Mari Andrew is a Manhattan-based illustrator and writer. Her watercolors are short pieces of visual poetry that have touched the hearts of many. Mari’s book “Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood” was release this past spring and is already a New York Times Best-Seller. You can find more of her work on her website here.
Interview Conducted & Edited by Tiffany Chan
Cover Image by Clemence Poles
Q: What is your origin story? How did you fall in love with illustration and writing?
I started writing when I was living in South America and didn’t have much else to do! I didn’t know anybody and didn’t speak Spanish so I’d spend my days journaling in cafés, recording all my observations and conversations and thoughts as a 23-year-old who didn’t know what my life was going to look like yet. Five years later I started drawing and, at 31, it works pretty much the same way!
My professional path looks like a twisty road full of surprises! I never intended (or wanted) to be a full-time artist, but I realize I completely hit the jackpot of careers. My work stems from a love of expression and connection, and my values of vulnerability and optimism. I do freelance illustration now because I developed this big portfolio from putting my drawings on Instagram once a day for over a year.
Q: What is the quirkiest side job you’ve ever worked?
Tap dance teacher!
Q: What does a normal day/your normal workflow look like?
My 9-5 is pretty boring; I go to an office and answer emails, prepare invoices, take meetings, do a lot of stuff that nobody really loves doing at their jobs. The fun part comes in the evening when I get to draw or write. I do all that creative work primarily for myself, so it’s a way to relax and express myself, which is a treasured hobby.
Q: What are the greatest rewards of your job?
Connecting with people I never would have met otherwise is SO rewarding!
Q: What are the biggest challenges you faced at your job?
Trying to be a lot of things to a lot of people.
Q: How and when did you know you were a capital-A Artist?
It probably happened a long time ago before I even started drawing as a hobby. I learned at a young age that art doesn’t have to be technically good in order to be moving. You don’t have to even “get it” to appreciate it. So it was pretty easy for me to start calling myself an artist once I began putting a pen to paper.
Q: What was your creative process like for your new book? Was it the same for previous projects?
I’ve been writing it for seven years, so it was a long and complicated process! I wrote essays as they came to me over time–I didn’t sit down to start writing a book. It was a very long, organic, very pure process. It’s really a collection of my creative pursuits over the past few years.
Q: When beginning any illustration, what are the most important considerations that make up the design of a piece?
I don’t think I’ve ever thought about it! I just have to make sure they fit into my phone’s square camera mode, since that’s how they’re going to go on instagram.
Q: What inspires you? What motivates you on a daily basis?
I’m motivated by my own delight! Whatever makes me happy, I try to infuse a lot more of that into my life.
Q: What is your creative process like? Is it the same each time? How do you get out of a creative rut?
I don’t really get into ruts because I do all my creative pursuits just for me and just for fun. If I’m doing art for a job, that’s another story, but I work with other people on that so it’s a little different. If I get into a rut or I’m not feeling it, I just don’t do it.
Q: The topics of your illustrations (and presumably the new book) are so important but also reveal the vulnerabilities of your personal life and of early adulthood in general. Writing a book is no small task-why was it so important to you that this was the focus of the book?
I wrote the book for me, as a record of what I went through and how I moved through it. It was a total pleasure to do and a dream come true to publish it. It was very difficult, for sure, but the focus never really shifted from recording these important markers and moments in my life. I don’t know if it’s so much about early adulthood as it is one person’s story, and it was an honor to share that in a way that I hope provides space for others to own their stories as well.
Q: Were you ever scared/apprehensive/nervous to put your work out on the internet? Were you ever scared about how people would receive it and/or to put yourself “out there” emotionally and psychologically?
No, that’s one thing that just comes easy to me! So many things DO NOT come easily for me, but putting my work on the internet feels very natural. I have a wonderful group of friends and I feel very loved, so I don’t really care what the internet thinks of me and my life!
Q: What is the best/snarkiest/most memorable response someone has had to your work?
I love hearing that people use my art to explain their feelings to loved ones. That’s so special.
Q: Were there every moments throughout your career when you doubted yourself/what you were doing? How did those moments resolve?
Oh sure, I do every day! But I always try to come back to the question, “Am I having fun? Would I do this even if nobody looked at it?” If the answers are yes, then I’m succeeding in all my goals.
Q: What is an unexpected (yet invaluable) skill that you have had to pick up “on the job”/along the way?
Oh yes! Public speaking, for sure. Being “on” even when I’m tired. Showing a lot of people that I really value them and care for them. I’m an introvert, so none of this comes very naturally, but it’s key to my job and to my personal mission.
Q: What is the best advice that someone ever gave you? Alternatively, what is the advice you would give your younger self or someone starting out in the field?
Practically-speaking, I’m really glad that someone urged me to be consistent early on–at least in my style and in my posting. I think consistency is the key to growing an audience over time. It wasn’t easy for me because there are so many ways I express myself and so many different ways I want to say things, but having a consistent practice and the accountability to create new work every day was so helpful for me both personally and professionally. I’d give the same advice to anyone starting out. I’d also advise anybody starting out to make sure that their metric for success is not one specific outcome. You don’t want to make yourself miserable or sacrifice so much for one very specific dream that is dependent on a lot of external factors. My dream was to write a book, but I knew that I could do it even if it meant self-publishing or making it into an e-book. I didn’t really care what the final outcome was, and that made me enjoy the process so much more.
Just for fun…
Q: Can you recommend a wine and cheese (any comfort food/drink combination) to us?
A grapefruit margarita with mushroom tacos!!!
Q: What do you do for self-care?
I spend a LOT of time around people who uplift me and inspire me and make me laugh. Every once in a while I write a list of people who really make me happy to be around, and I make sure that I put dates on the calendar with them.