Last February, Mari Andrew was having a month from hell. Just as she was going through a rough breakup (the day before Valentine’s Day, no less), her dad died. Shortly after, she underwent a surgery that required a lot of recovery time.
To help ease the pain, Andrew turned to art. Although she’d never drawn anything seriously before, the act of illustrating moments from her life helped her process things. “It was a moment where I really had to say, ‘Okay, I’ve got to fend for myself here; how am I going to get through this?” she says now.
Last September, she decided to make it a daily practice by publishing one drawing every day on Instagram. Today, she has more than 150,000 Instagram followers, and she’s about to publish a memoir that she’s been working on for the past four years.
“I grew a little emotionally stronger every day through doing creative activities, and one day I realized I was strong enough to just pull myself up and into real happiness,” she says. In May, she started getting involved in the shared workspace in Park View, the Lemon Bowl, founded by a group of creative women who teach classes on terrarium-building, weaving, and more. She goes there to draw every morning before her non-profit day-job, which she’s quitting in three weeks to focus on her art.
All of her cartoons are taken directly from Andrew’s personal experiences: a bad Tinder date, an insightful reflection of the creative life, the anxieties of ordering food at a restaurant. Since her breakup last year, she’s gotten back into the dating scene, which serves as fodder for many of her illustrations. “I’ll publish something about getting rejected on a date, and so many people relate to it that it makes me feel like, oh we’re just all doing this,” she says “It’s not my own tragedy.”
Her work has gotten attention from a small network of online illustrators, including some from the New Yorker, who encourage her to keep going. That’s the beauty of Instagram, she says. It’s the ultimate equalizer among artists of various levels of experience. Outside of the social media sphere, she gets support from the DC arts community, which took her a couple years to find. “It’s like visiting a speakeasy or something— you kind of know it’s there, but you’re waiting for the right person to take you in.”
Now, here’s a list of our favorites from her Instagram account. Be warned: once you start scrolling, you’ll never stop.