On Bravery: Uncustomary


Meet one of the bravest people I know: Mary England, also known as "Uncustomary". In her past, Mary suffered from mental illness from the time she was eight-years-old, but has since "emerged from a dark space into a glittery world she's grateful to be in." She works to help her vast audience learn to love themselves - just they way they are. In a world that's obsessed with body image and perfection, Mary carved out her own space on the internet to challenge society's norms. She's an amazing, kind, beautiful, positive person and a badass blogger. (I read her posts religiously).

Of her art, she states:

I celebrate every day in my own way. For me, this means making street art installations, sending hoards of snail mail, and recognizing as many small pleasures as I can (like colorful balloons). In addition to celebrating and blogging, I try to focus on the positive aspects of being alive. Being able to see the glass half full and find Sparkly Linings has made me a happier and more appreciative person.

My goal is to make you feel a bit better than you did when you arrived. At the very least, I hope to add a smile to your face with some of my silly antics and glimpses into my colorful life. I firmly believe that we should all be who we are, unapologetically, even especially if that is a little bit weird.
— Mary England

I recently had a chance to sit down with Mary to ask her a few questions about her exciting new book, "This Is About You: Amazing, Weird, Beautiful You," which was just released.

K&B: When did you start your "Uncustomary Art" venture? What inspired you? 

Mary: In 2012 I was finally getting proper mental health treatment and I started re-evaluating what I needed in my life. I started doing simple guerrilla art installations and wanted to document them and general creativity on a blog. About a year and a half later I quit my job at a psychiatric rehabilitation center and went full force into my blog and projects. I was honestly inspired by how I felt as I did guerrilla art. It was a rush of adrenaline to do something vaguely illegal and very colorful while getting positive feedback from strangers.

K&B: Wow - I can only imagine. I love doing installation work but always get nervous during install; I wish I shared that adrenaline rush you get. I was drawn to your work for its ability to literally pull people in. Can you recommend any favorite artists who have a similar way of working?

Mary: Thank you! That’s definitely my favorite part of any kind of art, when people can interact with it. I’m in love with Candy Chang who does lots of interactive projects like the Before I Die Wall and the Improv Everywhere project based in New York City, which creates flash-mob-esque performance art scenes where anyone can get involved.

K&B: Candy Chang is one of my absolute favorites. I've weaved her into many-a-presentation throughout my education. I can see how your work is inspired by her (and how hers could be inspired by yours). Congratulations on your book! What was your main motivator in accomplishing this goal?

Mary: Ah! It was honestly the #1 thing on my Bucket List for a long time. When I originally quit my day job I had plans to write a book and just never followed through. I finally decided it had been too long and I needed to share my story and knowledge this far.

K&B: Yes; I was psyched when you first told your readers about it. Society needs the information and motivational speaking you offer. If your book has one takeaway message, what is it?

Mary: The overall message is definitely to love yourself no matter what. To take care of yourself and accept who you are now, but know that doesn’t mean you can’t improve simultaneously.

K&B: Very cool. How is your book different than other self-help books on self-esteem?

Mary: I tried to make a conscious effort to focus on the mental health role in self-help and personal development in a way I hadn’t seen other self-help books do before. Having personal and professional experience with mental illness gives me a unique perspective, and I want to remind people that mental illness is a real thing that can’t be cured by “get well” cards. It’s okay to have bad days and weeks, it’s okay to feel terrible and defeated, but it’s also ultimately your decision to try to counteract the part of your brain that’s telling you to do X, Y, and Z with positivity.

K&B: I want to get my hands on a copy! Where is it being sold?

Mary: You can get my book through my publisher, Mascot Books, or on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Books-A-Million. I’m currently working with many Baltimore shops to sell it in person, and it will also be available at Analog in DC.

K&B: Impressive... are you currently working on any pieces readers can become a part of? Mail pieces? Collaborations? Etc?

Mary: To be honest, the publishing of my book has been a full-time gig and I’m sad I don’t have more interactive projects going on at the moment. I’m currently working on bringing a Before I Die Wall to Baltimore and you can always participate in the Snail Mail Game Show. In addition to that, you can currently:
• Sign up to respond to my new series Self Love Prompts
• Send me a photo of your favorite mural in your city for a collaboration to celebrate World Art Day
• Participate in the second Puzzle Art Project

K&B: Snail Mail is my favorite - I'll definitely be signing up for that. What do you like to do when you're not creating art?

Mary: I love going to burner events (if you’re unfamiliar, think Burning Man but on a smaller level) where I can dance and party with people in elaborate costumes who are spinning fire, doing magic tricks, and walking on stilts. I love driving around Baltimore and finding weird stuff and street art to photograph, and I also like finding things in person on the Roadside America website. I’m basically just drawn to weird stuff no matter what the cause or purpose.

K&B: Weird is always good. What's next for you? (In art and/or life)?

Mary: I’ve got so many things in the mix it’s overwhelming to even think about. I’m working on publishing lots of additional resources and tools on self-love, like workbooks and coloring books. I’m doing more speaking events all over the continent, and I’m excited to move in with my boyfriend later this year. Right now I’m trying to keep my head above all the to-do lists while simultaneously enjoying the truly wonderful water I’m swimming in.

Thanks so much, Mary! Can't wait to see what you've got stored for us next. If you haven't gotten enough of this amazing woman yet, feel free to bop around her blog some more:

Favorite Blog Posts from Mary

50 Ways to Practice Self Care

30 Quotes About Self Love

5 Ways to Say Eff Your Beauty Standards

My Transformation with Mental Illness

10 Ways to Keep a Happy Journal

Who are some of your favorite bloggers? I'd love to meet some new friends! Leave links below.