Edmonton artist brings medieval flair to this look back at 2020's pandemic, politics and pop culture

For an Edmonton artist, looking back at 12 months of politics, pop culture and a pandemic became the perfect opportunity to try his hand at an illustrated year-in-review, inspired by a grandmother he never knew.

Paul Twa was inspired by the annual doodles of a grandmother he never knew

An illustrated year-in-review of 2020's politics, pop culture and pandemic. (Illustration by Paul Twa)

While people are more than ready to put 2020 behind them, there's no denying that the year will be a tough one to forget. 

For an Edmonton artist, looking back at 12 months of politics, pop culture and a pandemic became the perfect opportunity to try his hand at an illustrated year-in-review, inspired by a grandmother he never knew.

"She would illustrate the year in this sort of pathway, and every anniversary she would give it to my granddad with all the events from their life, but also historical events and important things that happened that year," said Paul Twa, a graphic designer and illustrator at the Sticks & Stones marketing agency.

Twa loved the tradition, started by his gran Adelé Hamilton and carried on by his own mom, but was looking for a way to put his own spin on it, making it less personal while still being relevant to people looking at it.

Paul Twa is a graphic artist and illustrator who works for an Edmonton marketing agency. (Submitted by Paul Twa)

From Trump to Tiger King, toilet paper to Taylor Swift, 2020 served up inspiration in spades.

"This year in particular, I think we heard people saying, 'Oh, it feels like I'm living through history," Twa said.

"We were aware that there were a lot of things happening at once: economically, politically — just socially and how we live our lives."

Unlike his gran's curving paths, Twa's year-in-review is a rectangular grid with the individual months plotted around the perimeter. Each month contains several images, each representing different happenings.

Paul Twa's illustration of March includes the stock market crash, WHO declaring the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, working from home, Tiger King's release on Netflix, reminders to wash our hands, and empty store shelves as people stockpile supplies of things like toilet paper. (Illustration by Paul Twa)

"I think March is my favourite section," he said, highlighting the declaration of the pandemic, the stock market crash, working from home, Tiger King and emptied store shelves. "So many people, in North America at least, remember March as a period of quite a lot of change."

The medieval flair to the artwork was deliberately chosen, based on Twa's research of Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a famous illuminated collection of prayers created in the early 1400s. That book, like Twa's year-in-review, was illuminated with visuals for each calendar month.

"This medieval style of illustration, I chose because it inherently kind of links 2020 to the history books in a way," he said.

Twa spent a week at the beginning of December brainstorming the content and design. 

The artwork, depicting 50 events including 30 people and seven animals, took 28 hours to complete using a digital illustration app. He also wrote out a key to explain the events he had illustrated.

In May, hand sanitizers become a staple in public and private spaces, George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis, Lady Gaga released Chromatica and graduates celebrated in distant ways. (Illustration by Paul Twa)
In December, monoliths began mysteriously appearing in locations around the world, nations including Canada and the U.K. began administering a COVID-19 vaccination, and families celebrated an unusual Christmas in the face of gathering restrictions. (Illustration by Paul Twa)

"It was one of my more ambitious projects," he said, noting that the finished product warrants more than a cursory glance.

"It's rare ... to have something that is meant to spend time with. I think most people can look at an illustration and kind of take it in. This one, because I was zooming in so much, requires a closer viewing." 

Twa, who rarely prints out his own work and had never sent Christmas cards before, turned this into a newsletter that he plans to turn into an annual tradition — just like the drawings done by his gran.

"This is a way of connecting with someone who I never got the chance to meet, but who obviously had some really cool, creative ideas," he said.

"I'm excited to maybe have established something that I can do each year, sending Christmas cards as sort of a point of reflection for my friends and family."

Each year, Adele Hamilton drew an illustrated path representing personal and world events, which she gave to her husband, Alastair. This image combines her illustrations from 1971 to 1975. (Submitted by Paul Twa)


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