How one illustrator brilliantly captures the struggles of life in your 30s

Posted by
Anna Brech
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim” - so said the inimitable Nora Ephron.

It’s a sentiment brought to life beautifully by an illustrator who confronted her own personal trauma through the art of drawing.

New Yorker Mari Andrew started posting daily sketches to Instagram after suffering what she calls a “triple-axel tragedy” of losing her father, surviving a tough break-up and suffering Guillain-Barre syndrome - a condition that causes temporary paralysis - while on a trip to Spain.

“I had this little watercolor set and thought, ‘I should just do this,’” the 31-year-old tells the New York Times. “I love the physical action of using watercolors. It’s a really meditative thing. 

“Because I was dealing with situational depression, I wanted to do something by myself that was joyful. Not watch sad movies.”

Over the past three years, Andrew’s on-point, highly personal doodles have seen her amass a following of nearly one million people on Instagram. 

From her own battles, she’s started to capture the truisms of everyday life - the small tragedies, the laughs and the unsung triumphs - than anyone in their 30s can relate to. 

“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,” Andrew says, in another interview with girlsnightinclub.

“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!”

Whether it’s dealing with grief, dating issues or wryly drawing attention to gender stereotypes, Andrew’s illustrations are bursting with warmth and humour. They also have a way of making you think, “Yes - this is me! I’ve been there.”

But the artist says she’s still surprised by her ability to get through to other people.

“I was such a misfit in adolescence and college; I never thought I’d be ‘relatable’ to anyone really,” she says. ” 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 flavour.”

Andrew says her drawings are a way for her to process her emotions. She often talks them through with a friend or therapist first, before letting it lie for a few months and then deciding what to post.

She has also recently published a memoir, Am I There Yet?, that depicts the personal journeys that have shaped her life.

“The illustrations that mean the most to me are the ones with tear stains on them,” she says. “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.”

Images: Instagram/Bymariandrew


Share this article


Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.