25 of the best illustration projects of 2020

The Last Supper by Musketon

The Last Supper by Musketon

We can't believe it either, but it seems like 2020 is nearly over. We thought it a great opportunity, then, to look back at some of the best work of the year. We've teamed up with the Directory of Illustration to pick out some of the best illustration projects of the last 12 months, from both their artists and others.

As the "go-to" resource for illustration – an invaluable tool for searching, referencing and connecting with the most talented artists in the world – it's a subject that the Directory of Illustration knows a fair bit about. So read on, to see some of the year's most inspiring visual work, spread across sectors, disciplines and national boundaries.

1. How It Feels to Float by Karolis Strautniekas

Represented by Folio, Karolis Strautniekas is known for his beautiful illustrations, full of life, detail and contemporary line and colours. Working editorially with clients such as The New Yorker and Forbes, he also creates book covers for various authors, including this beauty for Helen Fox's How It Feels to Float, on behalf of Penguin Random House.

Karolis Strautniekas

Karolis Strautniekas

2. Women in the Workplace by Amber Vittoria

Amber Vittoria was named 'Professional' overall winner in this year's World Illustration Awards, all thanks to this perfect project for Facebook's Analog Lab. Focusing on the idea of empathy, and inspired by the modern embrace of individuality within office spaces, her risograph poster series leverages bright and colourful portraits of women heading into work.

Amber Vittoria

Amber Vittoria

3. Coast scene by Gary Bullock

Gary Bullock is a UK illustrator working for packaging, advertising and editorial clients. We love this wonderfully inventive scratchboard coast scene, commissioned by De Nure Tours, where the colours just seem to leap off the page.

Gary Bullock

Gary Bullock

4. Neighbours Of New York by Peter Phobia

New York’s been through a lot in 2020, but come out the other side stronger than ever, which makes Neighbors Of New York, a stunning tribute to a diverse city and its spirit, all the more emotionally charged. It’s the work of Peter Phobia, a New York-based illustrator, animator and skateboarder who's worked with clients such as Samsung, Absolut, The New York Times, The New Yorker and Rimowa.

Peter Phobia

Peter Phobia

5. FIT Black Student Illustrators Award by Jason Raish

Represented by Central Illustration Agency, Jason Raish put art into action this year with a fundraiser held at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), where the illustrator teaches. Designed to help black students study at the college, the fundraiser came with hyper-stylish prints where Jason contrasts "the stuffy, conservative, homogenous nature of vintage high fashion with the rebellious self-expression of Japanese Ukiyo-e inspired tattoos."

Jason Raish

Jason Raish

6. No Such Thing As Incognito by Matt Chinworth

This detailed artwork by Matt Chinworth is part of a recent series for The Washington Post on tech privacy, tracking and spy software and how you can better protect your private data and information. Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Matt's other clients include TED, The New Yorker and Vice.

Matt Chinworth

Matt Chinworth

7. Magic Hour by Jason Lyon

Another new UK name on the block to watch is Jason Lyon. Since graduating from Falmouth University in 2019, Jason has lent his magical realist talents to The Big Issue and New Scientist. His personal work is just as good, and this wide-eyed paean to childhood wonder is one of the best on his Directory of Illustration page.

Jason Lyon

Jason Lyon

8. The Last Supper by Musketon

If anyone summed up the events of 2020 in one epic illustration, it was Belgian artist Musketon and his incredible tribute to Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, but with a Covid-19 slant. The Last Supper, as featured above, is a huge self-initiated project that took three months to complete and we're still finding new details every time we look at it. Musketon is represented by JSR Agency.

The Last Supper by Musketon

The Last Supper by Musketon

9. Exploring the Self by Jane Liu

Jane Liu is an artist and illustrator based in Shanghai, China. She received her BFA from Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and is attending The School of Visual Arts for her MFA programme in illustration. One of her recent projects was Exploring the Self, triggered by a new personal experience. "I found that the same world could be totally different when one's perception is freed from the routine and comfortable ways of seeing and being, and want to encourage more people to be open-minded and explore the undiscovered part about themselves."

Jane Liu

Jane Liu

10. Strategist Skills by Sam Peet

Sam Peet is a London-based illustrator creating superlative commercial work on commission. This piece was for the Chicago Booth Magazine, for an article about types of skills that a good strategist has to have. Sam is represented by George Grace Represents.

Sam Peet

Sam Peet

11. All Good Things Are Wild and Free by Ana Victoria Morales

Originally from Venezuela, Ana Victoria Morales is a graphic designer and illustrator based in Luxembourg. For this self-initiated project, she set out to do a mockup of a book cover, including lettering, and the results couldn’t be more eye-catching.

Ana Victoria Morales

Ana Victoria Morales

12. New Year GIF: 2020 by An Chen

An Chen's charming GIF captures the hope we all had for a new decade back in the New Year, shortly before things came crashing down. Still, that's no reason not to enjoy the joyous geometry of the Taiwanese illustrator and her series of stop motion loops.

