Megan Dowsett is a freelance creative consultant working with museums and galleries.

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.

Her core values come down to two simple things:

People: At the heart of everything she does, people are there – be it audiences of any age or background, volunteers, staff or freelancers and apprentices. She believes that the best projects take everybody with them on a learning journey.

Creativity: In every role she’s taken, creativity has played a key priority. Working in Museums and Galleries, creativity brings a valuable opportunity to think about the same things in a different way.

Museums and galleries are the perfect place to bring the joy of discovery and magic of adventure to everyone who passes through the doors - and to invite those who haven't yet braved these sometimes intimidating buildings, to do so in a dynamic and inviting way.

Over twelve years working in these exciting settings, Megan has developed extensive experience in both managing and delivering creative projects that engage with a wide variety of audiences.

18 October 2017

Homes from Sticks

20170831_110233 Utterly inspired by two days at a Forest School this summer, Feets begged for more.  So when we went camping in Dorset, I took a headful of ideas that would keep up the Forest School vibe.  We spent a glorious morning collecting sticks before seeing what kinds of houses we could make for our sylvanian families.  Feets was most determined to use thread, which kept her very busy, while I carefully stacked sticks up the side.  We were both very content!
20170831_110017

11 October 2017

Checking out the Postal Museum

Postage Stamp Thanks to the Early Years Network, I was able to explore the all shiny-new Postal Museum.  Actually, it's pretty exciting turning up, just seeing teams of postal vans at platforms at the depot across the way - it sets my geeky cogs going ... how does it really all work?  How on earth does my letter, posted in a panic one evening, so often land on the doorstep the next morning?  Especially since these days, I've noticed, so much London delivery is done on foot.

From a learning perspective, the new galleries are, of course, a dream.  They feel similar in aesthetic and layout to the new design gallery at London Transport Museum (LTM)- is this reflective of an evolving style in gallery design?  Or were the same designers involved?  Either way, they are rich with interactives, costumes to try on, buttons to press, lights to light up and a chance to design your own 'selfie stamp'.
Similarly, the beautiful, spanking new 'Sorted', role-play area for children has probably taken inspiration from All Aboard at LTM.  With a beautiful London backdrop, a mini post office and a mini sorting office complete with slide, there will be some very happy, tiny posties soon enough.

4 October 2017

Volcano of Seeds and Pulses

20170907_214159 20170907_112724 Feets has been asking a lot about volcanoes recently.  So naturally, when she said she'd like to make a seed picture and I asked what our pictures should include, she said volcanoes.

So here they are, hers and mine.

We got quite a long way before starting to mix ...! 20170907_214312

26 September 2017

Museums and Participation

Yesterday afternoon found myself and some fifty other professionals from across the heritage world, discussing loneliness on every level.  It was the first meeting of MAP, a new network with a mission to push the boundaries of community engagement and interrogate the ways in which we work with our community.  For me, it was a new way to engage with my colleagues – to start out on a very broad but specific theme, and to interrogate this theme on all its levels.  The MAP team had put together an incredible range of speakers, and ensured that they each took a different perspective on the same theme.  

So we explored the notions of institutional loneliness – of a museum that is separated from its immediate community, for example – as well as cultural loneliness – looking at the invisible borders and barriers within a community.  We considered the more traditional but equally important ways that engagement teams consider loneliness – thinking of individuals from the community who have become isolated through a broad range of circumstances.  And we were challenged to probe whether what we really do is chase the funding - which audience is 'in fashion' now, and how can we find a way toward lasting engagement?  Finally, we were asked to think about something more personal, let's call it professional loneliness – the feeling of bearing the needs of your participants and the burden of a community project alone.

Breakout groups explored each of these ideas – I found myself discussing personal loneliness, among a group who turned out to be almost entirely freelance.  Space here, I think, for us to develop co-coaching (as someone phrased it) or support groups, as well as exploring team building within the organisations where we work.

It was an inspiring session – enormous thanks to the team of some nine organisers (too many to name, I apologise!).  I’m not a tweeter (yet!) but you can find MAP on twitter, from where I have pinched the photographs, here:  #museumsparticipation

12 September 2017

Round and Round the Garden

Round the Garden Small A slow, year-in-the-making project, I decided to illustrate one of my children's favourite nursery rhymes. With time, I hope more will follow ...

