You know those aha! moments you get when you’re reading a captivating book, watching a wisdom-filled movie or listening to a Taylor Swift breakup song and you think “Thank you for so wonderfully articulating my innermost feelings in a more elegant way than I ever could?” DC-based writer and illustrator Mari Andrew provides those exact feels to her 300K Instagram followers with the insightful illustrations (and accompanying captions) she posts every day. We chatted with Mari about her creative process, how she stays motivated and how it’s never too late to discover your life passion. Because we fully trust someone that already seems to be inside our heads.
B+C: Your illustrations are so complex and straightforward at the same time. There’s an emotional maturity and technical skill that we can’t get enough of. Have you always been an artist?
MA: I’m 30 and I started when I was 28 — no training whatsoever! I never allowed myself to pursue anything creative in school or in my career. It wasn’t until my late 20s when I was like, “What the hell, I’m just going to draw totally for fun.” Beginning a bit later in life, I didn’t feel like I was competing with anyone and I could really do it just for the pleasure of making something.
B+C: Is illustrating your full-time gig or a part-time hobby? What sorts of projects are you working on now?
MA: I quit my job a couple months ago to work on a book! Additionally, I do some commissions and editorial work, but it’s still very new for me. I’m just now learning all the tricks of freelancing, like what to charge. I crave stability and I’ve always liked going to a regular job and then doing hobbies on the side. I’m still adjusting to the rhythm of working for myself.
B+C: As a freelancer, you can work from anywhere! Do you prefer working from home or in a co-working space?
MA: It was a financial strain, but I started renting an art studio space a few months ago because I liked having a designated place to do my work — sort of like how you don’t need to join a gym to exercise, but it can be motivating. So I rent a studio along with a few other female artists, and I really enjoy the community support of it. Making art can feel isolating, so it’s nice to talk about it with others.
B+C: Do you have a “typical day” or a routine that works for you? Are there times of day that you feel most productive or creative?
MA: For now, I have a very luxurious lifestyle; I make myself a delicious breakfast, answer emails in the morning, go to yoga at noon and then do creative work in the afternoons and evenings. My creative bursts come in the early mornings and late at night. I love waking up early, and I love staying up late to work. I do my best work with either a mug of coffee or glass of wine, so afternoons are a wash for me.
B+C: We look forward to a new Instagram illustration from you every morning. How did the idea for the daily practice come about?
MA: I started my daily illustration as a very personal project that I never expected to share with anyone. I wanted to practice drawing every day because it made me happy, starting with little observations that evolved into more comic-style stories. I’ve always been a writer and I sort of consider my illustrations to be “mini-essays” that express something that happened to me or something on my mind.
B+C: Do you create an illustration the night before you post it or do you create several posts at once, as they come to you?
MA: I do much of my most meaningful work when I’m very emotional and right in the thick of my feelings. Then, other times, I need a bit more perspective or distance from the situation before drawing it out. Sometimes I’ll draw something that actually happened to me years ago that popped up for some reason. It’s all autobiographical, so it all happened to me at some point — even if it was a decade ago!
B+C: What has having a daily habit done for your creative process? Would you recommend the practice for someone who’s looking to strengthen their own skills?
MA: I’d recommend a daily creative practice to everyone! It really helps build your “muscle” so I rarely experience any kind of writer/artist block. When I do, I post something mediocre and know that I’ll get a better idea soon. I don’t think it’s wise for me to wait until genius strikes because that’s a ton of pressure. Productivity definitely begets productivity.
B+C: What about for your professional growth? We imagine the daily posting has been critical to your success and exposure.
MA: The daily practice changed my career in that social media “success” is so much about consistency. To anyone trying to build a platform, I’d recommend posting every day, at the same time if possible. I didn’t set out to do this, but I see in hindsight how much it helped to become part of people’s routines.
B+C: Do you base your illustrations on real people or are they more like archetypes you’ve come up with? Does posting about a real person ever give you pause that they’ll get upset about it?
MA: They’re [the illustration subjects] pretty much all real people! I’m always pretty careful about what I post. I never want it to feel like revenge or gossip. I don’t think there’s any value in art that comes from a place of spite and anger, so I usually try to get some perspective before I draw out those stronger emotions. I hope my dates realize this.
B+C: One reason your illustrations are so relatable is because they feel so honest and personal. What’s it like to put out something so raw for others to see?
MA: All my creative heroes are very vulnerable and talk openly about what they’re going through. I love that, and I’ve been so positively affected by it that I try to do the same thing for other people to let them know they’re not alone. It’s not that I have thick skin (totally the opposite), but I got picked on a lot growing up, and I realized pretty early on in life that there was no point to being anything other than yourself. I’m thankful for being a somewhat weird child who never felt a need to fit in or seem perfect to others. This is a good skill in adulthood, it turns out!
B+C: Do you ever get critical or mean-spirited comments on your Instagram posts? It seems like dealing with negativity is part of the package, but we imagine it can be hard to hear criticism about something so personal.
MA: I’m actually much more scared about putting out the less personal stuff — political or social commentary. Whenever I do that, I get a lot of criticism for it. I’m super sensitive and criticism is really hard for me. I get it all the time and it still throws off my whole day. I don’t care as much when people leave weird/rude comments on my personal posts because I know they’re just projecting and they don’t know my whole story, but it’s really upsetting when I post something about feminism or another issue I care about and the nasty trolls come out. I’m SO pleased that Instagram lets you turn off comments now!
B+C: Since we just started a new year, New Year’s resolutions are obviously on our brain. Do you have any professional or creative resolutions you can share?
MA: My biggest resolution this year is to finish a book I’m really proud of. It’s set to come out in spring 2018, so this year will be all about finessing it and making it the best it can be. It will be full of essays and illustrations and it makes me jittery just thinking about it. I’m so nervous and excited and can’t wait to have this physical object that I created.
I worked really hard in 2016 to make this all happen, so another big creative resolution is to play around and relax more. I’m going to spend some time in Europe this winter and I hope to explore other forms of art and just enjoy the creative process, not let it wear me down or tire me out (as it did many times in 2016). At the end of the day, I’m an illustrator because it’s relaxing and makes me feel happy. I want to return to that and just have fun with it.
B+C: Do you have any upcoming projects (other than the book, exciting!) you can share with us?
MA: I have a Skillshare class on my own creative process that launched January 16!
This piece is part of our new project “Year in Women.” Check out all the women featured:
(Photo via Carol Wild Photography)