An Chen

An Chen

13. Boats by Uijung Kim

Another one represented by Central Illustration Agency is South Korean illustrator Uijung Kim who paid tribute to the beauty of Vietnam this year with delightful illustrations of floating markets. She's definitely another of our faves from the Directory of Illustration.

Uijung Kim

Uijung Kim

14. The Earth Has Music For Those Who Listen by Tania Yakunova

Tania Yakunova is an illustrator from Kyiv, Ukraine who finds inspiration in avant-garde art and design of the 20th century. You can see it all over her wonderful calendar and postcards for Green Network Energy, celebrating the beauty of our world. Or follow her on Instagram.

Tania Yakunova

Tania Yakunova

15. Zeb and the Bungle Bee of Death by Jacques Kleynhans

Jacques Kleynhans was the Professional winner of this year's Exploration Category at the WIA 2020, grabbing attention with a non-linear narrative more board game than book. Each piece of the puzzle comes with delightful detail and character, making for a unique illustration project we've seen in 2020.

Jacques Kleynhans

Jacques Kleynhans

16. The Girl in the Striped Chair by Shari Wolf

Cleveland native Shari Wolf is a painter, illustrator, book and textile artist. We can’t get enough of her illustration The Girl in the Striped Chair, which was painted with acrylics on canvas.

Shari Wolf

Shari Wolf

17. Rosie the Rex Rider to the Rescue by Christopher Bretz

There's something different about the pop culture takes of Christopher Bretz, an illustrator and concept artist based in Toronto, Canada. This latest of his genre mashups of steampunk and sci-fi sums up his fun vibes and knack for capturing expressions.

Christopher Bretz

Christopher Bretz

18. Future of Music by Tom Peake

Commercial UK artist Tom Peake has created an ongoing series of striking illustrations for Bentley Magazine. The latest project was about the future of music; this image being a great example of the conceptual way Tom's illustrations are brimming with verve. Tom is represented by Meiklejohn.

Tom Peake

Tom Peake

19. Until We Meet Again by Dion MBD

Dion MBD is an Indonesian illustrator/designer who lives and works between Brooklyn and Bandung, and his splendid book project evocatively captures the longing and romance of a long-distance relationship. Definitely worthy of its publishing trophy from the WIA.

Dion MBD

Dion MBD

20. Places I'd Love to Live In by Darya Shnykina

Amongst the many beautiful projects by Darya Shnykina this year – which included a gorgeous book cover for Margery Allingham's Mr Campion and Others – was this personal one entitled Places I'd Love to Live In. Enchanting, charming and soothing, it's typical of the Russian artist's style which captures the calm and introspective moments of her life.

Darya Shnykina

Darya Shnykina

21. After Party by Jess Hannigan

Jess Hannigan made four abstract, highly colourful pieces which explore the "small quiet moments that remain in a space after all the people and life have moved away and the stories told through the clutter and debris." The result is a surreal series which enables a new perspective on the daily four walls in our lives, definitely something handy and relevant after a year of lockdowns.

Jess Hannigan

Jess Hannigan

22. Kobe Bryant by Lonnie Ollivierre

Represented by Shannon Associates, Lonnie Ollivierre is an Atlanta-based illustrator who was born in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. There, he first experienced the world of art via his father who was a sign painter. As a child, his family relocated to Brooklyn where he taught himself to paint from the comic books he collected. As he grew up, he dreamed of becoming a cartoonist, and later a painter after studying Norman Rockwell. Today, he paints the things that he sees in his everyday life, with his family and friends being the source of his work through which he hopes to inspire, educate, and uplift others. Amongst the many artworks that stood out for us this year was Lonnie's tribute to the late, great Kobe Bryant.

Lonnie Ollivierre

Lonnie Ollivierre

23. ME INSIDE by Jiawen Chen

Jiawen Chen is a New York-based illustrator originally from Guangzhou, China. Her self-published picture book ME INSIDE helped her win not one but two awards at the AOI's World Illustration Awards 2020 (WIA 2020). Each of its very personal pages stuns through masterful composition and beguiling symbolism, making for a moody and introspective statement by the artist.

Jiawen Chen

Jiawen Chen

24. GIFs by Bella Pilar

Trained in fine art and fashion, Bella Pilar's work appears in advertising, books, magazines, and on hundreds of greeting cards, as well as pleasing her fashion and beauty clients around the world. What’s really caught our eye this year, though, are these beautifully arresting GIFs, all cleverly crafted in her signature style. Bella is represented by Magnet Reps.

Bella Pilar

Bella Pilar

25. Island by Jo Junghee

Jo Junghee is a South Korean illustrator who does most of her painting in a cafe in Seoul. She went to Lanzarote on her honeymoon, and the scenery there made so much of an impact, it inspired this illustration project. It captures both wild scenery of nature and the expressions and actions of Lanzarote's people, and Jo also took Spanish painter Joan Miro's use of colour as reference and inspiration. It was used as the cover for a novel by the German writer Juli Zeh in Korea. The novel is named New Year and is written in the background of Lanzarote.

Jo Junghee

Jo Junghee

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