Living Paintings

“I discovered Living Paintings when I was 2 years old and I’m still involved at 19!”

8th June 2021

A young man feeling a tactile picture of Paddington

I have a long history with Living Paintings and I am extremely grateful for the work that they do

My name is Louis, I am 19 years old and completely blind.

I became completely blind at 18 months old due to Neuroblastoma, a type of children’s cancer. Despite this, my parents were always keen for me to have the same opportunities as my sighted peers, in my opinion, this was the best thing they could’ve done for me.

My parents didn’t really know where to turn to as far as simple things like children’s books were concerned, but then they discovered Living Paintings when I was around 2 years old and I am still involved now at 19! I have a long history with Living Paintings and am extremely grateful for the work that they do for blind and visually impaired people of all ages.

A young man feeling a Star Wars tactile picture

Living Paintings has brought my favourite characters to life

I’m very much of the belief that while people like me who are blind or partially sighted are unfortunately, physically different in that we can’t see, beyond this we are no different at all and should be given access to as close to everything that sighted people have access to.

One of the many things Living Paintings has done for me is to bring characters to life, whether it be Postman Pat, Thomas the Tank Engine, the icons of Star Wars or the Mona Lisa. Living Paintings give blind and visually impaired readers the chance to meet these characters, and to see what they look like so that we can appreciate them as much as our sighted peers and friends. One of the earliest books I can remember borrowing is Thomas the Tank Engine, and I can remember it vividly. I thought it was really cool and I just remember thinking “so this is what the characters look like!” Until I experienced Living Paintings books, I had no idea!

Growing up, the thing with Living Paintings books was that there were stories that you knew, that every child knew. The characters were popular characters that were on TV that everyone was familiar with, and now I could see what they looked like too. The fact that I then had access to these stories and I could see what the pictures were like and could visualise them, well that was a big thing, and to be able to appreciate them like a sighted child could.

As a child, I read the books in every way possible. Sometimes alone, listening to the audio and feeling the tactile pictures – I found it fascinating. The narrators are fantastic and always have been.  The voices are matched to the book and it just works perfectly.

I would also listen to a book with either my mum or dad or brother, and at times we would all read a book together as a family. We would flick though the standard pictures, listening to the audio and all feel the tactile pictures together; it was just a really nice, family experience.

Then at school my Living Paintings books and packs would be passed around all the children who would feel the tactile pictures – it was fascinating for them too.

A young boy feeling the book The Bear Who Went Boo

Living Paintings have been a constant

Living Paintings have had a massive impact on my life. From when I was a child through to now where I’m coming towards the end of my first year at University, Living Paintings have been a constant and have always provided entertainment and education. The work they do to help blind and visually impaired people “see” the world through their range of touch to see books is fantastic, and the staff that make it happen are some of the friendliest and most outgoing people you could meet.

I was honoured when back in 2008 I was invited to London by Living Paintings to attend their Steiff Teddy Bear Auction. I remember holding one of the bears up for everyone to see, and thinking that I was incredibly lucky to be there. I’ve then gone on to help Living Paintings on more occasions, such as testing out books for them. I was not only proud to of done this, but I also really appreciated that they were asking blind and partially sighted people to test their books, so that it was the end user that gave feedback before the book was finalised and made available. I personally found this extremely reassuring, that they gave this book to another blind and partially sighted person to test before giving it to me, thus ensuring it’s accessibility.

Louis smiling at the camera

I am able to see what musical instruments look like or a work of art like the Mona Lisa

Everyone can enjoy Living Paintings books with no compromise for anybody. All the images and text are there just as in a standard book. You also have braille which is on transparent sheets so a sighted person can still see the pictures and text.  You are guided through by the audio description which tells you everything you need to know – the background, the landscape, all the details – I can really appreciate as an adult that without these details you wouldn’t be able to picture it in your head.

As a blind person, Living Paintings books are the most compact way you can read. The tactile pictures can really help you to be able to relate to something on the same level as a sighted person. Being able to see what musical instruments look like or a work of art like the Mona Lisa.

A boy reading the braille in Star Seeker

I’m extremely thankful to Living Paintings

If I could sum up what I think is the most important thing about Living Paintings I would ask a sighted person to just imagine – close your eyes and now imagine you can’t open them again.  This is how it is and now you want to read a book, but how are you going to do that? How important is reading a book to you?  As a sighted person how would you feel if that was taken away from you and you couldn’t read anymore?  Then you discover Living Paintings and the books are full of characters you’ve heard about and imagined all the time. They have been on the TV, you’ve listened to the audio books, you may have had the books read to you and you never quite understood what they looked like and now, because of Living Paintings you can.

I’m extremely thankful for Living Paintings, and hope that they can continue to do their amazing work for many, many years to come.

I have so many memories thanks to Living Paintings

Here are my top three books:

Hairy Maclary This was the first book my parents ever ordered from Living Paintings and I believe it was because I had been reading the Hairy Mcclary books and listening to a cassette of them read by David Tennant. I was curious as to what the characters looked like. We found Living Paintings and the rest went from there. This book is ideal for younger children and adults to explore together, just as me and my family did for the first time back then.

The Slightly Annoying Elephant by David Walliams. I’ve been a fan of David Walliams’ work since I was a child. My whole family are big fans too. It was an honour to be asked by Living Paintings to write a letter to David Walliams, to ask if he would provide the audio description for the Touch to See version of this picture book. He agreed, and I think the end result is one of Living Paintings’ most endearing works to date. Thank you David Walliams!

Teddy Bears Picnic This was another title I was asked to road test by Living Paintings, and I was given the Aloysius and Paddington Bear tactile pictures to test. Again, my whole family have always loved Paddington, so being able to see what he looked like after reading the books and watching the cartoons was fantastic. The rest of the pack is fantastic as well, highlights for me being Sooty, Winnie The Pooh and Rupert Bear. Again these were characters I’d grown up reading and hearing so much about, so it was wonderful to finally meet them. It was also fascinating to hear about some important historical figures in the Teddy Bear world, such as Alfonso and Pudsey Bear. All this, the memories of seeing the pack being developed and seeing the first completed tactile pictures at the Steiff auction means this pack will always be very special to me.

Borrow Louis’s favourite books

A mobile phone sitting on a wooden table top and wrapped in earphones displays the Living Paintings website.

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