6 September 2017

World Illustration Awards at Somerset House

I made it to the World Illustration Awards exhibition at Somerset House - and I'm so pleased to have done so!  Sometimes I feel I spend too much time inspiring myself with illustration exhibitions when I drown myself in children's books at home every day, but this one - well, this exhibition was great.  Not just final images, but sketches in progress, a range of media, and interviews with artists.
And I was reminded of the wonder of illustration across the genre - that I am inspired by it every day in advertising, theatre, magazines ... Sometimes I feel embarrassed to be taking photos of billboards on tube journeys and collecting flyers simply because they're beautiful - this exhibition reminded me that this is exactly why I do that.  Above illustration, Ten Miles East wine label by Sam Pierpoint.
20170826_172123 It's too tempting to share everything, so here instead are the notes from my sketchbook!  

31 August 2017

August

August I continue to add colour to my calendar drawings, most month. I'm finding, having always been a little intimidated by colour, I'm learning rather a lot about it!

26 August 2017

Looking back - Family Activities at London Transport Museum

As I approach the end of my second maternity leave, I've made the decision to return to work in a self-employed capacity.  Time to step up the challenge again, reach out to some of the audiences I worked with in the past (was always proud to say I worked with everyone from 0 - 100), and use the significant experience I have in designing and developing programmes with new audiences and cultural spaces.

Musical Magic, 12 August – 4 SeptemberBut before I take the dive, I'd like to take a moment to share some of my favourite moments and achievements from my time as Schools and Families Learning Officer, and later (as the programmes expanded), as Family Learning Officer, at London Transport Museum.  This blog has always focused on the creative projects that I've delivered or written myself, so as I began to manage others to create them, I stopped sharing them here.  But in the first place, the vision was often mine!  And I'm proud and honoured to have worked with some incredibly inspiring (and often patient, as they worked to understand my vision, or fit their ideas into the tight parameters set by myself or the Museum) artists and creative practitioners.

Family Activities. The Street Party, 23 July – 7 AugustPerhaps the most diversely inventive part of my role was to create a family activities programme that was different every holiday, encouraging families to use their annual ticket to return again and again.  Coming from Orleans House Gallery, where we made a fabulous mess every day and worked with slightly more intimate numbers, I initially felt quite limited by the need to spend a small budget in a small space, without sink or washing facilities and with as many as 160 children and their parents a day (every day of the holidays), ensuring that visitors saw and built upon the link with the Museum displays or collections.  How to be creative within those confines?

But it didn't take long for the ideas to start rolling ...

Engineering Achievements
The first summer, amidst re-inventing the schools programme, I wrote the activities myself, each practical activity supported by a story for the younger age group and celebrating 150 years of the London Underground:

February half-term: Underground Explorers- For Tackling Tunnels I brought in sandpits and challenged visitors to use different materials to build a tunnel stable enough to allow a train through - an activity that has been much loved ever since
- Down With It got technical, as visitors built their own small lifts and escalators
- Steamy Science pushed through all my technological inhibitions, as we brought the steam cannon and several other pieces of technical equipment from the schools programme into the learning space

Supporting 'new' Freelancers
In the second year, I decided it was time to hand some projects over to the amazing freelancers who had joined my team as they set out on their career - starting out as support freelancers and delivering pre-written programmes, but who had so much more to offer.  This, I feel, was a brilliant move, as for many of them their particular interest was in encouraging families to look again and differently at the collections - a priority that sometimes takes second place in the face of an artistic idea.  Siobhan Brown challenged visitors to collect ideas and information from around the Museum before bringing it back to the learning space to transform their thoughts into something amazing.

Mr Men
In 2015, I worked with the Mr Men team as they launched the lovely new Mr Men in London from the London Transport Museum.  We delivered Mr Men themed activities through the summer, once again determined to promote visitors' exploration of the Museum collections, achieved through a Mr Men trail, wearing self-made Mr Men head-dresses.  It was a brilliant and new experience for me, working with such a famous external organisation.

Pushing the Creative Boundaries
As time went by, I wanted to vary the creative media we were using within the families programme, and to bring in some specialists.  This was challenging, given my tight budget and large numbers - frequently I couldn't stretch to the ambition of larger companies.  However, there are some pretty amazing people out there!

