“Use your shitty situations to make your life better.”
These are the words Mari Andrew lives by. Fuelled by heartache, grief and illness, the Washington DC-based marketer began translating her emotions into one drawing a day back in 2015, posting them to Instagram as she went to keep herself accountable.
“I was trying to do things that made me happy more often, and this was one pretty easy and cheap contribution I could make to my own personal happiness,” Mari says.
By month 11, she had 110,000 followers – a number which has steadily risen to more than half a million. And as her crowd of admirers grows, so too do her opportunities. She is the talent behind the illustrations on Zoe Foster-Blake’s new app, Break-Up Boss, and recently signed her first book deal, due to be released in March next year.
“A kind young woman recently told me that she used my drawings to show her husband what she was dealing with as she was grieving the loss of her mother, and it was the first time he really understood her feelings.”
Mari’s illustrations are raw, honest and relatable, covering self-esteem, broken hearts, and career highs and lows. There’s the rejection illustrations inspired by the heartache that comes with being vulnerable on Tinder, the drawings she created while she was paralysed for a month after contracting rare auto-immune disease Guillain-Barré syndrome, and the etchings drawn while coping with the death of her father.
“The hardest part of grieving my dad was the tremendous loss of memory that went with him; I’m an only child, so I felt like half my childhood memories were buried with him,” she says. “I drew a basket of memories with two hands holding it, and then just one hand. This is the simplest way I could describe that aspect of loss.”
When Mari started out, she set herself a goal – to receive one comment that made her feel like somebody “got it”. Now, she receives an influx of heartfelt messages daily.
“A kind young woman recently told me that she used my drawings to show her husband what she was dealing with as she was grieving the loss of her mother, and it was the first time he really understood her feelings,” she says. “My Instagram account sometimes feels like a diary that talks back to me.”
Mari has always looked to creativity as a way to work through her emotions, whether it’s through dance, writing, or drawing.
“It’s one of many ways that I heal myself and understand myself,” she says. “Doing it in a very public way has added a layer of cosiness, because I get so many comments that say, essentially, ‘me too’.”
No matter the emotion you’re trying to work through, Mari believes unleashing your inner creative spirit can help to start your healing journey, too. We asked for her advice to help you get started.
Mari Andrew’s advice for unleashing your inner creative spirit
1. Create reason and purpose out of everything you go through
Your experiences are yours to claim and shape any way you like. “Use your shitty situations for art, use them for empathy, use them as a good story on your next date,” Mari says. “Don’t let them sit there weighing you down.”
2. Find your favourite way to make yourself happy and do it every day
This might be a new creative outlet, an old passion you revive or simply something you enjoy doing. You don’t need to explain why, just do it, says Mari. “You will start seeing your negative emotions as fuel rather than a damper,” she says.
3. Don’t give yourself excuses about self-indulgence
Not everyone will like your art, and they don’t have to. “Creating art and sharing art is a wonderful service to you and to others,” Mari says. “Aren’t you happy that musicians and filmmakers and writers you like triumphed over insecurity in order to touch your life for the better?”
4. Erase the line between ‘artist’ and ‘someone who makes art’
“I used to think I was only allowed to make art if I were an actual artist, whatever the hell that means,” Mari says. “Then, I started doodling at age 28 with the sole purpose of making myself laugh, and poof! I’m an artist now.” And while you’re climbing to that point, she says to ensure you bring your authentic self to everything you do. “People will thank you for it,” she says.
5. Don’t make excuses that get in the way of your own joy out of ‘busyness’
Mari drew to make herself happy. She marked out time for her outlet on the calendar along with other things that made her happy: go to a concert once a month, have her best friend over for wine once a week, take a long walk every morning. “Once you get in the habit of making time for your own happiness, it’s pretty addictive and easy to keep up,” she says.