Interview by Madeleine Dore
Photography by Stephanie Geddes
Writer and illustrator
Mari Andrew says she feels lucky for having a ‘meandering’ career path in her 20s. It's a refreshing stance amongst the unrelenting external and the internal expectations to know what you are doing, to achieve success early, or at least see some signposts of it.
Throughout her 20s, Mari worked various jobs in marketing, fashion, not-for-profits, cafes and restaurants. It wasn't until she was twenty-eight and experiencing a heavy bout of grief and heartbreak, that Mari began illustrating as a way to bring a sense of joy back into her days.
“I wanted to find ways to make myself happy and mentally strong. All of that was done through routine – drawing once a day, taking guitar lessons twice a week, doing yoga, waking up earlier, even just learning how to do my hair in new ways.”
Just a few years after posting a new illustration to social media each day, Mari has amassed over 770,000 Instagram followers and lives solely off her creative work. “I started illustrating just for fun, and about a year later I was too busy to have a day job anymore.”
While a small change to her daily routine catapulted Mari towards unanticipated creative success, the preceding decade of odd jobs remain vital material for her illustration work. Openly sharing the zig-zag nature of her trajectory, Mari’s observations and advice offers comfort to the many twenty-somethings – or any-somethings – who haven’t experienced early success, or quite figured out what they want to do in their career.
It’s a theme closely linked to the themes in her first book, Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood.
"Looking back, it's clear the the loops, zigzags, stops and detours didn't take me off course; they pushed me forward."
Known for her relatable illustrations, the book brings her ‘true love’ of writing to the fore. "I identify as a writer and writing is my true love, but I think everyone knows me as an illustrator."
Mari has a way of bringing any slightly ajar circumstance towards a positive centre – rendering a meandering path as lucky; a heartbreak as creative inspiration; or rock bottom as a place to begin anew.
"I used to have so many dreams for myself and then they never eventuated. When life is going pretty well, you don't need change and action the way that you need it when you're in a really dark place," she said.
"That’s the beauty of hitting rock bottom – you are desperate to change your life, and when you are desperate, you do it. I had no choice but to turn myself into the person that I always wanted to be – I wasn't just drawing every day because it was a nice thing to do, it was saving me."
Having recently moved to New York City and juggling several clients alongside her personal work and a book tour, Mari is in a fine place in life – and admittedly finding it much harder to stick to a routine.
“My personal illustration work is what I put most of my energy into because it's my greatest passion. But equally, I don't think you can sustain that level of passion eight hours a day. You have to answer a lot of emails too!”
What the image of a freelance writer and illustrator living in New York has an undeniable tint of glamour, Mari admits she often misses the humdrum routine of a day job.
“I liked having an office job with a very monotonous routine as it gave me the mental freedom to have a more creative life outside of work,” she said.
“Now, I am at this interesting place where I don't really have a routine at all – every day is different, and that's not something I ever wanted for myself. When people would say, ‘Oh I love my job because no two days are the same,’ I would think, ‘That sounds terrible!’
Despite the newfound variety in her work routine, Mari shares how she builds rituals into her day – from starting her day dancing to Bossa Nova music, to listening to a podcast as she unwinds – and reminds us that it’s often the small things that keep us together.
A day in the life of Mari Andrew
The first thing that I do in the morning is share my daily Instagram post. I've been doing that for the past two and a half years, and I think being part of someone's morning routine was one of the things that helped grow my following. But it also means I feel like I can't really sleep in – if I do, I will have haunting dreams about it, which is so silly because no one's going to die if I don't post before 8am!
After I post, I put my phone away. I don't want to look at the comments in the morning because no matter how many nice ones there may be, unfortunately my brains – like most people's – is always scanning for the negative and it can ruin my day. I definitely don't want to look at the news or Twitter for a while, either – I really need to ease into that. Usually, I'll just check my email and see if there are any fires I need to put out.
I find that when I really take the time to have a good morning and ease into the day – which is about an hour-long process – I have such a better day.
My favourite thing to do is put on some Bossa Nova music. When I went to Brazil two years ago, I stayed in an AirBnB for two weeks and every morning the hosts would have Bossa Nova playing in the morning. I thought this is the nicest way to begin a day. It's relaxing, it's uplifting!
