Women Taking Leaps - Interview with Mari Andrew
Taking the leap on that fateful day - and everyday - to create authentic, autobiographical art and share it with the world.
In taking on an everyday practice you share with the world, you’ve come to inspire thousands of people - strangers, friends, new friends alike. You’ve catapulted into this realm of internet fame that wasn’t your intention and seems to have changed your life significantly. Tell me a little bit about the Mari before doodling, before deciding to commit to a practice every day and put it out into the world:
The Mari before doodling was always, always expressing and creating something. I can’t tell you how many websites, blogs, books, and projects I’ve started that didn’t go anywhere, which is one of the many reasons I’m so surprised that this one actually took off! It feels random in that way, but no more random than anything else I tried.
I always felt a sort of calling to do something bigger than myself. Who knows if that’s a personality type, a rich inner spiritual life, or an aggrandized sense of self! I just felt from an early age that I was different from most people around me in a way I couldn’t articulate, and therefore was going to have an unusual path or “purpose” in life. I didn’t have one overwhelming passion, although I always loved to write, so I wasn’t sure what this calling was really going to look like. I’m still exploring it. But illustration certainly gave me the platform to explore.
You’ve mentioned in previous interviews that you’d tried multiple potential hobbies before drawing stuck. Playing the guitar, dancing… what else did you try? What drew you to these activities?
I wanted to pursue fun. I just wanted to be happy. I observed truly free, happy people--the kind of people I wanted to be like--and all of them had a couple things in common: they were always up for fun, they had story-filled eclectic lives, and they always had some sort of hobby. I remember sitting in a park in Portugal watching all these young beautiful people playing guitar, dancing, painting, singing together...and I didn’t have a way to really participate. Then I realized that was 100% within my control. I wrote a long list of all the things I wanted to do to become my dream self, including surf lessons and really tough exercise classes and makeup classes. I just started creating myself into the person I wanted to be, a person who played guitar and could dance salsa and painted with watercolors, and it was delightful.
Yet, drawing won out! Do you think there’s a specific reason why drawing became your everyday practice?
It’s just really easy and cheap. That’s about it! I still dance almost every day, but it’s expensive and you can’t really share it with the world so easily, nor can you do it on an airplane. Drawing costs $3 and takes five minutes and you can do it anywhere. I recommend it to everyone.
Each of your pieces is different, yet you have refined your personal style over the past two years. Do you have artistic (or non-artistic) influences?
I have so many influences and I’m always picking them up! I truly believe “You can’t be what you can’t see.” That’s a great motto for more diverse representation in art, but it applies to so many things. I didn’t know I was “allowed” to be an artist because I’d never seen anyone with a really loose, personal style. Then I picked up a Maira Kalman book and thought, “Oh, I can do this. I’m allowed to do this.”
As my style has progressed the past couple years, I can easily pinpoint some direct influences on my themes and style: Jonny Sun, Sabrina Ward Harrison, Sufjan Stevens, Liana Finck, Jonathan Fields, Brene Brown, and Mary Oliver. I adore illustration as a fine art and there are so many artists I love so much; I like to think they influence my work but I’ll never be as talented as they are. I really love Blanca Gomez, Ricardo Cavolo, and Pascal Campion. Oh my god, Pascal Campion is SO GOOD. Every piece of his evokes enormous emotion.
One of the reasons your artwork drew me in was its stark and direct relatability. It’s as if thousands of us look at your artwork and collectively explain, I HAVE BEEN THINKING/FEELING/WISHING THE SAME! How has illustrating these thoughts and concepts - from hilarious beverage comparisons across decades to the anatomy of the ‘new girlfriend’ changed the way you approach daily interactions and experience?
Haha, thank you! When I started drawing every day, there came a point--perhaps about six months in--where I found that my brain had developed into a sort of observational machine. I could see an illustration in every experience and interaction; it was sort of cool! My mind took over for me so I never experienced a creative block.
About a year in, another artist thought I was plagiarizing her. I don’t blame her at all, but it was a sort of traumatic experience that made me very hesitant to keep sharing work at the risk of that happening again. So, I decided to make my work way more personal. Now it’s less funny and perhaps less observational, possibly less “relatable,” but I’m confident that the work I make is 100% my own and couldn’t have been made first by someone else. At least I don’t think so! I’ve started being a lot more open about parts of myself I was previously nervous to share, like my spirituality, politics, thoughts on illness and death. So my brain doesn’t quite work in the same way anymore, and I’m no longer as observational as I used to be. But oh well! This is my work now, and it makes me equally as happy.
In the very beginning, when your profile was private but you were still committed to your daily practice, did you have sources of support, maybe a person or small group of people cheering you?
Ha, no, not at all! Party of one.
How did that support develop and change as your daily practice launched a much greater and more diverse following?
I am so lucky to have a very supportive group of friends, and unconditionally supportive mom. I’m very lucky to have known myself well at an early age and attract very confident, down-to-earth people who couldn’t care less about Instagram likes and followers. My friends have been everything for me as I navigate this new career and the challenges of being a slightly more public figure. I’m amazed at how supportive they’ve been, from listening to me cry to taking me out for lavish dinners to celebrate 100K followers. The job I have right now can be lonely and isolating; I don’t know how I’d do it without the encouragement and empathy from a very strong group of loved ones.
