Peniel Enchill painted iconic “Woman Stepping Into The New Year”

Peniel Enchill

If you exist in certain pockets of Twitter you’ve likely seen an illustration of a Black woman stepping from one year into the next wearing high heels with a bag in hand.

The illustration, created by British-Ghanaian graphic artist Peniel Enchill, first appeared on the internet in 2014 and routinely goes viral each year. It has also become synonymous on Black Twitter with the saying “New year, new me.”

In 2021, it went viral again in the middle of the year during the milk crate challenge as people thought a Black woman who completed the challenge in heels resembled the artwork.

“I did that artwork in hours. It usually takes me a while to finish up an illustration. But I had what I like to call these days a ‘download,’ where you literally see the picture in your mind and it’s just a matter of transferring that image from your mind to the paper. I rarely get that, but that was one of them,” Enchill said.

The 29-year-old who is based in Sheffield recalled posting her artwork to her Instagram at a time that preceded the platform’s Stories feature.

“I remember logging back into Instagram and on my main feed, not on my profile, but on my main feed, I just kept swiping and seeing the image that I’ve drawn,” she said. “So these were actual reposts from people that I follow.”

The image was shared by larger platforms including the Shade Room and within hours it was everywhere. Overnight, her audience on Instagram grew by 40,000. But as the popularity and reach of her artwork expanded, so did opinions, which were followed up with memes, re-edits, and misogynistic trolling.

“All I could see was the negative. Yes, there was positive feedback, but it was clouded by a lot of negative and I took it quite personally,” she said.

It took a word of advice from Enchill’s younger brother for her to see past the small pockets of negativity as her platform exploded, bringing new eyes to her entire portfolio.

“My brother being my brother was like ‘Why are you upset? Have you seen how many followers you’ve got? Have you seen how many people have seen it? It’s all over Twitter,’” she said. “I think it took me a whole day or two to start seeing the positive sides.”

Iconic New Years image

Today, Enchill has over 270,000 followers on Instagram and can consistently chart a surge of growth around this time of the year.

Enchill said she is a big believer in how transformative a new year can be and continues to create special illustrations to mark the end of one year and the start of another.

Reflecting on her 2014 piece, she said that she was looking for a way to communicate that going into the new year is like stepping into a better year.

She said it’s still slightly hard to see her art used in a way that she would have approved of if she was asked. Many of the memes of the woman were misogynistic and edited her going back to bad situations concerning relationships with men.

She also said she has been approached about turning her artwork into NFTs, but she is struggling to understand the benefit of it. “I don’t think I’ve come to a comfortable place with that yet,” she said. “I might just have to do one to see how I feel about it all, but I’m not 100% sold on the idea yet.”

Black women are always central in Enchill’s art, often depicting them in storylines that deal with pushing back against cultural norms and unrealistic expectations demanded of them.

“My focus is particularly on the Black community with an extra focus of Black women and uplifting, inspiring, creating art for us, by us — speaking about issues that are not really spoken about, and celebrating things that affect us directly,” she said.

She also owns a stationary brand that features her art and hopes to one day see it stocked at major retailers.

This year’s artwork is still in progress, she added, but the inspiration behind it is the well known phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But that of course hasn’t stopped people from making their own.