Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand

What if you were a fossil in a museum, and you had a lot to teach people, but everybody walked straight past because you weren’t quite as smack-in-your-face impressive as some other exhibits. Not fearsome and toothy like a taxidermy tiger, and nowhere near as eye-poppingly humongous as the dinosaur bones hanging over the foyer… what would you do?


To shine a well-deserved light on the amazing fossils of the Te Papa museum in Wellington, Zoe Gillett was brought in to bring these splendid (but no longer as shiny) creatures to life.


“My brief was to create a fun, colourful illustration depicting each fossil as it was when it was alive,” says Zoe. “The creatures had to be as scientifically accurate as possible, while still being bright and engaging for kids.”


And that’s where the fun of this project really started because bringing an ancient fossil to life can be challenging when you have no scientific background and no reference images.


“We had a lot of funny moments from the outset,” recalls Zoe. “When I shared my initial sketches with the museum’s scientist, he couldn’t stop laughing. I guess I had pushed the boundaries between scientifically accurate and engaging a little too far in some areas.”


Accuracy was also key when it came to scale – Zoe began the project with a plan drawing of the wall which included measurements of all of the plinths and fossil cases. After setting up a photoshop document which incorporated these measurements, Zoe sketched out where the creatures would sit, ensuring they were represented at an accurate size.  A few iterations and many giggles later, the images were approved. Zoe projected her images onto the museum wall at actual size, and hand painted them in-situ.


According to the team who work with school groups at the museum, the illustrations have definitely done their job – Zoe has received communication that children’s interactions around the exhibit have increased greatly, with many walking in going WOOAAAAH!



Te Taiao Nature Mural



Zoe Gillett


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