I have also been very fortunate to find wonderful men who have been encouraging to me as well. It’s not easy to date someone who writes and draws about her romantic experiences in public! I try to be respectful of those relationships, but I know it’s still hard. I found some good ones, who never made me feel like I had to tone it down or change the way I express myself. Sometimes people--even my loved ones!--will insinuate that I may have trouble dating because men are “afraid I’ll write about them.” That’s hurtful, and a poor interpretation of what I do. It also threatens the integrity of what I do; I don’t make art to gossip or get revenge on anybody. And I haven’t had much trouble dating so far!
Anyone who has ever tried to do something every single day can probably attest to the difficulty and crushing blow of missing a day or giving up entirely. What’s been your greatest challenge since taking on this commitment, this leap, every day?
This is something that just isn’t hard for me; it comes so easily and naturally. I certainly struggle with many other commitments! But I never wanted Instagram to feel like a chore or something I was doing for anyone but myself. If it caused me any stress, I wouldn’t do it. I have given up on so many other projects in life, but this one feels spiritual for me and is essential to who I am. It feels as natural as going to sleep every night.
Have there been instances where you wanted to quit? Or tried to rationalize (as we all day) a more comfortable, easy agreement with yourself?
There were three waves of wanting to quit: the first time I experienced trolls, being accused of plagiarism, and then the general strain of feeling overwhelmed by the big business decisions I had to make by myself. The daily drawing has never been hard; it’s all the stuff that comes along with it. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my followers and my platform, but the “behind the scenes” can be very challenging. It is unbearable to read certain hurtful comments, and it feels awful when I can’t get back to everyone who writes to me. I’m still navigating this; I think it’s a lifelong journey for any creative and sensitive (that’s probably redundant!) person. Drawing is the easy part, and obviously interacting with followers is such a joy. But how to find the balance of interactions without getting too influenced by the opinions of strangers? Not sure yet.
Fast-forward to present day - your book launched THIS WEEK.
This compendium of essays and artworks, entirely autobiographical I believe? What’s it like to be compiling, refining, and offering what is essentially your heart and soul onto the market?
It’s just a dream come true. I can’t complain a bit. This has been my dream since I was 5, to put a book into the world. It’s just a dream. It is my heart and soul and the culmination of my creativity and I’m so grateful that anyone wants to read it.
I know, that sounds kind of dramatic. But seriously! The level of pressure in the realm of publishing is crazy, it always has been. And up til recently, art has been your pleasure, your practice. We can both agree on the cosmic importance of Elizabeth Gilber’s quote: “Be a patron of your own art,” but would you share with us what’s going through your mind - hopes, dreams, fears, expectations - as your first book goes to print?
I just really hope that it does well enough that I can keep writing books! I’m working on my next one right now, which feels so special and important to me. If people like and read the first one, it will make publishing more a lot easier! I hope I can do that. It’s such a gift to be able to share my thoughts with the world. I just hope I get to keep doing it forever!
This is a question I always ask as a part of women taking leaps, as misconceptions are rampant consequences of our virtual perceptions of others. If you could dispel one myth about what it’s like being Mari Andrew - whether in relation to your daily practice, your artwork, your personal life experience, or your subsequently resulting fame (if I may call it that) - what would you dispel?
Mmm I think a myth I would dispel in general is that vulnerability is not a cry for help. I, like many artists, write from my heart and my memories and my feelings, but I write with perspective and distance. I am honest about what I’m doing through to an extent because I think honesty is really powerful and healing, not because I need advice. A lot of people send me advice! It’s very sweet, but unnecessary!
I hate to ask so soon as your book is launching this week, which I will continue to congratulate you for because WHAT an accomplishment! But now that it’s completed, you’ve hit this major milestone, and so far as I know, you’re working as a full-time freelancer and artist. What’s next for you, Mari?
Ahhh! I hope I fall in love. I hope I become an awesome flamenco dancer. I hope I am a good friend as I see my friends begin to forge ahead in their life journeys with new careers, relationships, and children. I hope to go back to Brazil. I hope to have fun adventures in Australia on my book tour. And I really hope to get my second book into the world and get to be a writer forever!
Mari Andrew was instantly my friend when I came across her Instagram account. Every day, she publishes an autobiographic - humorous - relatable illustration by her own hand; a practice to which she's maintained dedication for more than two years. To start the year off with a bang, Mari's book Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood published on March 27. Despite setbacks and maintaining a full-time job through most of the writing process, Mari has compiled an impressive collection of personal essays and illustrations to make-up her first-ever publication. Mari's voice is akin the the voice in my head, maybe yours, too. She shares her experiences vulnerably, writes plainly and in language we can understand, and put herself out there even if she doesn't feel confident or doesn't like the work she's producing. One of my favorite quotes from another of Mari's interviews regarding work she might not be particularly fond of: “I usually put it out into the world anyway and see if someone else is fond of it.” (source)
Learn more about Mari and order her new book: