Forward Birmingham


I grew up between Birmingham, England and Naples, Italy. I spent most of my time in Birmingham and enjoyed long school holidays with the Italian side of my family in Naples. As you can imagine, there are many differences between the two places and cultures but something that always stood out to me as a huge difference was that I always felt proud to be Neapolitan - what child wouldn’t be proud to come from the place that invented pizza – whereas, I never felt I had anything to boast about with regards to Birmingham. I always loved where I lived but wasn’t quite sure what to tell people was so great about Birmingham.

The Italians are known to be extremely passionate about many things but particularly anything concerning their own culture. Try telling an Italian that the origins of pasta lie in China and within a few hours you’ll have been successfully ‘re-educated’ as to its true birth place. In contrast, Brummies are really very modest. I’d never even heard of the phrase “city of a thousand trades” or learned that the Birmingham motto was “forward” before I was in my twenties. I feel there weren’t enough people talking about this stuff.

However, there is a bit of a new wave of Brum pride washing over this city. Great platforms such as Independent Birmingham, I Choose Birmingham and Bell&Smokey are ardently shedding light on many of the wonderful things happening here.

This illustration is my way of shining a spotlight on some of the things that I think are great about this city.


I love that the Birmingham coat of arms is decorated with the motto “Forward”, showing that this great city inspires us to look towards the future and encourages us to move onwards and always make progress. A deep-rooted connection I’m sure many Brummies will share, especially as we see it hold true for our city, which seems in a constant state of flux and regeneration. ‘Forward’ is a wonderful and simple reminder to just get out there, get on and enjoy life.


A celebration of all my favourite things about Birmingham had to include some of our iconic architecture. The architecture incorporated here not only shows some of our most renowned structures but also depicts how Birmingham has developed, using the old and new Central Library buildings as an example. Another nod to the ‘Forward’ motto; Birmingham - in a bid to ensure its progressive momentum - replaced a structure, which I once thought to be ugly and drab and replaced it with something shiny and new. Whilst I personally love the new library and I thought it was an important step forward for the city, I found it really interesting to see the debate it sparked, and it also opened up an appreciation in me for the brutalist architecture I once deplored.

In the image below, the details have been hidden from all the other elements in the illustration to allow you to focus on the architectural components.


Blossoming around the architecture is a selection of the beautiful botanicals on display at Birmingham’s Botanical Gardens (I knew the countless hours I spent there taking photographs would come in handy one day!).

In the image below, the details have been removed from any of the non-botanical elements so you can see the flowers more clearly.


In a bid to include some of Birmingham’s illustrious industrial history, something which I feel we don’t shout about enough considering all the amazing inventions that spawned out of the city, is the James Watt steam engine. Showing how deeply entangled the word ‘forward’ is within the city’s culture, the Watt steam engine was heralded as an integral part of the industrial revolution.

The anchor from the Jewellery Quarter’s hallmark proudly pokes out from behind our famous bull, representing a wonderful part of the city which is steeped in history and reportedly still produces 40% of all jewellery made in the UK.

And if that isn’t enough to make you love Birmingham, then I don’t know what will!

This illustration will soon be available as a print to purchase for any other fellow Brummies, anyone needing a bit of motivation to keep going or anyone who you feel doesn’t love this city enough and needs a reminder of how great it is.

#digitallyhanddrawn #Birmingham #Illustration #digitalillustration #BirminghamIllustration #IllustratorBirmingham

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© Simona Matuozzo