East Village is bustling with energy on a Saturday morning as people and cars rush about in a hurry. Just a few steps off the road and into Thompkins Square Park, the energy is altogether different. Adults congregate around tables and children zoom past on scooter and on foot. The park’s trees bring shade to the paths and walkways that weave through the park like veins.
“In a city there is so much you have to react to. In nature you can just be yourself,” says Mari Andrew, writer and illustrator. When Andrew was sick almost a year ago, she found herself temporarily paralyzed. Now, she is far into recovery and enjoys taking dance classes. However, in the beginning stages of recovery she spent a lot of time in the park. “For the first time I really understood the power of nature,” she says, smiling.
After becoming sick, she remembers thinking, “Another thing to talk about; another way to relate to people.” She does this through writing and illustrating about her life in an open and honest way.
She always knew she wanted to be writer, but illustrating made a place for itself in her life when she needed it. “I took it up, among other hobbies, when my father died and I was going through a breakup at the same time. I needed a way to soothe myself every day,” she says. “After a year of drawing, it kind of took over my life.”
Andrew now has an Instagram account where she shares her heart through illustrations. “I failed the only drawing class I ever took,” Andrew laughs. “So, it was as surprising to everyone in my life as it was to me that I’m an illustrator now. Weird.” With such a large following, she makes sure her Instagram is a supportive community for Instagram users, something that not all of Instagram acts as.
More than displaying her artistry, she seeks to display her real self through these illustrations. “I think I’m just missing the gene that makes me not want to share about my life,” says Andrew. “For me, realness is such a priority and I know that it is comforting to other people.”
She notes that she does have a filter with what she shares, though. She makes a point to never share something on social media that she’s still going through. Every now and then, people assume what she shares is something she is currently experiencing. “I think what bothers me the most is when people confuse vulnerability for a cry for help,” she says.
On Instagram it is not uncommon to receive criticism, but she doesn’t let it get to her. “The support from other people is always really helpful. I remember that artists I love get criticism and keep at it,” she says.
She often gets emails from people that feel uplifted by her content and this in turn uplifts Andrew. “I’ve been there, I know what it’s like to be lonely and I know what it’s like to feel less lonely. It’s an incredible gift to give someone.”
She moved from DC to NYC only several months ago. When she was 14, she was living in Seattle, but her mother took her to NY on a trip as a present. “I immediately thought ‘oh, this is how people feel when they talk about home,’” says Andrew. “I had never felt at home in Seattle.”
Andrew feels immense support from New York’s community of artists. “There’s no active competition,” she says. “We’re all sharing this space, we all know how hard it is to be here.” She feels more support here than in the small artist community in DC.
New York can be a wonderful place full of magical experiences waiting to happen. Andrew experiences this magic through the small moments, like walking past crowded restaurant windows. “New York is very expensive but everyone’s a little broke, and New York is very social, but everyone’s a little lonely,” she says. It makes her happy to see people enjoying themselves, even if it is just in passing.
Andrew makes sure to show appreciation every day. “You have to practice gratitude to feel it,” she says. This has become a ritual for her, as has journaling. Though illustrating has become a major part of her life, she still makes time for writing. Her writing explores topics at a depth that her illustrations sometimes cannot reach.
Now, her writing is accessible to all in the form of a book she released with illustrations. “It’s my dream. I always wanted to do it,” she says. “I thought I’d do it at like 60, so 30 years early is quite fabulous.”
It is a collection of personal essays about life in her twenties. “My heart is for girls in their twenties. It is such a weird time, such a special time.” Andrew was determined and patient in getting this book published, because while many publishers just wanted illustrations, she was set on including her essays.
Now that Andrew has checked off ‘write a book’ from her list of goals, next up is writing more books and taking the step to invest in herself and have an art studio here in the city. Life guided her towards this path in unexpected ways but she embraces the path that she is on. “I am proud that I got through difficult things by myself,” says Andrew, still smiling. “I have come to really enjoy a life I’ve created.”