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Art + Science

Southsea children’s illustrator and writer Neal Layton, talks about his influences and how his book Poo helped him to develop a new way of working.
“I want my illustrations to look as immediate as possible and I often make 20 attempts at the same picture, only to use the one I did first,” said Neal with a laugh, who has illustrated over 70 children’s books, mostly for other writers, but also for several of his own titles as both author and illustrator.
At school Neal’s best subjects were in science and he did a complete U-turn when he went to art college. “It’s worked out well though, as I have been able to combine both art and science with some of my non-fiction books”, particularly his widely acclaimed books, A Planet Full of Plastic and A Climate in Chaos. “Initially I wasn’t sure how to approach non-fiction subjects, but I did a book with Nicola Davis, a presenter on the BBC’s Really Wild Show, called Poo. The book was actually  all about animal’s poo –  a fascinating subject that lent itself to fun and invention and Nicola really encouraged thatapproach. With the climate change book, I was aware of not wanting to alarm children or to be depressing, but I think children are often more aware of environmental issues than their parents. When we go shopping, our children turn into the palm oil police,” said Neal, who is married to the artist Sadie Tierney.
In the tradition of the illustrator John Burningham, Neal likes to combine mixed media, collage and photos in his work. “I’m also influenced by the bold simplicity of Andre Francois’ books and I’m a great fan of Quentin Blake’s lively lines”.
Unfortunately, Neal didn’t need to travel far to take photos of plastic waste for A Planet Full of Plastics – much of the photographic collage was taken on Southsea beach and at Canoe Lake. “I also had a lot of help from Clare Seek, the Southsea environmentalist and David Jones, founder of the Portsmouth charity, Just One Ocean. I’m always amazed that whenever I need to find an expert, there is always someone ready to help living on Portsea island” said Neal.

Neal Layton

With children having so many distractions from electronic screens, do children’s books have a future? “Children’s picture books sales are actually doing very well. I think it’s because parents and children like to have a book in front of them, it’s not the same experience if they are sharing a bedtime story using a tablet or computer screen”.
What books are you working on at present? “Each year I illustrate about 2 books for other authors and then one that I have written myself. After publishing the plastics and climate change books, I decided that both issues were very much linked to bio-diversity, which is what David Attenborough has been talking about recently. I’ll have that book ready by the end of this year. It’s a good subject because it gives me the chance to research and draw lots of plants and animals. I like to think the environmental books might give the younger generation an interest and passion in looking after the world more responsibly than adults seem to have done so far”.
You can also buy signed copies of Neal’s books A Planet Full of Plastic and A Climate in Chaos at Pigeon Books, 1 Albert Road, Southsea.
A Planet Full of Plastic and A Climate in Chaos are published by Wren and Rook.
Poo: A Natural History of the Unmentionable is published by Walker books.
Southsea Lifestyle competition for children from 4 to 12 years old
Design a poster (A4 or A3) that helps us think about the environment, maybe not to drop litter, to walk and cycle more, or to use less plastic? Please email a photo of your design  to: Neal and Southsea Lifestyle will pick
4 entries to receive a signed copy of A Planet Full of Plastic or A Climate in Chaos.

Posted in: Articles, Environment, Local & Community