
I hope some day to have more time to devote just to art, so I’m able to experiment and play around more. A lot of people have kindly told me, “You’re so disciplined–I could never do something like that every day.” But everyone can, and does! If you really love something, you naturally make time and sacrifices for it. I hate waking up early, but drawing gets me out of bed. As does coffee from Colony Club across the street.
Your illustrations feel very personal and relatable – how much of it comes from your day-to-day life and how much from your friends (use any examples, anecdotes etc) – just tell us where you find inspiration
Thank you! Everything I draw comes directly from my life. When I started my project of drawing an illustration a day, it was more just observations or little jokes, but over time it became very vulnerable and confessional. I drew a series of “My Breakups Around D.C.,” and I chronicled my tales of dating and being single and searching for my direction.
A lot of my drawings are so personal it’s sometimes hard to press the “Share” button on Instagram, but, unsurprisingly, those are the ones that tend to resonate the most with people. Even though I draw my specific and personal experiences, I think many people can relate to the themes that naturally come out of my work–heartbreak, insecurities, creative triumphs, career questions, and the quest for the right haircut. It continually amazes me what rings true for people around the globe; I just posted an illustration very specific to a breakup I went through, and a girl from Indonesia said “I think we are soul sisters.”
Now that more people are looking at my work, I sometimes feel a responsibility to be relatable to all people all the time, but sticking to what I know has been working so far!
You just did a year’s worth of illustrations? How was that? Were there rough days when you didn’t know what to draw? What are some of your favorite things (illustrations AND lessons learned?)
It’s lovely, it’s is the one thing I can really comprehend: I’ve done one illustration a day for an entire year, and I haven’t missed a day. It’s hard to wrap my mind around Instagram followers, but I can look back at my year and think about all the time I’ve spent with my pens and my little travel watercolor set I got on Amazon for $20 and it feels like this beautiful relationship I’ve created with both my art and myself. Drawing is the most relaxing and joyful part of my day, and it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t really part of my life just over a year ago.
The really cool thing about doing something every day is that you develop a muscle for it, which is why I have yet to experience “illustrator’s block.” My brain has trained itself to observe and look for situations that it can turn into comics, so that’s fun!
I’ve also been able to shape the way I think about and process things through illustrating them out. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a negative attitude rut, but deciding, “I’m going to say something positive about this” can help me think about it a different way.
For example, I’ve really been struggling with dating and just the constant heartache that comes with being a vulnerable and sensitive on Tinder. So I made the decision to draw out something positive about love, and came up with this. It’s so personal that I didn’t think many people would relate, but they did, and I hope that it gave some people a little hope.
I drew this one the night I was rejected by someone I really liked, and I drew it from my “highest self”–the one who can see the larger perspective but is compassionate toward my own feelings of hurt.
I drew this one right as my Instagram following was skyrocketing, because I wanted to remind myself and others about the whole story that goes into a moment of “overnight” success.
You are HUGE on instagram – how did that happen and tell us how social media has helped or not helped?
I hate it when people say this, but I don’t know how it happened! My Instagram was private for the first month, and had maybe 80 followers the second month. By month 11, I had 100K followers. I got boosts here and there from lovely people who would talk me up, but I didn’t set out to get this following.
I posted on Instagram for the sake of keeping myself accountable for this personal project of drawing one illustration a day. It has been such a joy to connect with people and get their immediate reactions; that’s certainly something you don’t get if your art isn’t online. The relationships I’ve formed with other artists on Instagram have been particularly special, because they’ve been so enormously supportive. If you ever feel bummed about humanity, start putting your art on Instagram and see what kind of amazing people will show kindness to you!
Then again, the trolls do get me down!
Don’t let the trolls get you down! Now, DC is where you live and work – what made you pick it, stay here etc?
Oh, I 100% would not have done any of this if I hadn’t been in DC. There is no more creative community in the country than right here. I hesitantly moved here 4 years ago–I moved for a guy and we immediately broke up–and I spent the first year really regretting my decision and wishing I had moved in a more traditionally laid-back, artistic city.
But I learned that DC–my own DC–IS actually laid-back and artistic. None of my friends are in politics and most of them are remarkably creative people, who are also super supportive and connected in a way that artists aren’t so much in other cities. DC was like this soft, encouraging nest for me to grow into an artist and find my wings. There is art everywhere, and the creative history of the city blows me away and inspires me daily. I won’t stay here forever, but it will always have a huge place in my heart. Never thought I’d do this, but I might get a DC tattoo to proclaim my love!
Any advice for people wanting to draw for a living that you wish someone told you when you were starting out?
I wish someone had told me that it’s fine to have a “day job.” Think of yourself as a patron for your own art. I’ve always been a writer, but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to say that because it’s not what paid the bills. But a person is a writer because they write, not because it supports them.
Same with illustration. Having the confidence to say “I’m an artist” is an important statement to make to yourself, and your job has nothing to do with it. Also, I’ve used sooo many of my ridiculous jobs throughout the years in my art! In hindsight, I’m thankful for all the times I felt really lost; if I had gotten a job at the New Yorker when I was 23, I’d have no way to relate to people who feel directionless now, and that’s kind of my M.O.
What’s next for Mari Andrew?
I just wrote a book, and this month I’m working with my agent to find a publisher! It’s an illustrated memoir (with a lot of the comics you see on Instagram) about the past couple years of my life: traveling, wobbling my way through “my purpose,” losing my father, love and heartbreak, and daily challenges and triumphs. It’s sort of an expanded version of all my illustrations–all the backstories behind the drawings!
I’d also love to go to art school, and plan on doing so! It’s sort of awesome to start art school at age 30 because I’m totally not competitive anymore or worrying about what people think about me. It’s out of pure curiosity and wonder, not needing to prove anything or get a certain job.
Anything else you’d like to share/any shout outs?
Shout out to the founders of the Lemon Bowl for providing such an inspiring space. Shout out to the creative community of DC for being so receptive to new artists. Shout out to my mom for laughing at all of my comics and then saying “I don’t get it.”