ILLUSTRATION FEATURE Twitter in a Time of Isolation

Navigating the pros and cons of social media can be a challenge. Here artist/illustrator Bonnie Helen Hawkins relates how a Twitter project galvanised her work, and reached out across the creative sphere. 

When I accidentally illustrated my first book back in 2017, I was a social media novice, without either a Twitter or Instagram account. Being of a certain age and a working mum, social media was something of a foreign country to me. I knew it was there but had only visited it once or twice – I simply did not speak the language. In all fairness my background in fine art was a very face-to-face business - I was working with people I knew, could meet and talk to every day, so social media just passed me by.

But after completing A Pocketful of Crows written by Joanne Harris and published by Orion, Joanne actively encouraged me to open a Twitter account and finally join the 21st century! At the same time my marriage was breaking up, so I was feeling completely dissolute, depressed and isolated, in many ways not unlike lots of people during this current global crisis.

But what to do when you are feeling lonely and your world is crashing down? With my private life falling apart, I desperately needed to reach outside myself, find new friends and see if creativity could help me shake off depression.

Well the only thing I’m good at is drawing, so I decided to use Twitter to reach out beyond myself, thus the crazy 52 Crows project was born.

Several people warned me that Twitter was a damaging platform, full of free roaming trolls just waiting for a novice like me to fall prey to their negative, corrosive criticisms, and maybe that’s true. But I believed Twitter could be used for something positive - after all, the revolution in communication should bring people together, not push us apart. So, after one particularly exhausting Christmas I devised the 52 Crows project and bravely posted it on my newly-formed Twitter account in the new year of 2018.

The basic plan was for me to draw and post a crow or raven-inspired illustration every Monday for a whole year. Yes, I know it’s a crazy idea, and if I was doing it by myself I would give up within a few weeks, so I invited complete strangers to help me by writing short stories (max 600 words) that would accompany each illustration over the course of the year. In this way the project would encourage creativity, help me out of my depression and build bridges between people. Something we all need to do now.

The way it worked was that the writers could send me either a crow story, poem or snippet of folklore to accompany each illustration. Sometimes I posted an illustration first and hoped writers would be inspired by it, and sometimes it was the other way around: writers would send me a story as the starting point. Both illustration and story were posted on my blog but could also be shared on the writer’s website if they desired. The idea was that by the end of the year 53 people will have collaborated in this arts and literature project, myself and 52 writers.

The experience was overwhelmingly good, I received nothing but support and kindness from those people that wrote to me. The stories were very diverse and included genres such as fantasy, folklore and fiction. Several of the writers were from the UK but I had contributions from around the world.

Favourite pencils - Staedtler Mars Lumograph B and Blackwing 602

Although I only actually managed 48 illustrations - moving house caused some problems - I’m still really proud of this project and happy that I embarked on it. Not only did my drawing skills improve but now I am much more confident in collaborating with other people from a distance.

More importantly, 52 Crows has allowed me to make friends across the world. I'm still in regular contact with some of the writers, and although I may never meet many of them I consider them friends.

In these difficult times when many of us are feeling afraid and isolated, maybe a few crazy ideas like this is just the help we need to keep our creativity and communities alive.


Bonnie Helen Hawkins has spent most of her career working in fine art, however, an encounter with author Joanne Harris in 2017 brought about a change of direction and media. She now splits her time between highly detailed illustrations, usually in watercolour and pencil, and large scale dramatic expressive oil paintings.

Bonnie has just completed a third book Orfeia written by Joanne Harris and due for release by Orion, autumn 2020.
Twitter: @BHHillustration

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