Megan Dowsett is a creative consultant working with museums and galleries, and an illustrator who is finding her voice through personal and local projects.

Through the name Norris and the Flamingo, she shares the sense of adventure that runs through all of life, wherever we are on our journey. A sense of imagination, of possibility and discovery, for children and adults alike.

19 February 2020

The synergy of art and science

"Mummy ... 

I think when I grow up I want to be an engineer.  

Because I love art and I love fixing things.

... and if I could just use electricity ..."

It staggers me to see the impact of an evolving culture on a creative mind.  30 
(alright, 40) years ago, I loved art and fixing things and it wouldn't, in a thousand years, have occurred to me to be an engineer.  That was an option for my super-intelligent, super-scientific brother.  Now the climate has changed, our nation is desperate for engineers and we are seeing how creativity is intrinsic to science and innovation.  And by the age of 5, my creative daughter knows a completely different application of her creative skills than I did at the same age.

Since the day she could pick up a toy, I have loved watching the way her young mind draws the whole world into each project.  Her two favourite activities are junk modelling and making mixtures.  When she makes a guitar from cereal boxes, is she building or sculpting?  When she makes a mixture from soap, lentils and muesli, is she doing art or chemistry?
For me by the age of 12, art and science were polar opposites.  Still I identify fundamentally as an artist, and I loathe science with my entire being.  It brings back the dreary impossibility of naming the parts of a plant, learning the formula for calculating forces, or the properties of the periodic table.  It had no real world relevance or application for me.

Feets teaches me otherwise on a daily basis.
How long can we keep hold of this intrinsic understanding that everything is connected?  Everything I read, and everything I see, tells met that in the Early Years, children don't see the lines between disciplines.  Learning is play-based, child led, exploratory - every activity is an experiment with a sensory and a scientific outcome.

Through Feets, I have first-hand experience of brilliant reception year teaching, in which learning was planned and guided in response to her and other children's interests.

But the National Curriculum of our current government feels at odds with the harmony that can be found between creativity and STEM 
(Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.  As far as I understand, from an early age, the curriculum is so driven towards filling our children with knowledge - the dates of history, an understanding of verbs and adjectives and ... Subjects are more separated in schools than ever.  It feels as though there is a severe contradiction between the National Curriculum and contemporary understanding of how children learn.  

I am wondering how long Feets will be able to see the art that lies within engineering ... will the current influence of the engineering sector win out, or will the school curriculum gradually erase the harmony of these disparate subject areas?*
20200202_150538 *She will probably change her mind next week and decide to be a tree surgeon.

22 January 2020

Walking Home

A couple of friends asked me how it takes 40 minutes to walk home from nursery with my daughters at the end of the day, when nursery is five minutes away.  Here’s how …

Isla, come out from behind the shed please, we’re going.  Careful!  Okay, that’s not helpful, now Wynn will want to copy you and it’s not safe.  Never mind.  Please just come.  Okay, Isla, the gate is open; we’re going … that’s it, thank you – no Wynn, stop, wait, wait … WAIT.  Good girl.  This is a fast road, we need to cross it all together. 

Walking home Okay.   Isla, please can you hold your book bag; I’ll hold your scooter.  Wynn, please hold the handle of your scooter with me.  Okay, we’re crossing.  ISLA!  You need to concentrate!  We missed that chance and now we need to wait.  You need to be ready the whole time.  Wynn!  Hold on to the scooter please.  WYNN!  Okay, I’ll carry you across the – yes, you can ride your scooter, but only after we’ve crossed the road.  Alright.  Isla, hold – just be ready to cross the road.  No, I can’t hold your hand, I haven’t got enough hands.  Look, there’s a space in a moment.  Are you ready?  Isla? 

Okay, let’s go.

