You’ve probably stumbled upon one of Mari Andrew’s illustrations somewhere on the web.

Coming across one on your Instagram feed is like receiving a big virtual hug.

A DC-based writer and illustrator, Mari offers an honest, relatable perspective to common situations, from moving to heartbreak to navigating issues of mental health. Her work tugs at your heart-strings in a comforting way, as if to say, “You are not alone.” 

With over 500K followers on Instagram, that message is reaching a lot of people. But before it was a viral platform, Mari’s Instagram was an accountability tool. She started with the simple intention of creating and sharing one illustration a day. She’s grown in fame since then, but that core action of drawing to process emotion every day remains the same.

We chatted with her about the artistic process and what defines an artist (spoiler: it’s the “doing” part), the common theme of vulnerability in her work and life in general, and more.

What’s your “career path” looked like up until now?

M: [Legit LOL.] It’s looked like: a barista, a legal assistant, a boutique manager, a marketing associate, a gymnastics teacher, an ESL tutor, and always an aspiring freelance writer. Safe to say I’m still on a career path, and I hope to be forever! Good material for my writing 🙂

What project(s) are on the horizon?

M: I wrote a book of essays and illustrations, coming out in March 2018! It’s taking over the whole horizon right now, like a big giant sunset.

Talk to me about “vulnerability” across all aspects of life. What feelings does that word spark in you?

M: It’s such a part of who I am, just in my genetic makeup or something, to want to express myself and share my feelings. I’ve always been overwhelmingly emotional. I remember crying for hours when I was a kid because I was feeling what I can now identify as “nostalgia” because I saw an old phone and thought it was so lovely I couldn’t stand it. The only way I could get through these foreign heavy emotions is to write about them, and sharing them gave me a sense of validation–”other people feel this way too.” I think it’s wonderful for people to work toward vulnerability because it almost always benefits others, but for me personally, sharing is how I naturally function. It’s how I connect and feel like I’m not a complete alien weirdo person.

At half a million followers on Instagram, you can definitely claim your work has gone “viral.” With that level of influential platform, what do you see your message as? 

M: The overarching message is always “you can do this too.” I started drawing at age 28 with zero previous experience except for doodles on notebook margins. All my ideas come from my life and all my supplies come from the drugstore. The line between “person who draws” and “artist” is nonexistent.

Art isn’t ever created in a vacuum, and inspiration can be tough to track. Off the top of your head, which artists inspire you on a regular basis? 

M: Many other illustrators–my favorite is @lianafinck. She’s such a good writer. She inspires me to go a little deeper into my immediate feelings and see what else is there besides the obvious. I also love any artist who works from a place of relaxation and joy, since illustrating is very soothing and happy for me. I love all Brazilian music for this reason, as well as Chance the Rapper, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Lizzo, Josh Ritter, Jonny Sun, and my samba dance teacher.

We’re always curious to hear about how artists maintain balance in our digital age. How do you “unplug”?

M: By drawing! I started doing it in part because it was NOT an activity that required any technology. I also do “Morning Pages” (writing 3 pages free-hand when I first get up) which sets the tone for a relatively unplugged day. Key word is “relatively!”

How do you feel your work has changed since last year’s election, if it has at all?

M: I draw to process how I feel on any given day, so I make political drawings when it’s on my mind. I wouldn’t say it’s changed my work, just given me something additional to process!

Did you ever get “Illustrator’s Block” when you first started the one illustration a day project? Do you now?

M: It used to be hard to think of ideas, but now I think my brain is trained to see them everywhere! That’s what happens when you do something every day. Also, as much as I enjoy doing an illustration a day, it comes from what I feel like expressing at that moment. It’s a diary for me–although I often reference things that happened to me a long time ago. I always try to keep perspective: If Instagram were to disappear tomorrow, would I still do this? Yes, absolutely. So the project doesn’t control the work. At this point, if I didn’t have anything to draw, I just wouldn’t!

 

What kind of writing do you like to do?

M: My favorite is writing letters and emails. I have a tattoo of an envelope, I enjoy it so much.

 

How are you feeling about your upcoming move to NYC?

M: My move has been postponed until I fully recover from an autoimmune disease I got in March, so it feels a bit distant at this point. Exciting, but distant. New York is a comforting, healing, and inspiring city for me so I will feel so happy and lucky to be there. For now, I feel happy and lucky to be taking my time as I get my strength back so I can walk at NYC pace.

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