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Published on 4th April 2018

Abstract Talent


One of my favourite Instagram accounts is @goodfoodcrapdrawing. It’s run by an artist who reminisces about delicious food she’s eaten by drawing it – badly. While you can still tell what they’re depicting, the pictures are something like an artistically-challenged kid might draw for a school project, all scribbly and misshapen. The account has more than 6,000 followers which, when you think about what’s being produced here, is pretty impressive.

But this is almost literally nothing compared to the one-woman social media illustrator juggernaut that is Mari Andrews (@bymariandrew). Nearly three quarters of a million people follow the NYC-based artist, liking her simple black ink and watercolour images of everyday items accompanied by thoughtful or witty comments in a handwritten scrawl.

Credit: Mari Andrew

There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of hugely successful Instagram artist like Mari, racking up enormous numbers of likes for single line drawings that must only take them about… five minutes, right?

And what about the Twitter accounts whose owners tap out 140-character observations and jokes every few days that end up earning them a book deal? Or the Facebook accounts like Humans of New York with followers in the millions for what are, essentially, vox pops. And then there’s Rupi Kaur’s poetry, which, I’ll admit, seems like it’s easy to write just because the medium we read it on is Instagram.

Like the conceptual abstract artworks of a few splashes and splatters of paint hanging in world-famous galleries, or the simple-seeming crime and romance books that earn their prolific writers millions, it’s so easy to look at these artistic social media influencers and think: I could do that. I could scribble a few lines on a page and add colour. I could think of a few witty jokes while waiting for the train. I could take some pictures of people in the street and throw them up online with a few quotes.

Oh, yes. ‘I could do that’. Brother of ‘I wish I’d thought of that’ and distant relative of ‘I’d do that if I had more time’. I’m certainly guilty of having muttered it. In fact, it was just a few weeks ago when my brother and I were joking around and we came up with what we thought would make an hilarious Instagram illustration. Something about celebrating your Roomba’s birthday by dropping a cake on the floor for it.

“I should do one of those Instagram cartoon accounts,” I said, imagining this was the first of hundreds of great ideas to come. “I’d get so many followers.”

“Okay,” my brother said. “Then do it.”

Fine.

So, I tried. Firstly, I tried to draw it well, which was impossible because I’m a terrible drawer. Then I tried to draw it comically ‘badly’, which was actually even harder. Giving up on the visuals, I tried to tweet about it but found that context and humour in 140 characters is no mean feat. It wasn’t long before I had to admit that, maybe, I couldn’t do that. Like abstract art, maybe getting these simple-seeming creations just right is much harder than it looks.

But I don’t think it’s just that I’m a bad drawer. The fact still remains that I’d muttered ‘I could do that’ countless times before I even tried it. Even if I could do it, I still never had. I mean, how many times have you scoffed at a painting and how many times have you actually picked up a paint brush?

So, next time I have the urge to roll my eyes at an illustration or tweet with thousands of likes, I’m going to remind myself: they actually can do it. And unlike me, they did.