Living Paintings

Authored by Sarah Bell

The creative arts can represent an important pastime for many people, acting as a sanctuary, stress reliever or communication method.

Yet 30 years ago, there was very little provision for helping blind and partially sighted people to enjoy pictures, let alone great works of art. Thankfully, one passionate Historian spotted an opportunity to change this and began a journey that extended far beyond the arts.

Alison Oldland MBE established the charity Living Paintings in 1989, with the aim of providing a range of art and leisure interest books for adults with sight impairment. 

Later, the organisation explored opportunities to design picture books that blind or partially sighted children could read and use as educational resources. The outcome of this process was a series of unique ‘Touch to See’ books, which use relief images and audio descriptions to add layers of information to a story, and which the charity now lends out via their free postal library. 

Of particular interest to the Sensing Nature study, several of these books are about nature. They include engaging tactile pictures with evocative audio guides that describe the pictures and bring them alive with music and varied nature sounds.

A recent Living Paintings blog describes how these books are introducing young people to different aspects of nature and wildlife. “Nature Detectives”, for example, offers rich descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells that young explorers might come across in four different UK habitats – ancient woodland, the seashore, hedgerows, rivers and streams. 

Wild About Bushcraft” is full of advice and information to inspire children to venture out and explore the outdoors. In “Explore the Seashore”, readers are taken off on an exciting voyage around the British coastline, encountering dolphins, puffin, seals and basking sharks along the way. “Images of Weather” was a particularly inspirational book for one child called Nikhil, who made and described his own four seasons picture after reading the book. 

For those keen to understand more about wildlife, “British Wildlife” offers a guide to the birds, mammals and mini-beasts found throughout the British Isles. “British Birds” is full of bird song and facts about the birds that live in our towns, gardens and waterways, while “British Wildflowers” offers intricate descriptions of our plant-life. Lots more wildlife-themed fun can be found in the Living Paintings “Go Wild!” Discovery Hub

Nature settings also feature in a number of Living Paintings books designed for adult readers, such as “The Nature of Britain” which offers a tour of British wildlife and habitats depicted on thermoforms, whilst “A Walk Along the Riverbank” envelops readers on a meandering sunny river walk, encountering an otter and its footprint, the gurgling of the river, and the sounds of coots and moorhens as they go about their business.

These books offer a lovely introduction to nature’s diversity for those who are perhaps less familiar with, or confident about, getting out into nature and you can visit the Living Paintings website to explore the full collection of titles.

We would love to hear from anyone who has been enthused or engaged by these kinds of books, so please do get in touch if you would like to share your experiences of learning about or encountering nature in this way.