That’s it, well done.  Alright.  Wynn, would you like to ride your scooter?  Okay, let’s put your helmet on.  You too, Isla.  You don’t want to?  Okay, but you’ll need to push it.  There you go, Wynn, are you ready to scoot?  No, I don’t need to hold the strap because it’s uphill and I can keep up with you.  You don’t want to scoot?  Okay, fine, I’ll carry your scooter.  No, I can’t carry yours too Isla, I haven’t got enough hands.  Ok.  Come on Wynn, you can hold this hand.  Shall we go?  Look it’s not far to the estate.  Isla!  Are you coming?  Come on please, let’s just keep going my love.  Alright, I’ll carry your scooter.  But you need to carry your book bag.  I know you’re tired.  Let’s put Wynn’s scooter on top of yours.  There we go.

Come on, you two.  So, Isla, did you have a good day at school?  What was your best thing today?  Can’t remember?  Well … what did you have for lunch?  Did you play inside or outside?  Wynn – come away from the edge of the road.  You want your cuddly?  Can’t we wait until we’re in the estate?  Okay, okay, I’ll get her.  I just need to put the scooters down, and the bags.  Hang on.  Isla, can you hold the nursery bag, just for a minute?  Here you are Wynn.  You need to be on my other hand – alright, let’s switch hands.  Okay, let’s go; come on, we’re nearly at the estate. 

Come on Isla!  You need a wee?  Couldn’t you have gone at nursery?  Okay, well we’re not going back now – you’ll have to do a wild wee on the estate, but we’ve got to stop doing this.  You’re too big.

Come ON!  You said you needed a wee!  Well, hurry up then!  I know you’re tired.  Look it’s not far to get home.  Let’s just keep going, and then we can all have a rest. 

Okay, here’s the estate.  Isla, do you want to go behind those bushes, and have your wee?  Find a discreet place – no, not there, it’s too near someone’s window.  Can you go in the bushes?  Yes, that’s better.  Hey Wynn, look – here’s Tony on his lawnmower, say hello!  Sorry, Tony – look this way, I’m afraid there’s a wild wee going on.  I know – sorry to embarrass you!  Wynn, say hi!  Sorry Tony, we’re having a shy day.

Okay, Isla, done? Come on then, let’s go.  Say goodbye to Tony.  Wynn, do you want to scoot?  Okay, why don’t you both scoot down here?  Oopsy daisy!  You’re alright – up you get.  Let’s have a look.  Is it your hands?  Okay, let’s give them a kiss.  They’ll be alright.  Okay, I’ll carry the scooter.
Isla, if you’re walking on the wall, be careful.  Wynn, you want to, too?  Okay, but wait for me – WAIT!  You need to hold my hand.  Isla, look where you’re going!  Alright Wynn, careful does it.  That’s it.  And – jump down!  There we go.  Let me just get the scooters.  Why am I holding everything?  Isla, can you carry your book bag at least, please?  And wrap your jumper round your waist.  Thank you.  That’s better.  Okay – Isla, can you carry your scooter up the steps?

Oh, I give up!

Go on Wynn, up you go.  Go on – you can do it.  I can’t hold your hand, I’ve got the scooters.  Oh for goodness sake.  Alright – come on then.  Now, wait there – let me go back for the scooters.  Okay.  No, we can’t play hide and seek tonight – it’s too late, we need to get home.  Maybe tomorrow.

Look, there’s Yasmiin.  Isla, look up – in her window.  Give her a wave.  Hi Yasmiin!  No my love, we’re not playing out tonight, it’s too late  - I should think it’s your dinner time too.  Yes, maybe Thursday – we’ll see you later in the week, okay?  Bye!

Come on guys, let’s keep going.  Please stop at the road, Isla.  I know it’s only a little road but it’s a good place to practice.

Well done.  Come on then, let’s cross.  You want to go on this wall as well?  Okay, up you get then.  Sorry Wynn, what’s the matter?  I lifted you up?  Well, what did you want?  Look, you’re up on the wall, please can we just walk?

Fine.  I’ll lift you down and you can climb back up.  But you have to stop crying first – it’s not safe.  What’s that, Isla?  It’s Tessa?  Oh, that’s nice.  Hold on though, I’m just dealing with Wynn.  Come on Wynn.  Look, if you don’t walk, I’ll take you down and you can stay on the pavement.  That’s it.  There we go – finally!  Hold my hands, let’s jump down. 