LTM Family Activities: 25 March – 10 April One such was Hannah Lefeuvre, a dance and early years practitioner, who interpreted a small display in the Museum through the medium of dance.  Her ideas challenged me to change the structure of our sessions, the layout and the way we worked with volunteers and budgets.  LTM Family Activities: 25 March – 10 AprilBut chiefly her creative engagement techniques inspired myself and many of my freelancers beyond measure, not to mention the families who joined the workshops.  Before our eyes, Hannah had parents forming tunnels while children crawled through their legs; torches for children to explore the darkness in air raid shelters; enamel plates and cups, with spoons to tap out 'breakfast music', and everybody wearing high-vis jackets.  The creative high from this experience sent ripples through the Museum, and the positive feedback from families who'd come expecting something entirely different was thrilling.

Another time, I worked with Mmoloki Chrystie to deliver animation workshops inspired by our new All Aboard galleries.  This presented a whole different set of challenges, as the target audience for the technical part was slightly older than our usual audience, in addition to the fact that we needed to reach our usual high numbers, while working in very tiny groups.  But it worked!  Families came along to make their animation 'puppets', before older children entered the 'studio space' in family groups for a 15 minute animation slot.  Mmoloki compiled all these animations into incredible short films.

I also worked with the inspirational Artburst, who came along with a much more 'package' approach and a vast amount of experience with the youngest audience and delivered two weeks of activities for through the summer of 2015.  Again, it was wonderful to have my assumptions challenged, to see the space used differently - and to see a parade of boats (Thames 'Nippers') drifting through the Museum at the end of each day as they followed a fog horn and sang their tune.

Musical Magic, 12 August – 4 SeptemberAnd in 2016, I decided to up the ante with the music side of things.  So I found two musicians, Dan Attfield and Owen Dowsett, and asked them to improvise the transport songs written by our visitors into awe-inspiring melodies and soul-shaking guitar.  Coupled with musician led nursery rhymes for younger children, this activity produced a real high for me as my last activity before maternity leave.  I'll never forget the soulful, late-night lock-in atmsophere at 6pm in the learning space as Dan and Owen delivered the volunteer training before the activities began!

Getting Messy
As I planned the following year, I naturally wanted to work with some of these artists again, but I also wanted to keep pushing the boundaries.  I began to fight the idea that we couldn't do messy activities in our small, dry learning space.  So I decided to bring print-making to the Museum to tie in with our Designology exhibition, celebrating 100 years of magnificent design in London Transport.  Print making without a sink, you say?  But anything is possible!  I challenged Anna Saunders and Gloria Gaspard to develop polystyrene stamps which could be inked with watercolour inkpads and wiped clean with wetwipes.  Credit to these amazing artists, the activities worked a treat.

Nightshift
Illustrations smallI was also itching to create activities myself once again, so I squeezed my time to allow myself to write the story and activities that went alongside the Nightshift exhibition.  IMAG0778aI also found myself illustrating the story taking characters from the Museum collections, which on a personal / professional note was another new venture for me.  Inspired by the opening display in the exhibition, family after family created small parts of large card-mosaic nightbuses, which assembled to make a beautiful fleet.  This took a different approach to many of my activities, in challenging families to use a new skill and look at colours differently.  It was also an opportunity to create an impressive collaborative result, where my priority usually tends towards process and creative thinking.

My final adventure of note also responded to the Nightshift exhibition, as I was keen to find a way to explore the 'glow' of lights and neon that identifies London at night - so much of the work in the exhibition demonstrated the thrill of neon as it entered London's nightlife, that we wanted to replicate it in the Museum.  So after a brainstorm in the office with the ever-energetic Sophie Jordan, we landed on the idea of UV lights and neon-painted rice and pasta, to recreate the tube map. IMG_2927A lovely idea, and the best thing about my job was that at this point I could hand it over, not only to the artist Charlotte Tupper, but to a new apprentice, a new young freelancer and a team of young volunteers with additional needs.  We were all brave indeed.  The process was inspirational, challenging and enormous.  The outcome was something incredible.  Once again, we managed to surprise.

The length of this essay is testament to how much I have loved the creativity, freedom and challenges of my role at London Transport Museum.  I have learnt so much and worked with so many inspiring people, I hope I can take some of this forward into my next adventures, both at London Transport Museum and elsewhere.

Delivery of the family activities at the Museum was only one part of my role - I hope soon to write something of the other things I got up to there ... watch this space!

