It often takes trauma and heartbreak to push people into their most creative, inspired places. Such a narrative is common across artists and writers, and is similarly true for Mari Andrew, illustrator and founder of a daily illustration Instagram account, @bymariandrew, now with over half a million followers. Each of Andrew’s illustrations comes with a moral, lesson, or relatable sentiment that she’s learned in dealing with heartbreak, illness, and life transitions. The McGill Tribune spoke to Andrew via email about her story, her growth as an artist, and her advice for first-time illustrators.
The McGill Tribune (MT): How did you get your start in illustrating? What led you to pick up your first set of brushes?
Mari Andrew (MA): I started illustrating when I was about 2 years old; I don't see much of a difference between what I was doing then and what I'm doing now! I draw to make myself happy, and always have. I've always drawn simply to make myself smile and laugh, and started really doing it in earnest when I was going through a particularly rough time a year ago. Now I draw not only to make myself happy, but to heal and understand myself better.
MT: How long after you started drawing did you begin putting your work on Instagram? What led to this decision?
MA: I started doing a drawing a day on Instagram a year ago because it was one of many new habits that I began to make my life closer to the life I actually wanted to be living. I realized I wasn't doing a lot of things regularly that made me happy, so I actually started putting happiness on the calendar: making sure I was regularly going to movies and concerts, and drawing just for fun. I started my Instagram to keep myself accountable to the daily doodle.
MT: Have you noticed any changes or growth in your work as an artist since you first began illustrating?
MA: I've grown a lot! It's fun for me to witness, as the actual artist, because I draw for the purpose of processing my life and bringing more joy to my daily routine. As I've grown as an artist, I think I've become better at processing my experiences quickly, and it brings me more joy. I've honed in on my style a lot more, and now I'm able to think of illustrations more quickly than I did a year ago.
MT: You’re now working full-time as an illustrator—what was it like to take this career leap, and have you felt any shifts in your work since doing so?
MA: It didn't feel like much of an option to keep my day job and do my illustration on the side. I am all for having a day job. I think it's great to have stability in both your daily structure and finances. However, it got to a point where I didn't have time to have a job! I'm working really hard on a book right now, and I couldn't give it all the energy it deserved if I were also working my nine-to-five job. I might go back to one at some point because the stability is really lovely, but right now, I feel like I have too much to do and say through illustrating!
MT: I think many of your followers on Instagram look forward to seeing your work on their feeds every day because each piece has a message or a sage piece of advice about life, pain, happiness. Have you ever felt blocked in coming up with insights to share in your work, or overwhelmed by pressure to be profound, funny, or creative?
MA: No, thank god! I'm a pretty self-conscious person in general, but this is one area of my life where I feel very free. Creating each illustration is pure joy. I rarely worry about it or feel frustrated by blocks; it's just one thing I really love to do and I'm lucky to have found it. I don't really feel any pressure surrounding it, because I began the project as a very personal endeavor just to bring more levity, humor, and relaxation to my life. It's the most relaxing part of my day, making those drawings, and I would quit if it became stressful!
MT: What do you think of the art community on Instagram? Do you ever feel any competition with other artists, or is it all love and support?
MA: It is all love and support! Everyone has been incredibly kind to me, from the very beginning. I think artists can be a bit competitive because we're all trying to make our unique voices heard, but I haven't personally experienced that. If you're confident in what you're doing, if it brings you happiness, you don't care what anyone else is doing. You can just admire it without being possessive or jealous. I'm lucky to have made some great artist friends via Instagram, and all of them have been so encouraging to me.
I miss drawing so much! Thank you a million times over in every language for your beautiful, empathetic comments. They got me through a very tough week of rehabilitation. My hands are slowly getting stronger and I can't wait to draw out all the ideas pressing against my head, desperate to come out! 🙂
MT: Do you have any advice for students looking to get started in drawing but don’t know where to begin, or don’t know their own potential yet?
MA: Pick up a pen! This is my only advice. There is no line between "someone who makes art" and "artist." Just start today. Start now. Stop reading this and start drawing. Do it consistently, do it boldly, do it for your own personal enjoyment. If you like what you're doing, it won't matter if you get rejected or if not everyone gets it. Your relationship with your own art is fantastically fulfilling.
MT: Are there any plans or projects on the horizon for you that you can share?
MA: I have a book coming out in March 2018, and I'm really excited about it! I've been working on it for basically 10 years, so it's a dream come true. I wish I could tell my 20-year-old self that this is finally happening. She'd be thrilled!