Look – there’s Rory and Tessa!  Say hi to Rory.  How are you, Tessa?  How’s sleep?  Oh, that sounds hard.  It will get better.  I don’t know what I did – it’s hard when they’re sharing, isn’t it?  I feel like I could be much stricter with Isla but – well, it’ll get there.  Wynn, no, don’t pick the flowers.  No, not the stones either – they need to stay in Tessa’s garden.  Wynn …

Ilsa, wait where I can see you please!  Yes, I’m coming, I’m just saying hello to Tessa.  Anyway, yes, maybe see you on Friday, if you’re around?  Oh look, Rory’s come out now, I’m so sorry!  It’s okay, I’ll get him.

Oi Rory, you rascal, you haven’t got any shoes on!  I’m … coming … to … get… you!

You can’t go out now, it’s dinner time!  Look, I need to take lsla and Wynn home.  Here you are, Tessa.  We’ll go.  Nice to see you.  Wynn, say goodbye to Rory.  Let’s go.
Crying home
Now, where’s Isla?  I hope she hasn’t gone too far.  Let’s just get home.  Oh look, there’s Isla.  Well done Isla, thank you for waiting.  Nice dandelions.  No, we can’t stay and pick more, we need to get home.  You can pick some more on Friday.  Wynn, no we’re not stopping to pick flowers.  Wynn, come on both of you.  Please.  I’m going to count to three and then I’m going.  One … two … three.  Okay, I’m going.  Isla, you’ll need to pick up your book bag.

Come ON!  You two, please!  Finally.  Look, we’re nearly at the flat.

Wynn, you need a poop?  Okay, well hold on tight.  We just need to put the scooters in the shed.  No, we can’t get the ball out.  You said you needed a poop.  Yes, well let me just put the scooters … in … here.  Now, pass me the ball.  No, don’t throw it!  Ha – got it!  Now, I’m putting it away, we need to go inside.

Isla, please stop picking flowers now.  You can bring those ones up, so long as you walk up the stairs quickly.  Wynn, please come up the inside of the steps, not the outside.  No, I’m not carrying you, I’ve got two bags plus my own.  Come on, hold my hand.  Let’s count the stairs.  Where’s your cuddly?  Oh, Wynn!  Well, is she by the shed?  Look, just stay here and I’ll run and get her.  When we get inside we can have a snack.

Isla, come on please.  Okay, Isla you can do the fob and Wynn can do the key upstairs.  Quickly, please.  Wynn needs a poop.

Okay.  Ssh – quietly, there’s lots of people living here.  Isla, if you run around, Wynn follows you.  Come on both of you – UP the stairs.  Please!  Okay, I’m going up.  Come on then.

Alright, I’ll come back down and hold your hand Wynn, but you must walk normally - no swinging.  Come on.  Wynn.  This is your last warning – one step at a time please.  WYNN!  Okay, no I can’t hold your hand because it’s not safe. You’ll have to come up by yourself.  Okay, I’ll leave you there.  Come on, Isla, Wynn will catch us up.  No, do NOT drop your book bag over the railing - it could land on someone’s head.  I know there’s no-one there now, but someone could come in at any point.  Anyway, it teaches Wynn to do it and it’s not safe. 

Wynn, are you coming?  Okay, stop crying, and walk up.  I’ll wait here.  No, I’m not coming down.  I tell you what, if you walk up that flight, I’ll wait, and I’ll carry you up the next two flights.  Come on then.  Alright, I’m waiting. 

There we go.  Okay, please can you walk up two steps, then it’s easier to lift you with one arm.  That’s it.  Okay.  Isla, can you speed up please?  I can’t hold Wynn for long – I need to get up the stairs.  Keep going, please!  Okay, one more flight, that’s it.  Yes, you can have a snack when you get in but I need to sit down for a moment.  Nearly there. 

That’s it, there we go.  Okay, Wynn, do you want to help with the key?  Yes, push it in, turn it.  That’s it!  Please take your shoes off girls.  Yes, you can have a snack, but let me sit down first.  Oh Wynn, yes, you need a poop – well DONE for waiting!  Just a second …

16 December 2019

The Annual Christmas Card Challenge

I LOVE the challenge of making Christmas cards!  This is how it looks:

Make about 100 Christmas cards.  Write them.  Before Christmas.  Without having to start in March.