20 August 2017

Box Art at Printworks London

20170818_131917 I casually agreed to join some friends at a free workshop for children and adults of all ages, working with boxes. And turned up at Printworks London, immediately blown away by the scale and magnificence, both of the venue and the project underway - pretty pleased to have trekked to Surrey Quays with two small children!

Funded in part by a local regeneration project, artist Charlie Evaristo-Boyce had used dozens of boxes to create a city, using a mixture of screenprint and spray paint. The magic of repetition and cityscraper patterns achieved through screenprint on white boxes was lovely.IMG_3590

But part of the project requirement was to invite the community in to contribute to the project, and so here we were, our part of the community comprising three grown ups, two small children and a baby.

Left fairly to our own devices, we decided to draw around the children and let them paint themselves onto a tower, while the other grown ups had a dabble with screen printing. It worked rather well and the children were amazing - this was perhaps Feets' first time painting on a large scale and the attraction of painting herself helped maintain her interest.
IMG_3593For me the key magic of the day was the size of the space and the sheer number of boxes and towers. What a joy it would be to work on such a 'blank canvas'!

The other magic, perhaps not the magic the artists had in mind, was the joy for the children of exploring this box city - of building houses and tunnels out of unused boxes, playing hide and seek - simply being able to work with such a monumental medium was a dream for a groups of pre-schoolers.

Photos thanks to Eleanor Salter-Thorn

16 August 2017

Indian Summer at the Horniman Museum

20170816_144902Feets, Bean and I passed a dreamy day in the Horniman Gardens, and found ourselves in a storytime and workshop themed around the Indian Summer and run by Emergency Exit Arts. We learned to count in Hindi, and to say 'Namaste' (and that one has stuck - we are still greeting each other in Hindi each day), and learnedlearned Indian dance signs for a number of animals, which Feets practises at frequent intervals. And we painted our own many-headed animals with bold paint sticks. A little bit of story, a little bit of dance, a little bit of art. All happy.

12 August 2017

Working side by side ... on postcards

Feets Feets1 Feets and I have struggled a bit lately. After I set her up collaging her pressed flowers with tissue paper and postcards, and she was 'finished' within a minute, I realised that, in the struggle to get jobs done and look after Bean, it's a long time since I've sat with her and made things alongside her. So I took one of the postcards that she'd cut up and spent a happy half hour sticking, and Feets continued onto a second, third and forth postcard, each for a different friend. Watch out, friends! Feets2

5 August 2017

Pani

A corner of the Natural History Gallery at Horniman Museum is devoted to a contemporary interpretation of the Museum collections.  I love this corner very much, though I often have a three year old in tow who drags me past to see the walrus!
For now, there is a beautiful display by Daksha Patel, exploring people's relationship with water.  My attention was caught both by the beauty and the use of materials - she has 'edited' a satellite map of water with illustrative drawings of the creatures that live there and embroidered patterns.  I love this interaction of embroidery (a traditional, meticulous and very hands on, unmechanical craft) with the abstract beauty of satellite photography.
She has also created a series of rustic pots, collapsing the form of the pots to reflect the effects of pollution on the world.

29 July 2017

July

July1Just in time, here's July ...

24 July 2017

Anime Architecture: Backgrounds of Japan

I popped into the House of Illustration after a glorious hour introducing Bean to the fountains in Granary Square.  To be honest, I'd been most appealed by the Jacqueline Ayer exhibition (pretty predictable of me, I know), which turned out to be closed.  So I explored Quentin Blake's Life of Birds (lovely - what is it about birds, of all things?  He tries to answer this, but he's not the only illustrator to love birds - perhaps I'll come back to this in a future blog), and then an exhibition of backdrops from Japanese Anime films.  Not my bag at all, usually, so very good for me to see something different!
It took a while to get into - I'm not traditionally a fan of the cool, clinical lines of futuristic cities (above - by Hiromasa Ogura for Ghost in the Shell) BUT ... I couldn't help but be mesmerised by the sheer talent of the artists and utterly intrigued by the complexity of developing an animated film like this.  To be honest it clicked into place for me at the end of the exhibit when I saw some cuts from the actual films - THEN I found myself fascinated and absorbed by how they manage to put such things together.
Along the way, I was chiefly drawn in by the gorgeous, obsessive complexity of Takashi Wasabe's layout drawings for Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, a world (on a boat, I think) of tubes and pipes ... 

