Mari Andrew on Doodles, Self-Reflection, and Her New Book

The "Am I There Yet?" author chatted with us about her graphic memoir, the inspiration behind her art, and expanding definitions of self-care.

Chances are if you’ve been on Instagram in the last couple years, you’ve seen Mari Andrew’s doodles – and hardcore related to them. Mari has a talent for making us feel seen through her observations and drawings. She takes really complex emotions and experiences and translates them to a simple drawing, chart, or thought that just so perfectly captures what we can’t always articulate ourselves. This spring, her doodles took on new shape as she published “Are We There Yet?” so we spoke to her about the feelings, collaboration, reflection, and doodles it took to make it all come to life.

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TC: You started drawing in 2015, after an extremely tough personal year. Growing up, did you have any inkling that this is what you wanted to do? When did you first realize you were really, really good at this?

MA: Oh my gosh! Am I good? I’m sure my friends would find that hilarious! Well I’m definitely not good at drawing; I never really advanced past kindergarten scribbles. I think I am probably good at observation and self-reflection, which I didn’t realize came easily for me until I started putting my daily notes into these doodles. It was something that came very naturally to me after such a bleak period of losing my father and a significant romantic relationship – I just had so many feelings to express!

I always loved drawing in the margins of my notebook in school, but never in a billion years did I think a career in art – or even writing – was accessible to me. I thought I had to be an artist in order to do art. Isn’t that funny? I didn’t realize that to be an artist you just have to…start drawing. It still feels bizarre to call myself an artist, but I’m 31 and don’t have time for that insecurity anymore!

And now you have a book coming out – congrats! What did your creative process look like while working on it?

Oh, what a total joy it was to work on that. It was more collaborative than anything I had done before, even though it was a very personal memoir. I was working with multiple editors and an art director, which was so interesting. Even though my art on Instagram is obviously public, I control the whole thing; I post what I want, whenever I want, and truly don’t feel accountable to anybody but myself. I use my account to process my feelings and express what I’ve learned about myself, whereas my book had to appeal to a wider audience. It was my own story of grief, heartbreak, and finding myself; but there were a lot of hands on it! I actually loved that – creating by myself can be quite lonely and it was really fun to work with a team and create this baby together!

Why was it important for you to bring this book to life?

When I was grieving the loss of my father, I remember that other people’s stories meant everything to me. They were a life raft. They made me realize, ‘Someone else was here, and got through it.’ I remember silently thanking all these artists and writers for putting themselves out there and telling their story because it truly helped me survive what I was going through. It gave me hope and solace essential to emotional growth.

There was nothing that would stop me from writing this book about all the uncertainties of my twenties culminating in this period of great loss, even though the book got rejected 40 times! I’m so grateful to the few people who really believed in it, and were so supportive along the way.

Your followers love that you care and feel in a very expressive way – something a lot of us can relate to, but aren’t always encouraged to act on. How do you decide which emotions or experiences to illustrate and share?

It's a personal policy that I don't post anything until I'm healed from it.

So I might feel very strongly at a certain point in life and make a bunch of art out of it, but I’ll wait a few months before I post it. I just don’t want to ever get in the habit of healing along with the internet! That’s a bit too much at this point. I try to talk it out with friends and a therapist, and then post when I feel like I have the perspective to do so. I’d recommend this practice to others!

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Were you surprised to learn anything about yourself in the book-writing-and-illustrating process?

It’s more like I’m surprised by other people. I’m just amazed at how similar we all are. I was such a misfit in adolescence and college; I never thought I’d be “relatable” to anyone really. I love that I can post something specific to one of my relationships, and I get comments from Indonesian teenagers, bikini models, goth girls, and 60-year-old men. We are all so, so similar.

What is inspiring you right now, in either your writing/drawing process or in life in general?

Optimism is inspiring me right now. I think people who look at joyful, hopeful people and think ‘They’re naive’ don’t realize how much work it takes to be joyful and hopeful.

Whenever I see someone who is truly positive, I assume they've been to hell and back, and have done a lot of work to get to the place where they are today.

I’m trying to make 2018 all about gratitude, and of course it’s so hard some days, but that’s the work. I’m very inspired by activists who are keeping hope alive for so many.

What advice would you give other aspiring female authors and artists?

Okay, I know this sounds so basic, but “be yourself.” Ugh, yes cheesy, but it’s the one thing that nobody else can do. If you feel like nobody “gets” you, that’s a great sign – it means that you have a very specific perspective and voice to share. It means that there are other people who feel like nobody “gets” them, and if they hear your story, they’ll feel so much better. I can’t tell you how many people told me, implicitly or explicitly, that I had nothing to share and no talent that the world needed or wanted. I thought this meant I had to be like someone else, but whenever I did that, my voice was just watered down. Don’t water yourself down! The world needs your full flavor.

We won’t ask you to pick favorites, but are there any illustrations (or a few of them!) that stick out in your head as ones you’re particularly proud of or were momentous for you in a certain way?

The illustrations that mean the most to me are the ones with tear stains on them! I’m always grateful for super-emotional moments – whether painful or joyful – where I’m able to take a step back and make an observation about how I’m feeling. That ability makes me proud. I’m also proud of a lot of the ones I’ve never posted because they’re too personal or too incriminating of somebody! Even though it’s tempting, I’m glad I’m able to restrain myself from sharing some things that shouldn’t be shared.

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Illustration by Mari, herself!


What does self-care mean to you at this moment in your life?

It changes every day, and that’s what self-care should always be. Sometimes it’s a yoga class or a bath, and sometimes it’s a fun night out on the town! Self-care doesn’t always have to look like crystals and candles. I’m an introvert, but when I’m really going through pain, I know it’s healthy for me to spend a lot of time around people.

"What do I need today?" and "What sounds good to me today?" are two self-caring questions to ask often.

Any self-care advice for writers, authors, and creatives in particular?

Check in with how much you’re enjoying it. I follow some writer/artist meme accounts and am always dismayed by how much they focus on “the struggle” of it. Yes, writing a book or creating a career is very hard work, but it shouldn’t be something you suffer for. I was really sick last year to the point where I wasn’t able to write or draw for several months, and that was so sad. I missed it terribly. I realized that I love drawing and writing because they’re really fun, not because they earn me any accolades. Start with joy and relaxation, and create goals from that place.

What are you reading right now?

Well, That Escalated Quickly by Franchesca Ramsey. It’s a great book for anybody who gets very personal on social media, and don’t we all?

What does your ideal night in look like?

Pad thai, red wine, and drawing.

Any favorite self-care rituals or products at the moment?

Going out dancing to my favorite hip-hop club, red lipstick from NARS, and a great moisturizer with sunscreen. I like Image SPF 50.

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Plant mom or pet mom?

Fake plant! I desperately wish I could have a cat in my apartment, but I travel too much. I’d get married just to have someone to take care of a cat.

Athleisure or bathleisure?

I love a good pair of leggings for a walk/jog around the East Village. Athleisure!

Good book or good podcast?

Podcasts keep me company all day long, but so do audio books! Can I have both?

Cook or order in?

Order in! I have the best Vietnamese takeout place near my apartment.

Crafting or bingeing a show?

They go hand-in-hand for me, but right now I’m bingeing Golden Girls and nothing is better than that.

Photos by Anjali Pinto and Heidi Garcia.

Follow Mari on Instagram. Order Am I There Yet? The Loop-De-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood here. To join in on conversations like this one, sign up to receive our weekly newsletter here.

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