In 2014 it gained a new layer:
Involve my child.  After all, the cards are from all of us and she isn't quite ready to write the messages.  And time is even more precious than it was previously.

Later of course, it became:
Involve both my children.  This isn't as simple as involving two children rather than one, because I need to accommodate the three year age gap in their abilities.  Perhaps this is why, among some rather more personal reasons, I took a couple of years off.

But the cards won't go away.

You probably don't need me to point out that the final element, which grows more powerful year on year, is the environmental impact of Christmas cards.  Trying to keep happy the part of my brain which thinks we shouldn't be sending them at all. 

But I think it'll be a while before I stop making Christmas cards.  Yes, I like the challenge.  But also, it feels like one of the few times when I - and the kids - take the time and care to make something for the people who help us get by each day.

So, for the time being, making the cards with as many recycled materials, or whatever we already have in the flat, as possible, is the final part of the challenge. 

So, here we are.  I forgot to mention that, not only should the cards be quick to produce, involve children aged 5 and nearly 3 and be environmentally resourceful, they should of course look beautiful and entirely different to the cards made over the last few years.

IMG_6479 This was a pre-children highlight, lino-cuts printed onto gold tissue paper.

20191216_214625 And this was a one-child highlight, covering reams of cereal packets in paint, glitter, stickers and felt pen, before I chopped triangles from them.  Simple but effective, and successful enough, I fear people didn't realise Feets had contributed.  Therein lies another subtle element to the challenge.

I just can't beat the Christmas trees.

This year, I concluded that variety was the name of the game.  We did a bit of everything:
20191125_142231 - Slapped lashings of liquid watercolour onto paper and experimented with salt, bubble wrap and cling film (sorry, environment, it was only one sheet, used many times)
- Borrowed circle-cutters from a friend to cut bauble shapes from our paintings.  Thanks, Wendy.
- Used a snowflake punch and some white address labels to make stickers for the baubles.  And added anything else from the artbox while we were at it.
- Created informal collagraphs by sticking yew twigs onto card and printing with it.  And printing with our hands.  And painting with the ink.  After all anything goes.  Feets' favourite bit.
- Used tiny foam squares to stick the baubles onto the cards.  This was, without question, Bean's favourite bit.
- I was a bit concerned that our baubles looked like planets, so I used silver pen to add 'strings'.  Obviously the kids got involved with this too.  They still look like planets.

Job done.  Very imperfect, that's the point.  I'm happy.  Hopefully there are a bunch of people out there who appreciate that we made them a card.

As for next Christmas ... well I used up ALL my ideas this year.  I'm stumped!

26 October 2019

I am 40

This month I am 40.

I have ten GCSEs, four A levels,
a degree.
I was proud, once.
Then I dismissed them, I moved on

I’ve travelled five continents;
I’ve learnt four languages, sort of
(And forgotten them)

But also in my 40 years:

I learnt to walk, and talk,
To read and write, and count.
And sing -
Finally, finally, I can just about hold a tune.
I learnt to play the clarinet.  And forgot.
The piano, too – and remembered, a bit

I learnt to swim, and ride a bike.
I learnt to kayak - to eskimo roll, tell a stopper from a wave, cross an eddy line.
I forgot how to kayak

And after all these years, I’ve just cracked hula hooping -
and run 5km.
I didn’t pass out, combust or split my sides in misery
(Enjoyed it, actually)

I learnt to sew, and knit and crochet
(and melt plastic bags to make lampshades)
I figured I wasn’t a natural artist
But I couldn’t stop drawing and painting and cutting and sticking.
I learnt to print.
I made a few books.
I wasn’t a natural artist
(did it anyway)

I’ve learned to love my figure -
I’ve thickened my figure, and thinned it, and thickened and thinned it.
I learnt to love myself in glasses
(had laser surgery anyway)
I learnt to love the mole on my chin
(And had it removed)
Learnt how to embrace my curly hair -
Chopped it off. 
(Grew it back, chopped it off)

I moved to the big smoke;
it got smokier.
Made a home of this enormous city eventually.
Made friends,
Offered a shoulder to cry on.
And missed so many more chances to help.
Cried on a few shoulders too
Lower Lip Kiss
I tried to fall in love -
I made mistakes, but finally I got it right.