18 July 2017

Wood

20170710_224032It had to be something quick and easy ... and rarely turns out quite as quick and easy as intended ... but here it is, a 'wood' gift for our fifth anniversary, made from the driftwood we collected on Salt Spring Island in April, reminiscent of the candle holders we made for our wedding.

3 July 2017

Wendy Horler

IMG_8621Wendy and I have been meeting for years to encourage, inspire, critique and support our creative journeys. We both strive (and lets be honest, often struggle) to discipline ourselves into more regular drawing habits, but Wendy can't long resist returning to three dimensions.

She's absorbed by the things she collects from her garden, but lately she's been exploring papier mache using toilet paper. Well, you know my love of toilet roll tubes ... perhaps it was predictable that I'd be fascinated by her toilet roll adventures!

IMG_8632She always seems to come up with magical abstract shapes. I love the different shades of one colour and the simple structures built by putting together. There's something very soothing about the simple shapes from the textured material. IMG_8622
And each structure is reminiscent of something different - a ship, twigs and leaves ... any thoughts?!

18 June 2017

Jo Beal's Daily Diary

Mum led me to the drawing diary of Jo Beal.  I would like to do this!  Dare I?
I've thought about drawing my days so many times (I even did it in the Torres del Paine) but I've never managed to keep it up.  Perhaps now's not the time, with two small children?  I'm trying to quell my need to create as there's simply no time, and the itch seems less provocative if I try not to scratch it ... but, oh, I itch!

11 June 2017

Smelly Louis

20170514_165127We still haven't run out of inspiration from the gorgeous Smelly Louis by Catherine Rayner. Inspired by this and a 'making paint' activity last summer at Brockwell Community Greenhouses, Feets and I decided to re-create a very mucky, grubby illustration of Louise the dog. 20170514_165416

With a pen each, we drew a quick outline, then took it outside to 'get back Louis' smell'.

Among other materials, we tried: squashing berries (great!); making paint from turmeric and paprika (great, but Feets is prone to adding ever more water ...); mud; leftover coffee (always a goodun); a wet teabag, first smeared, then ripped open; a concoction of flour, water and food colouring ...

Among other techniques, we tried: toothbrush flicking; straw blowing; dragging and printing paint with a stick; sponge printing (turned into squeezing floods of wet sponge onto the painting). 20170514_165234Of course, in the end, the fun that lasted longest was pouring water and mixing ever more paint, finishing Daddy's spice supplies and feeding the concoction to the plants!

4 June 2017

Utterly Inspirational Children's Books

Some of our favourite books, I have read so often that I can read the entire thing to Feets, voices and all, without thinking about what I'm doing, and my mind drifts into figuring out how such beautiful illustrations were created. And the common theme among my favourite books is watercolour - creative and with mixed media, but almost always using watercolour. We are very happy, Feets and I, sharing a cuddle, and each in our own world enjoying something beautiful. I should add that a good story is an even more essential criteria (of course) and all these stories win on both fronts!

Here is just a sample of the techniques that have caught my attention.
The Crow's Tale by Naomi Howarth.  Beautiful, vibrant watercolours and composition, smeared with thick black ink when the crow gets blackened by the sun.
The Very Helpful Hedgehog by Rosie Wellesley.  The most simply crafted of this collection I think, but the use of pencil to build the scraggy donkey is, I think, magical.
Puffin Peter by Petr Horacek.  Probably our most longstanding favourite - I read it three times, this morning, and we've enacted it many a time!  This book is filled with wax resist, masking fluid and collage, while utilising all the beauty of watercolour washes.
Smelly Louis by Catherine Rayner.  I've mentioned this book before, but I am never bored by the lovely mix of gentle print (backgrounds) and mixed-media squiggles to create the messiest dog around.

Interestingly, I've noticed that while many books are written by one person and illustrated by another, all of these are written and illustrated by the same person.  People who are utterly at home in their world as children's authors ...

28 May 2017

A Tiny Sketchbook Update

sketchbook sketchbook 2I have no idea how people manage things like this with their maternity leave. Indeed, I don't know how anyone manages anything!

So this is all I have to share from my sktechbook in recent months - drawing with more varied media, chiefly inspired by Linda Kitson and my consequent purchase of a carbon pencil.

I am coping with the lack of creative time by a) dreaming up arty projects for Feets and b) writing down all the ideas I don't have time to do so that I can forget about them for ten years.