Each week, our Friday Feature celebrates powerful women from our sisterhood who share their magic with the world in unique and inspiring ways. This week, we chatted with Mary Purdie, a tremendously talented artist and illustrator who uses her artistic talent and voice to explore some of our favorite concepts, including self care, vulnerability, and so much more. This Warrior Woman moved us to the core with her openness and bravery when faced with some of life's biggest hurdles. We hope you relish her as much as we do.
When you were a child, what made you the happiest?
Anything creative, imaginative, and playful. I have been drawing as far back as I can remember, and I have vivid memories of showing off my work to my parents and teachers, eager to receive praise. My grandmother introduced me to all kinds of advanced medium like oil pastels and chalk pastels from kindergarten age, and I would go to town with them drawing still life images from my imagination. I loved writing stories also, and I wrote and illustrated a book when I was six years old called The Lost Puppy. My sister, my friends, and I would put on plays for our parents. We’d seek out and cook kid friendly recipes during playdates. I always remember the most joy being found in those types of experiences, always creating in some way.
What inspired you to do what you’re doing today as an artist?
Where I am today as an artist unfolded pretty unexpectedly. I had veered off of a creative path after years of rejection following graduating college with a design degree in 2005. I had so many odd jobs after college, eventually I just kind of gave up on the idea of art or design as a career when no one would hire me for a creative role. I got heavily back into drawing in 2012 as a form of therapy and escape from a retail job that I hated. My husband, an amazing graphic designer, who was my boyfriend at the time would always tell me how talented I was and that I should be an illustrator. I remember thinking about all the illustrators I went to school with and how incredibly talented they were, comparing myself to them and dismissing myself as someone who could be a professional illustrator.
But I started drawing as a hobby because it brought me joy when I wasn’t happy in other areas of my life, and within a year that blossomed into a greeting card line that I sold on Etsy and at a few flea markets. It was such a fun project and I was getting so much positive feedback from my loved ones and strangers alike, it really helped me to reclaim some of the confidence I lost after feeling not good enough for so many years. The more I drew, the better I got at it and the more good ideas started to flow out of me. I started sharing a lot of my art on social media and people were relating to me, especially over my pop culture focused drawings. I found a lot of inspiration from relating pop culture figures and moments to my real life experiences. The more life experiences I shared, the more I started to find my voice as an artist and feel less scared to share it with the world. Everything I am doing now grew out of that seed of sharing myself and relating to others through art.
Can you give us a story that exemplifies why you get fulfillment out of the work you do?
When I shared on social media my grief over my miscarriages, I had a lot of women message me thanking me for helping them deal with their own grief from miscarriage and infertility. I’ve received messages of gratitude from complete strangers sharing deeply personal, painful experiences with me, because they feel safe to do so. This is so touching to me because that’s what I want people to take away from my art. I want people to see my vision and my message and feel safe and cared for, as if my art is embracing its viewers like the most delightful hug.
Is there a roadblock you had to overcome to get where you are today? How did you do it?
Comparison and self-doubt have been hurdles for me. I can easily become discouraged by looking at someone else, someone younger and more successful, and think, “Is this what I should be doing?” It’s silly though. No one else’s success or story has anything to do with me. I may feel like I’m behind in life sometimes because I wish I’d accomplished more or was making more money, but I don’t let myself wallow. I have to remind myself that as long as I am being true to myself, I am on the right track. There have been times where I’ve caught myself trying to force a particular style or message, maybe just for the reason that I thought something would get a lot of attention, as if I was just hungry for likes. Then I would get so creatively stuck, obviously, because that’s not me being authentic when I do that. So it’s a reality check. When I’m stuck, I have to ask myself why. Sometimes it’s because I’m not being true to me. And that’s scary too, being vulnerable, being authentically me and putting it out there for people to witness. But that’s where my creative juices flow the most, so I have to block out the noise of comparison, self-doubt, and popularity. None of that is important.
Tell us about the inspiration behind the Self Care Bears. We're in love.
I’m an 80s baby so I grew up with a hardcore love for Care Bears. I came up with the idea when I was doing a personal self-care project that I shared on social media. I had just had my fifth miscarriage and I was at my lowest point, the most sad I have ever felt. I had been reaching out to different resources, desperate for help in my healing, and was getting the same feedback everywhere: take care of yourself! Don’t worry about anything else right now other than self-care. So I started a vigilant journey of self-care, and I started sharing my experiences and tips on Instagram. I had a note in my phone full of ideas, some good, some terrible, that I would build on constantly. One night I was falling asleep and the idea jolted me awake. Care Bears + Self Care! I wrote it in all caps in my notes app: SELF CARE BEARS! and the next day drew some Care Bears in different poses and assigned 6 self-care themed personalities.
I actually couldn’t believe the response. It was just a fun tribute to a beloved token of my childhood, and people were sharing them and showing them so much love. It was so cool to see that response. So I made another set and now anytime I think of a new personality that fits, I make it into a Self Care Bear.
What does choosing yourself mean to you?
One thing I have learned about myself recently is that I really like to take care of others. And I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I found myself putting others’ emotional needs ahead of my own. I don’t like confrontation, I don’t like hurting anyone’s feelings, I don’t like when others are feeling uneasy. It was no big deal for me to sacrifice so much of my own energy to avoid potential conflict. But I’ve learned that making yourself number one is the ultimate self-care. It took me awhile to understand that this doesn’t mean disregarding others or neglecting the needs of my loved ones. It just means checking in with myself more and making sure I am taken care of also. I have come to realize I am so super sensitive to others’ moods and energy, I would do the most to soothe others while depleting my own energy and then resenting them for my choices. Choosing yourself means loving yourself enough to exercise healthy boundaries on every level, voice your needs, and nurture your mind, body, and spirit. I am still learning this and practicing it every day. It doesn’t always come easy.