I always make breakfast because I'm one of those people who wakes up starving. Lately, I've been making this meal that I had when I was in hospital for a month last year in Spain. It was mostly a horrible experience, but the food was great! The breakfast I had every morning was very typical of southern Spain – half a toasted baguette with the rubbings of fresh tomato and olive oil.
On a perfect day, I would write what I'm grateful for and assess my schedule to make sure I'm feeling clear on everything because I can easily become overwhelmed by a to-do-list.
Overall, my mornings are very important for making sure I'm feeling positive – doing stretches, washing my face, taking care of myself, dancing around, that kind of thing, just being happy.
At around nine or ten I will take the subway to my little studio – I still like to feel like a commuter, but working as a freelancer means I get to miss rush hour, so it's even better!
It’s really hard for me to work from home, it’s hard for a lot of people I think. Anyone who's not an illustrator might think I can just draw anywhere, but I really need a designated space to work – I need that separation and punctuation to my day.
I will often take a dance class near my studio – that’s a fun way to start the day. Although, once I take a dance class in the morning, it can be a little harder to get back in the studio!
My studio isn't really my favourite place to be, so I try to be pretty productive when I'm there so I don't have to stay too long. I’ll usually answer my emails to start, which is really tedious – so much of my day is invoicing, writing emails and figuring out the logistics of working on a project. Very little of it is actually drawing. The life of an artist is not super-glamorous, but some of it is.
I always take a break for lunch and almost always have the same thing, which is a poke bowl from a place nearby.
I try to treat myself really well during the day and make sure that I'm moving and eating and giving my eyes a break from screens.
More often than not, I'll do an illustration in the late afternoon to post the next morning, but it depends. My personal work is a bit sporadic – sometimes I'll have fifteen ideas at once and I'll just draw a whole bunch and then post them online over the next couple of weeks.
Drawing is no longer a daily ritual, but it can be depending on what I'm going through. Sometimes if I've just broken up with someone, or if I'm feeling really emotional about something in my life or politics, I'll have a burst of creative energy.
I probably spend about six hours at the studio each day, and I'll often have a glass of wine at five – that really marks the end of day because I can't work very well after I've had a glass!
Then I’ll usually read fun stuff on the internet, catch up on news or talk to a friend.
I kind of look like a mess most of the day because I’m usually exercising and running around. So in the evening I'll take a shower and put on makeup and emerge.
Even though I am an introvert, I almost always have something going on in the evening. I usually spend the entire day by myself, so it's nice to have a reason to dress up and get out into the city – whether it’s going out for dinner, visiting a pop-up shop, or going on a date.
In my late 20s I was on dating apps and going on a date a couple of times a week. Even though I don't date as much anymore, I can still remember what that was like and draw on those experiences in my art. Since moving to New York, I've only been dating people I've met through mutual friends, or Instagram! I think Instagram's the new Tinder, that's been kind of fun. [Laughs]
I don't know what it is – maybe I've been on too many dates – but I feel like I can only do one at a time now. If I go on one date with someone, until we stop seeing each other, I can't do any more. I have to be very focused; I have to give it all my energy.
I really like the fast pace of New York – I don't know how long it's going to last, so I just really appreciate it right now. I also realise I am in a pretty great place in my life right now where I don't have a lot of responsibility. I have a pretty relaxed schedule when all is said and done. I have a lot of wonderful people in my life who are always doing interesting things. I really try to take advantage of that.
I try not to stay out too late, so I’ll usually be home around 11pm. I definitely need eight hours of sleep or I'm kind of useless the next day.
As I wash my face, change, and get ready for bed, I always have a podcast going. I listen to podcasts a lot because I live alone and it's nice to have someone talking in your space – like a nice little chat with a friend before bed.
To wind down I try to do some stretches or something. But I don't have a beautiful, wholesome evening routine like I'm sure Gwyneth Paltrow does – I just talk to my podcast friends!
I do try to stay away from my phone before bed – although sometimes it is really relaxing to look at Instagram, so I'm as guilty as anyone!
Download the free goal-setting worksheet for the micro-ambitious
inspired by Mari Andrew
Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life by Samantha Irby
40 Days of Dating by Jessica Walsh and Timothy Goodman
Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr
The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantú
Joy the Baker
Want more inspiration?
Each fortnight, I help you navigate the mundane struggles of creative work and life in the Extraordinary Routines
free newsletter featuring interviews, musings, experiments and interesting links.
It’s equal parts comforting and inspiring, and anticipated by thousands of readers.
Sign up below if you're curious!