Taking the Pulse of 2021 Young Blood Award Winners

Q&A with 2021 Illustration Awards Young Blood Winner Paul Twa

May 11, 2021

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Paul Twa, 2020 YEAR IN REVIEW, Young Blood Illustration Single, 2021 Illustration Awards winner. 


Paul Twa is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Edmonton, Alberta and 2021 Illustration Award winner in the Young Blood category his piece “2020 Year in Review.” Paul has been very generous in answering some of our questions about his piece. The answers he provides elucidate the creation of his piece and his process in an honest and detailed manner. You can visit Paul’s website here and follow him on Instagram here.

What has the response been like for this piece? 

With this project specifically, I designed it to fit into my Christmas cards, which I mailed out all over Canada and abroad. Because there is this shared global experience of living through the events of 2020, I wanted to send this reflective illustrated timeline as a way to close out the year. Hoping to find a wider audience, I sent my story to media outlets and it was picked up by the CBC and CTV. I shared the process of creating the piece and my Grandmother’s own yearly illustrations on TikTok in a video that has reached 1.8 million views and led to great conversations on how people visualize time and remember the events of 2020. 

How would you describe your artistic style? 

I am drawn to visual density within my work. I would describe myself as a maximalist in that I enjoy using colour, texture, and pattern to build up the personality of my illustrations, creating full compositions. I am also drawn to historical reference points. I like playing with the conventions of different eras and translating them with a contemporary twist. 

What is the hardest part when you are creating/ when you created this specific piece?

One of the most difficult aspects of this piece was deciding what to include in each month and what had to inevitably be left off due to space. I prioritized events and milestones that I wanted to have immortalized and remembered in future years while striking a tonal balance between serious events of global significance (the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, and the US election), and pop culture hallmarks of the year that uplifted us (Tiger King, Folklore, and the Queen’s Gambit). In the end, I created a visual ‘key’ printed on the backside of the illustration that details the 50 events I chose to include and the specific dates where applicable (viewable on my website paultwa.com/2020-year-in-review)

Where did you go to school? How did your scholastic experience shape your creative career? 

I received a Bachelor of Design from the University of Alberta. That post-secondary experience included a substantial degree of creative freedom. It allowed me to research and explore subjects outside of design while developing my craft to make those topics accessible to different audiences through visual communication. Like many students, it instilled in me the value of self-directed work and being able to take in information, absorb it, and iterate in many directions. Being the art director for all your projects means tapping into the tools at your disposal and that necessity is where I developed my interest in illustration as a designer. 

What have you learned from creating this piece? (if anything at all)

In creating this piece I was able to see how illustration can connect with a global audience and visually archive a year of not only my life but how many other people remember 2020. Illustration has the power to demand a close reading to discover multiple narratives and can serve as a reminder as we step into the future of where we have come from. 

What do you hope people say/think when they see your piece? 

I hope people looking at my "2020 Year in Review" see it as a reminder of all that we lived through in 2020. I heard many people say that it felt like we were living through history in a way I had never been quite aware of in my lifetime. The inclusion of many different symbols and Easter eggs, I hope draws people in to inspect each month closely, deciphering what each element represents. I also hope it can spark conversations for the many people who also have a ‘mental picture’ of time and how they organize the months of the year in their heads. This calendar synaesthesia is unique to each person so hearing how other people would draw out the year, be it a circle, a graph, a line, etc. is always fascinating to me. 

How do you stay creative/inspired? 

In moments when I feel uninspired, it is a reminder that I need to soak up as much visual culture as I can in industries outside of illustration and design. I look back on music, fashion shows, or stories that have impacted me and think of ways that can be collided with elements of my personal aesthetic to create something new. I always find inspiration in looking at artists and designers in the past and wondering how the visual language of their time might take on new significance or commentary for the present moment.

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