When's the last time you had to be super brave?
Lately, it’s every morning when I wake up, honestly! I have had a whirlwind of devastation dealt to me the past few months. In January of this year, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had just barely regained my footing after grieving hard from our fifth miscarriage in November. It was the first pregnancy we had after finding and fixing the believed cause of my recurrent miscarriages over the past 2 years. That was the baby that was supposed to make it, and it was probably the hardest loss of them all. I remember laying on the ultrasound table at 12 weeks pregnant, after the bad news was delivered, and thinking that I didn’t want to walk out of there. I couldn’t imagine life after another loss. I felt emotionally flatlined.
But I found my way up from rock bottom, again. I took my healing to a new level through the holidays. I was going into the new year with an abundance of newfound hope, confident that I was taking the best care of myself and that I’d be rewarded, that my life would finally begin to unfold in the way I had envisioned it. I believed the worst was behind us and that 2018 was going to be full of miracles, that we’d have a successful pregnancy and meet our child, finally, after so much pain and loss. Then I saw a tiny protrusion in my breast one morning while I was changing. Within 8 days I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
You don’t get much of a choice when faced with a cancer diagnosis. You’re either brave or you fall apart. I did fall apart briefly, but I focused more on bravery until it became almost second nature. I think that my bravery came, in a big way, from seeing my loved ones fall apart alongside me. It’s so devastating to be diagnosed with cancer. It is equally hard to be someone who loves someone diagnosed with cancer. There are complicated feelings of helplessness and deep fear. Witnessing that gave me a lot of strength. I felt like, “Okay this really sucks. But for some reason I am the person going through this. Me, the baby of the family! So it must mean I am especially badass and strong.” It’s an affirmation a healer friend of mine said to me the day I got my diagnosis. She said, “You can still cry and ask ‘why me?’ but know the answer. ‘Why me? Because I’m a badass, that’s why.’” I can still fall apart in my husband’s arms from time to time, but I am so much more aware of how brave and capable I am now. I’ve had to adapt, to fall back on trusting my path even though it’s leading me into darkness right now. I have a 5+ year road of treatment ahead of me. The plans I had for my life have fallen apart before my eyes. Blind faith and bravery are all I have to remain hopeful.
How do you practice self love and care on a daily/weekly basis?
It’s super important to me that I nourish myself daily in some way, on every level. Maybe it’s because I treated it poorly for so much of my life, but I get a lot of fulfillment out of feeding my body nourishing foods, food that I know it wants and that I enjoy. I nourish my mind and spirit with short meditation sessions, walks or hikes outside, hot baths with dried roses and a really good playlist, journaling, reading, or just sitting quietly enjoying a cup of hot tea which is good for the body and soul! I also really try to make it a point to laugh as much as I can every day. I know it’s cliche but I believe laughter is so so good for us, so I make it a priority to find something exceptionally joyful to experience every day.
It’s worth noting that when I was beginning my vigilant self-care journey, I felt like I had to be the best student and do all the things all the time. Along the way I’ve learned it’s best to take what resonates each day and leave what doesn’t. Self-care and self-love don’t look the same every day, and sometimes I neglect them altogether. But I can tell when I haven’t made time for them, it shows in my attitude towards myself and others, so I make it an important part of my lifestyle even if only in small doses some days.
What is your favorite way to express yourself, and why?
I love expressing myself through art, no surprise there. I love to write too, as seen in some of my long instagram captions, but captivating my audience with art is thrilling. I just have so much fun brainstorming ideas, going through the process from a vague idea to an emotionally moving piece of art. It’s a brand new experience every time I sit down to create something meaningful to me.
What is your advice to your 10-year-old, 18-year-old, 25 and 30-year-old self (as applicable)?
10-year-old: Being nice goes a long way. Don’t worry so much about what others think. Your compassion is a wonderful virtue, don’t downplay it for anyone.
18-year-old: Art is subjective, rejection is part of the journey. Do not define yourself by someone else’s standards. Set challenging but reasonable goals and work hard to nurture your talent!
25-year-old: Keep some things for yourself. You are sacred. Be nicer to your body and yourself.
30-year-old: Take better care of yourself, boo! Life isn’t cookie cutter. Everyone’s path is unique. Stop comparing yourself to your peers. If you aren’t happy, add more joy to your life. Don’t let others dictate your happiness or your worth. Have patience and trust that your life is moving at the perfect pace.
What do you love most about yourself?
Right now, I am loving my openness and vulnerability. So many people have told me they are amazed by my willingness to share so much, but it wasn’t even a question to me. I feel suffocated if I can’t express myself and be completely raw. It also has opened me up to receiving some wonderful gifts, in the form of collaborations, new relationships, and different healing modalities, for example. It’s taken me to a new level of awareness where I am always seeking to dig deeper into myself and into my healing. Many of these paths I would not have discovered had I not been open and vulnerable about my journey. It has completely changed me for the better.
What is your message for our tribe?
Remember that today is all you have, so find joy now. Making decisions to benefit your future is always good, but don’t plan too much, and be open to detours. Your path and purpose will be revealed to you, so don’t worry so much about chasing it down or carving it out to your specific liking. Relinquish control and trust in the process. Follow your intuition always and go where you’re called.