ILLUSTRATION FEATURE Illustrating a Museum Exhibition

Curator’s Office
Seeing our work in galleries is one thing, but how about designing an entire museum display? Anna Violet has been working with Bolton Museum on the presentation of a new exhibition for families. Here she tells us about the fascinating new display.

Bolton Museum has opened a family-friendly exhibition, ‘Animals and Us’, which is tied together in an unusual, fresh and contemporary way - using illustrations. Black and white line drawings provide the graphic settings. These include pillars, a fireplace, an armchair, cupboards, drawers, picture frames, picket fencing, cave paintings, a weathervane, waves, grass, an ex-ray machine, a toadstool, books and trees. And Leopold, the mascot mouse, who guides visitors around, is also designed as a series of line drawings.

Illustrated 3D armchair & mouse, with cat

Illustrated fireplace

Illustrated drawers with display

Illustrated pillar

Illustrated book with exhibit

Illustrated desks

Illustrated treetrunks, foliage and giant mushroom

Mascot mouse, enlarged to child-size on stairway
This museum exhibition is divided into 5 distinct settings: the Grand Hall, the Curator’s Office, the High Street, the Farmyard and the Lodge. It features a broad selection of the museum’s collection, including some of its Victorian stuffed animals.

Grand Hall (purple walls
High Street (far blue)

The Lodge and Farmyard (right)

Stuffed animals on display as Peter Rabbit & Jemima Puddleduck

There are also 5 separate animal displays with different story themes, set in Bolton Library (which shares the same delightful building as the Museum) and the foyer. These themes include Little Red Riding Hood, The Fantastic Mr Fox, The Owl and the Pussy Cat and The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg.

The Fantastic Mr Fox
Illustrated hens in Mr Fox’s bag
Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf (with red cape for dressing up)
The Goose that Laid the Golden Egg

I was thrilled to be the illustrator commissioned to provide the line drawings, especially the character of Leopold the mouse. I used pens, fine brushes and black ink onto thick A4 paper. I scanned in my work at high resolution and cleaned up the digital files carefully before sending over, to prevent the slightest mark or dust on the scanner being magnified later along with the line drawing.

The Museum organised the enlarging (including the conversion to vector lines) and printing of these drawings onto foamboard for display. I was concerned about how wide some of the lines would end up at final life size, especially the pillars, but I think the images actually had a better impact because of the boldness of the lines. Also, the magnification of the lines accentuates their handmade look, and gives a friendly personal feel.

Line drawings of Leopold the mascot mouse

The exhibition opened on 3rd December 2016 and runs for 18 months.

Anna Violet is a freelance author-illustrator based in Manchester.  
Check her portfolio website here, and her blog here.
Her work is also on the AOI website


  1. It looks wonderful! What a great idea!

  2. Thanks Candy, it is fun to have the illustrations making the settings and even framing the pictures.

  3. I love Leopold the mouse. It looks wonderful.

  4. Thanks Heather, he was my favourite illustration to do, too.

  5. So original - it really makes the setting look warm and lively too.

  6. Thanks Bridget, I'm pleased the feel is right.

  7. I love the idea of this display Anna, it's such a warm, fun show, especially as stuffed animals can be a bit creepy to children (Norwich Castle Museum has a decidedly unsettling Victorian taxidermy gallery!). This is great :)

    1. Yes, I think the the more contemporary setting works well with the Victorian stuffed animals. The Little Red Riding Hood dressing up cloak is very popular with children, too, right next to the wolf in Granny's clothing.

  8. Interesting to see how this was done. Looks great.

    1. Thanks Katherine, it was exciting to see it all in place.

  9. This is heaven, Anna! An incredible achievement. I love the mouse!

  10. There were 'make a mouse' workshops, too, on the opening weekend! Thanks, Frances.


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