Page last updated at 11:17 GMT, Monday, 1 February 2010

Beatrix Potter characters remodelled for blind children

By Neil Prior
BBC Wales

ures of Peter Rabbit and Mr Fox
The images are a redesign of the characters created by Beatrix Potter

In 107 years, since the illustrated characters of Beatrix Potter were first copyrighted, very few people have been licensed to use their images for commercial enterprises, and absolutely no-one has ever been allowed to redesign the iconic drawing.

So what's different about Colin Antwis, from Mold, in Flintshire?

After six months of negotiations with Chorion, the worldwide merchandising agent for Beatrix Potter, the former civil engineer and part-time artist has secured the rights to remodel Potter's instantly recognisable characters, so that totally blind children can enjoy them for the first time.

He said: "My background was in making buildings accessible to people with various disabilities, and part of that involved creating tactile diagrams of floor plans and emergency routes for visually-impaired people.

Colin Antwis explains how he makes the 3D-style images of Beatrix Potter's illustrations

"My other love was sketching animals and countryside, so I imagine it was inevitable that the two were going to collide at some stage.

"I wouldn't be so arrogant to presume that I could improve on Beatrix Potter's designs, but the problem in making them tactile was that a lot of the drawings are extremely subtle and intricate.

"In order to translate their magic to people who were exploring them by touch, I had to retrace them to make the lines stronger and more defined, as well as taking away some of the more fiddly detail.

Beatrix Potter
Writer and illustrator Beatrix Potter was born in London in 1866 and fell in love with the Lake District on family holidays
In 1902, The Tale of Peter Rabbit published, nine years after it was written
Potter published a total of 22 books over 28 years
Her success meant Potter went onto to become a major landowner in the Lake District, with 15 farms and more than 4,000 acres of land
Potter died in 1943, leaving her land and flock of sheep to the National Trust
Her life was made into a film in 2006, Miss Potter starring Renée Zellweger
Source: Peter

"That was the tough thing to explain to Chorion. I didn't want to alter Potter's drawings, simply to translate them into an understandable form, in the same way as the text of the books have been translated into over 20 languages."

'Life in 3D'

Colin adapted Potter's work by re-sketching them in thick black pen on a form of heat-sensitive paper, manufactured by a photography company in nearby Chester. When he warms his drawings the fibres fluff up, in the same way as scrambled eggs expand when cooked - and the darker and thicker the colour, the more it will rise off the paper.

"The end result is a kind of relief pattern, which really brings the characters to life in 3D. The impression is so striking that I've started using it in all my work, not just in the adapted pictures for blind people."

"The feedback I've had from visually impaired children has been really good. The books have been available in Braille since 1921 - and whilst I'm sure that the readers have been conjuring up their own fantastic pictures in their imaginations for generations - now for the first time they can experience Peter Rabbit and company in the form which Beatrix Potter intended all those years ago."

Colin's relief drawings have only been available via his own website for a month, but such is the demand that he's now considering trying to have them distributed in the RNIB's online shop.

It's undoubtedly a success story which Beatrix Potter herself would smile upon, as her own artistic career was severely limited by failing eyesight after the 1920s.

The current contract runs for two years, and if it's successful, Colin hasn't ruled out trying his hand at adapting other seminal children's authors, including Cardiff-born Roald Dahl.

'The Twits'

"Beatrix herself spent around 20 years dreaming up and sketching her characters, so I've got my work cut out if I'm going to do them justice in just two years.

"But if I'm happy with the end result, and there's a demand for them, then perhaps I'll cast the net wider.

"Dahl is an exciting prospect, just imagine The Twits or the Omperlompers brought into relief in 3D, the possibilities are endless!"

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