Mari Andrew is a writer and illustrator whose daily Instagram posts have captured the hearts of hundreds of thousands of people (including ours!). For our first post, we wanted to understand the professional life of a creative. What does the day of an illustrator look like? How did she get started in the first place? And does she have the freedom to take a really long walk in the middle of the day? Here, she tells us how she makes the magic happen.
You have an interesting story because you’re quite well known as an illustrator on Instagram, but I believe you work a day job at the same time. Is this true?
I worked in marketing when I started my account, yes! I’ve had many jobs in my 20s, but marketing is the most recent one and I did it for two years.
Can you tell me more about that? What were your title and role there?
I worked at a non-profit, so I was the only person doing marketing for the organization. I had the glamorous title of “Senior Marketing Associate,” but I was the only person on the marketing team so I’m not sure what the “senior” or “associate” implies. I called myself “marketing lady.”
What type of training was needed for that job?
The job description necessitated a degree in Marketing, but I don’t have one of those! I just wrote a cover letter about how I really understand people because I was a waitress and teacher and retail manager, and that I like to write. That combo got me the job. Also I think the hot pink dress I wore to the interview was a factor.
What are the biggest differences between that and illustrating?
Both marketing and illustration are “writing” for me. I consider my illustrations mini-essays, and I did a ton of writing at my marketing job. I don’t get paid for making daily illustrations, so I have to find other ways to make money—which is my current challenge. It’s very different from earning a standard salary every two weeks, which comes with benefits and vacation days! I don’t get either of those now that I’m a full-time illustrator. I quit my “day job” almost a year ago, and I’m still figuring out so much about taxes, pricing, and how to manage time.
I am curious about the way you spend and fund your life. What has your experience been with compensation for your work?
I’ve never negotiated for a salary and I’ve never made much money. Of course I regret that, but not one person ever told me I was supposed to negotiate! I thought you were just supposed to take what the boss offered, which is why I’ve very often held multiple jobs at a time to fund my life. It made me a very disciplined and hard worker, but I wish I’d started negotiating early on. I still have a really hard time doing that with illustration. I have a hard time understanding and asserting financial worth. I am much more assertive about time than pay; I have always used up every vacation day and I always left exactly at 5 at my 9-5.
I love that you value the importance of different passions and enjoying life as much as possible. How much of your life does this job take up?
My illustration job is like a running current through my life; I’m always doing it in some way, whether I’m at dance class or drawing at cafes when I travel solo. I couldn’t estimate the amount of time I spend on it because so much of it is mental, too. And so much of it these days is about making decisions, which is an ongoing process. I guess it will always be ongoing! My favorite jobs are ones where you’re constantly learning, and I learn so much every day as an illustrator.
How long have you been drawing for, and do you have a favorite of yours?
Almost two years, and I don’t have a favorite of mine! I’m very influenced by Roz Chast and this is a recent favorite of hers:
You originally set out to draw everyday. Have you maintained this routine or do you go through spurts of inspiration and downtime?
I don’t have any consistent system; sometimes I get a ton of ideas at once and just scribble them all down so I have a little pile to choose from, but these days I usually draw them the night before I post them. I’m trying to get increasingly personal with my work, which means drawing about something that happened that day.
Do you have a sense of what stage you're at in your career? You’re in the process of publishing a book, right?
Oh geez, who knows where I am! I’m totally improvising this entire thing and I have no idea what I’m doing. I do have a book coming out in March 2018, so I know what I’m doing about that, because the publisher tells me.
Will the book have different illustrations than what we’ve seen on your Instagram? Some exclusives perhaps?
90% exclusives! I’m very tired.
Has anything surprised you about the publishing process?
It has surprised me how long it takes! I’m surprised how continually grateful I feel for every moment of the process, even though the process is two years long. I was surprised that authors generally don’t get to pick their title and cover, although my publisher gave me a lot of say on mine.
What are your most and least favorite parts of being an illustrator?
My favorite part is the actual act of illustrating—it’s very soothing—and I love connecting with people and meeting other artists. What a joy. My least favorite part is everything else: the business side of it. But that’s a pretty small price to pay for having a dream job.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Oh a million things. And I’d certainly love to do a million things in the future; I don’t think this is the be-all end-all of career. As Cheryl Strayed says, “You don’t have a career. You have a life.” Life is unpredictable and surprising and weird and wonderful, as is a career path. I’d love to be a dance teacher some day. I’d love to be a tour guide for solo women travelers. I’d love to open a lamp shop. I’d happily be a barista again.
Okay, but what do you do? Please write your answer as if you're explaining to your ten-year-old self.
Thanks so much, Mari! You can pre-order her book here, if you're interested. Check back next Monday morning to learn Mari's best tips for how to make a career by living your life!