I fell in love:
I found a man who fits me, who loves me,
for all this and for the other things too, the bits I won’t write down 

He’s a sticker.

I grew, birthed and nurtured –
and screamed at, wept over, sometimes smacked –
Two beautiful, (mostly) happy children.
So I guess I learned to mother
I’m a manager.
Not recognised in my salary, of course, and naturally I manage more people and earn less than my husband.
But still … I’m a manager
(For a bit)

I learned passionate, strong opinions, and argued for them. 
And changed my mind
(Many times)

I’ve tried, in my little way, to make the world a better place –
Occupied the library, written letters,
marched for justice
(Oh dear)

I’m still learning to balance the here and now
with the impending catastrophe of Earth.
Still learning when to accept and when to do battle -
with my children, with my career,
with the world.

I haven’t achieved world peace (yet).
I haven’t won prizes or promotions,
trophies, fame, letters after my name, directorships or great wealth.

But golly I’ve learnt so much.

And with love, hope and all fingers crossed
I’m just half way through…

13 October 2019

Lambeth Open

At the beginning of the summer, I put to my artist friend Wendy Horler, the idea that we display our work in her conservatory as part of Lambeth Open. It seemed a slightly insane idea - to hand the children to my husband for the entire weekend, to relinquish any 40th birthday celebrations in the name of art, to put every second of spare time across the summer into collecting my artwork together - but bizarrely everyone seemed to think it was also a great idea. IMG-20191006-WA0010 My thought came from the realisation that for perhaps the first time, I had a body of work that naturally held together in a coherent way - my illustrative style has crystalised somewhat in recent years but more importantly, the focus brought by making artwork and books for my children and the children of others has given a thematic coherence to my work. Exciting to find it came of its own accord at last!

Well, the experience was amazing - better than I dreamed, hoped for, or expected. I found the opportunity to chat to people about my work, and their responses, utterly rewarding. Wendy and I had agreed not to sell our work - except a few cards - and perhaps taking this approach enabled us and our visitors to relax into genuine discussions about our work and our stories without worries about whether we were correctly reading between the lines. IMG-20191006-WA0011 I was honestly gratified to find such genuine appreciation of my books. I don't know that I will ever have a commercial enough mind to make a regular income of personal books, but the conversations I had this weekend gave me to understand that at least I'm not a fool for dreaming!

And I was surprised by the amount of interest in one of my older illustrations, which is timely in an era of climate crisis, and reinforced my feeling that I should not be afraid to consider the climate in my work. IMG-20191006-WA0009 Lastly, I did have a few conversations with people interested in buying or commissioning - such a learning curve in itself, again to see my work from an outside perspective.

Thanks to everyone who came, everyone who encouraged me, and most especially, Wendy for hosting me!

28 September 2019

Sketching the Kids

Portugal Portraits Not much time to sketch on holiday with two energetic children in tow, but I snatched short moments to sketch them in action, something I've long fallen out of the habit of doing. Often it was when they sat down to draw too, or fell asleep... Kids 5

21 September 2019

Modernist British Printmaking

DPG I managed to squeeze in a visit to Modernist British Printmaking at Dulwich Picture Gallery before the exhibition closed - a total treat and indulgence currently! It was a gorgeous exhibition, transporting me back to my art-historical past, and reconnecting me with the period between the wars, still one of my favourite eras of art. And there's always something special about seeing your own city represented in art, as Cyril Power always did so beautifully with his tube paintings. DPG 1
I finished up with a quick reunion with the Linley Sisters - long ago, Dulwich's collection was part of my daily life, and each time I visit, I intend to return again and spend serious sketchbook time with my favourite paintings.  One day I will ... !