London’s Science Museum is today opening Wonderlab: The Statoil Gallery, a landmark £6m space representing a major expansion for the institution. Filled with immersive artworks, live demonstrations and hands-on exhibits, it promises to inspire the next generation of scientists. Meanwhile, dotted throughout the gallery are a collection of charming illustrations by Andrew Rae, annotating the exhibits and telling their stories.
“I got a call out of the blue from the Science Museum team as they’d seen my book My Crazy Inventions Sketchbook,” says Andrew. The museum tasked him with creating 35 illustrations, plus smaller spots and details, describing how visitors should interact with the exhibits, while also explaining the science behind them. “It was exciting for me as I loved the the exhibits and the illustrations in the Science Museum when I was little.”
For the characters to be as diverse and representative as possible, Andrew based his drawings on the museum’s real-life visitors. “I took all my character reference from people I actually saw and photographed in the museum, so if you’ve visited the Science Museum in the last year or so, one of these characters could be based on you,” Andrew says. These are planned to be used on prints and products in the museum’s shop in the near future.
The illustrations “walk a line between infographics and more playful character-based illustrations”, and are designed to help visitors understand as well as encourage them to interact. However, when Andrew first came to start the work, most of the exhibits weren’t actually built. “I had to work from plans from designers, craftspeople and artists, which were quite different in scale and materials, and kept changing, so it was tricky,” he says.
At the centre of the gallery is Orbits, a solar system model viewed from above on a circular table. “This forced me to think of the image from an entirely new angle,” says Andrew. Another, called Step into the Light, features an illustration of a mother and daughter interacting with shafts of light which “was an interesting challenge to draw”.
“One of the things I loved the most about this project was going for meetings and walking through the Science Museum past the Apollo Space Lander and Stephenson’s Rocket to go for meeting, or taking sneaky photos and sketches of the visitors,” says Andrew. “I can’t wait to see them all in situ and be able to walk around and interact with all the exhibits that I’ve been thinking about and drawing all year. I’m hoping to get some kudos from my four nephews as well.”