Mari (rhymes with starry) Andrew is the Instagram illustration sensation who asks the biggest questions in the simplest ways. No topic is off-bounds, from the challenges of disability, grief and pain to the hilarities of modern dating. Her first book Am I There Yet, The Loop-deLoop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood is out now and you can follow her on instagram @mariandrew:
How has doing something creative helped you navigate your path?
Putting my energy toward creativity has been such a wonderful pillar for me during some tumultuous (and joyous!) times. It's so nice to have a hobby of any kind that is always there for you, that you can always rely on to make you happy or teach you something new. I have a few of these: journaling, dancing, seeking new music, and of course drawing and writing. I feel really lucky to have these treasured activities which are sort of like friends when times get tough. I would advise anyone to seek out something they love to do, and try to do it regularly.
How do you get the ideas for your illustrations?
From constantly observing and trying to experience as many things as I can! I have a huge appetite for life and I can't get enough of new things, places, people. I developed the "observation muscle" from an early age because I didn't really fit in, and I use it to watch people and take notes.
Do you ever feel nervous or scared to post?
No! I feel nervous about a LOT of things in life, but this isn't one of them. I tell the truth, and I don't post anything out of revenge or in order to heal. I've already done the healing; I post to connect with other people and visually express something that happened to me, which is an interesting challenge.
How important has social media been to your journey?
I'm so grateful for it. I was trying to be a freelance writer for so long, but that necessitates an editor accepting your work! I got rejected a million times. The beauty of Instagram is that it can't reject you! I love the democracy of social media and how anyone can share anything. I'm also so thankful for the relationships I've developed with other artists through Instagram, it's so special.
How do you manage the pressures of social media?
I try to be a safe space on Instagram and cultivate this corner of social media that says "You're welcome here". I'm very lucky that I didn't get Instagram until my late 20s, because I think young people have this crazy pressure that I never experienced! Fortunately, I was pretty solid in my identity and had a wonderful group of friends before I got Instagram.
What do you do when you're feeling down-in-the-dumps?
I am fundamentally a heart person, but secondarily a body person - physical exercise is key to my mental happiness. It was so difficult when I was recovering from paralysis to move through my depression and post-trauma because I couldn't really exercise, so now I try to take advantage of my good health as much as I can and move around a lot. I either take a dance class, go to yoga, or just do an hour of stretching and pathetic attempts at weight-lifting.
What's your Sunday night recipe?
I love Sunday nights! I try to keep them totally clear, usually to take a bath, make bibimbap (Korean mixed rice, my favorite thing to cook), and go to bed early. I love setting the tone for a calm, happy week ahead.
Where do you go in New York to escape?
I live right by my favorite park in the world, Tompkins Square Park. I go there and listen to music or podcasts and watch the dogs at the little dog playground. I also love taking myself out to a bar or out to dinner; I'm very comfortable alone.
How have your expectations about life shifted as you have got older?
Ten years ago, I was 21, and my understanding of success could be boiled down to numbers: how much money I had, how many goals I had crossed off, how many close friends I had, and thank goodness I didn't have social media at the time or social media followers would have factored in for sure! Now my metric of success is all about feeling: How alive do I feel? How much newness am I infusing into my daily life? What adventure will I take next? How happy am I?
Do you think positivity is something you're born with, or can it be cultivated? If so, how?
I think it must be partly genetic, but I do think you can train your brain to see the abundance, good fortune, and delightful things around you. I think that truly joyful people are those who have experienced pain and have really done the work to get out of it and embrace the beauty in their lives. Of course, I see no problem with focusing on the negative in order to grow in empathy, but I think great pain deepens our capacity for true joy and compassion, and for a full life we have to give a big hug to all of it.
And finally, do you have any words or wisdom or life advice for iris readers about growing up?
Embrace uncertainty! Young people have a lot of pressure to find the thing they are really passionate about, but I have so many passions and drawing is just one of many! Uncertainty is a wonderful place to begin.
Mari Andrew is an illustrator who lives and works in New York. Buy her first book now:
Interview by Daisy Allsup. The Iris Letter April 2018.