Building the Museum of the Imagination: Year 4 Illustrators Meet Augmented Reality

Creating a museum with 8 and 9 year olds.

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  • Education

How many 8 year old kids can claim to have commissioned an Augmented Reality project to make their own invented creatures come alive through technology? We’re willing to bet – not many. Yet that’s exactly what happened when an ambitious borough-wide arts programme, Camden Alive, allowed House of Illustration to team up with a Year 4 class at Carlton Primary School, illustrator-educator Mark Oliver and AR experts Arcade Ltd to get creative.

The Museum of the Imagination, containing illustrations by every single student in that Year 4 class, was the result of this collaborative process. Each of those students will receive a printed booklet containing their artwork and be able to use the app to see their creations come alive through AR. Arts education doesn’t get much more empowering than this.

Mark Oliver tells us more.

Illustrated / Augmented

Our brief was to work with Carlton Primary, a brilliant school next door to Kentish Town City Farm, to produce an illustrated book with some of their kids, which would have an interactive dimension, accessible through an AR app. We were excited by such an experimental project, introducing Year 4 students to this kind of new technology.

We came up with the idea of approaching the book as a Museum of the Imagination that could be explored through AR. We liked the idea of the book being readable as a standalone print object, but with intriguing little “Easter eggs” hidden which could come alive through the AR part of the design.

Imagination and the creative process usually involve an engagement with something half-seen in the periphery – a process children understand much better than adults. So we decided to have them design a museum, and then populate it with a myriad of fantastical characters hiding among the exhibits!

Mapping the territory

We started out with a visit to the House of Illustration, and produced a surrealist map of the imagination by drawing over a Rorschach-style paint splurge and turning it into a territory.

This process gave us a structure to work with: five different areas of the imagination that we would dedicate each wing of the museum to.

If you build it, they will come

Next up: building the museum. In the first of six workshops at Carlton, we began designing the exhibits, using photo collage to produce some free-associated assemblages representing different aspects of the imagination.

We often use collage as a starting point for a creative process. A lot of Surrealist techniques like collage as a starting point for getting people out of their heads and into their unconscious. We were off to a strange and promising start.

We provided empty plinths to start the collages on – a cheeky reference to the classical imperial idea of a museum.

Hatched from a spill

Once we had our exhibits, we needed the true avatars of the imagination to populate the book. To create these in our next workshop, we used Rorshach splodges again as a starting point – an approach that prevented us getting anatomically predictable character designs, and also to make the design process accessible to the whole class, not just the keen draw-ers. And sure enough, a room full of beautifully wonky beasts were born!

Alongside these processes, we encouraged the young illustrators to make lots of notes about what they were creating. In between sessions, their class teacher was great at revisiting these scribbled ideas and producing some wonderful poems which we could use as text to accompany the reader on their journey through the museum.

Cut and paste, drawn and traced

From here, we had the raw materials for everything we needed, we had the trust and enthusiasm of the kids and teachers, and (something which almost never happens on a creative project like this) we had time to make it properly!

So we used cut paper to produce flat, bold, colourful character designs based on their original sketches. We revisited their collage exhibits and produced some beautiful line drawings, and drew some pillars and arches and things to really make it feel like a classical museum… And then we rubbed our hands together and looked forward to designing the book!

Visit the Museum of the Imagination and meet some of the creatures living within it.

The Museum of the Imagination will be available to view in libraries across Camden. Camden Alive was made possible by the generous support of the Mayor of London’s Culture Fund.

Feeling inspired? Download our creative activities and resources and share your work using the hashtag #IllustrationInHouse and tagging us @illustrationHQ.