Step inside history

From taxidermy to children’s books, interpretative signage to dioramas: Louise Wills’ work involves a fascinating combination of multidisciplinary skills and a unique vision.

Newcastle based Louise Wills is an artist, an illustrator and a creator. But she’s also somewhat of an amateur anthropologist, a botanist, geologist, historian, educator and more. Her practice embraces a remarkably wide range of artistic and scientific approaches and abilities, which is exactly how she likes it.

Gifted at painting and drawing, Louise won a scholarship to study Natural History Illustration at the University of Newcastle. In 2020 she won the prestigious Margaret Senior Prize for Wildlife Illustration.

Louise is modest about it: “From an early age I was taught that it’s all about being curious, and learning to truly look, and then interpret what you’re seeing. Anyone can do that really, if they want to.”

Maybe. But not “anyone” can produce a series of beautifully ethereal, delightful illustrations of a child and a cat flying through a cosmic alternate universe (Louise’s first children’s book Excuse me, but my name is NOT Mittens). And most certainly not “anyone” can design and deliver the most wonderful interpretive signage, featuring splendidly painted swimming seahorses that she created for the Central Coast Marine Discovery Centre’s new display about the local species of seahorse.

And to be sure, only a unique creative can produce a series of illustrations, signs, models and dioramas, an amazing array of elements for a contemporary educational offering for the Hunter Wetlands Centre in collaboration with Megalodon Projects.

Louise has also turned her skilful hand to heritage illustration, having completed projects both further afield and closer to home, alongside the National Trust for Miss Porter’s House in Newcastle.

She produced artworks which were used to create signage and merchandise to raise funds for the property and for display at Newcastle Museum. She’s super enthusiastic about that job, it’s clearly a pet project.

“The property is important because the people living there were working class. The majority of National Trust properties are places where wealthy people lived, but not Miss Porter’s House, that’s why it’s special.”

Miss Porter’s House is complete with everything its inhabitants lived with many decades ago, right down to their original clothes and kitchen wares. The detail and the variety of ephemera is fantastic. Louise envisages more to be done with Miss Porter’s House, “…possibly another children’s book…” she muses.

Another recent heritage project in far western NSW involved creating hand drawn maps of the terrain and sketches of heritage buildings for a Heritage Trail App for the region. University of Newcastle and the Central Darling Shire Council have partnered for this project.
Also out west, Louise, fellow creative Dominic Lindus and University of Newcastle’s ‘Menindee Megafauna Team’ have built a large, circular diorama with a diameter of two metres, using it to make a 360-degree film from within the diorama.

Story by Nick Resch, photography courtesy of Louise Wills