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.

9 July 2018

Mind the Gap

One of the most creative projects I've worked on recently, Mind the Gap is an interactive adventure which I worked with immersive theatre company Specifiq to develop for London Transport Museum.

It was an awe-inspiring journey in so many ways - absolutely amazing to bring school groups into the empty Museum Depot, and to watch their reactions as they arrive; magical to transport them on a journey of imagination that generated quotes such as 'Miss, I'm a bit scared but I think it's going to be alright' and 'do you know where she is?' as well as 'I thought it was going to be boring but it was the best day ever'; and a true adventure to me to work with Oscar and Becky, co-directors of Specifiq - to think outside the box and watch some loose ideas shape into real-life adventure, as well as to learn so much about the world of immersive theatre.

Sessions are on a 'soft launch' this term, with full operation from September.

I am now back (part-time) at the London Transport Museum as Schools and Interpretation Manager, which allows me the joy of seeing how the sessions unfold over the coming year!

5 June 2018

Playdough Fun

20180519_103124 20180519_103124 20180519_103124 Feets' playdough set has kept us happy for a long time. One of those sets I would snottily say 'we don't need to buy it, we can make it'. But then I so rarely made it, and before you realise it, time has passed and your precious children are deprived of playdough! So she gratefully received a 'cooking' playdough set, complete with pasta maker and moulds for all sorts of food. Which, this time, we joyfully subverted into faces. A collaborative effort, of course!

29 May 2018

Garden on a Plate

20180510_143751Did we all do these when we were little? It's such a funny, random, theme for all those summer shows. A flash back to the 80s - or did it continue to the present?! 20180510_145737
Anyway, since Feets decided to start collecting blossom so she could plant it in the garden, I suggested making a garden on a plate. It kept us all very happy for the best part of a day, despite the need to keep Bean away from Feets' plate, which was of course far more intriguing than her own! We went to the park to collect sticks, stones, fallen blossom and leave, and then made playdough to plant the broccoli and blossom into. 20180510_143615 The whole project came to life when we thought to bring the fairies and dinosaurs into it, and then build a bridge between the plates, and then bring out a saucepan of water to form a river under the bridge ...

(and yes, Bean tried to eat the broccoli!)

22 May 2018

Granny and Me: The first two pages

I've been working very hard on this! And we are nearly there. This book has been an amazing learning journey for me, and a beautiful story to tell. Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device I thought it was a story for one special child, but I realise it is a magical way for any child to explore loss, grief, missing people. Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Device (1)

16 May 2018

a book - a gift - a memento - a puzzle

20180423_204206 I made a book for a friend's hen party. Her hen do took the form of a 'treasure hunt' across London, with clues that she had to solve to find each location. This book therefore needed a format to present each clue, with the answer to be found separately. Great chance to use pockets and tags! Every page had two pockets, with the clue on a tag in one pocket and the answer in the other. 20180423_204059 Using eccentric photos of the bride and her friends seemed a good way to make it light, humorous and bring all the group into it - always nice to have a memento from the day!

1 May 2018

Katie Morag

It's been a while since I've posted a beautiful book for children, but since we're on holiday in Scotland, I'd like to share my latest inspiring book ... well-known and well-loved, I believe, it's Mairi Hedderwick's Katie Morag.

As is so often the case, these fabulously illustrated stories of a much loved world far removed from our own London life, are familiar to Feets and me thanks to CBeebies,  but I've only ever seen the books in passing.

Take a look some time - and see how many different media she's managed to incorporate into one picture!

17 April 2018

Songs of Flight

My brother, Owen, and I spent Easter Monday at the Roald Dahl Museum, working with families to write songs about the experience of flying. 20180402_160325 It was the first time we’d worked together and, well it worked out beautifully!  I haven’t often co-delivered, but it’s a great opportunity to play to different people’s strengths, and ultimately come up with something really good.  Naturally, there were things we’d like to try differently, but in generally, with only 45 minutes with each group, we achieved a lot. 20180402_154633 Owen brings an incredible talent in singing, guitar and improvisation, along with his irresistible charm and sense of how to pitch things at just the right level.  Combined with my background in interpreting museum themes for families and enabling our youngest audiences to become creators, we involved every visitor to the workshop in the writing of a new and original song.  

In planning, it was also wonderful to read Going Solo for the first time, and to feel Roald Dahl’s experience of flight, and of Africa, and how widely it influenced his later writing.

10 April 2018

Brixton Windmill Live and Kicking!

It has been such a privilege to work with Brixton Windmill, and I'm really proud to be a part of their journey as they anticipate their new education facility, set to open later this year.
For now, the schools workshops are live on the website, the team are armed with amazing volunteers and freelancers ready to deliver, and the adventure continues!  Visit the website for a taste of the workshops.

3 April 2018

We all remember Pooh-sticks

In the last possible moment, we finally made it to the gorgeous Winnie-the-Pooh exhibition at the V&A, with the help of our friend Steph.  My illustrator self desperately wanted to pause and drool over the gorgeous pictures but I had to give in to the demands of small children, so sadly this blog entry is more about the joys of child-inspiring exhibitions than the glory of E H Shepard.

Feets is currently ensconced in the magic of Winnie-the-Pooh which we regularly read before bed.  Bean is thrilled when let out of her buggy to practise her newfound walking skills.  Both were absolutely delighted by the exhibition, which offered a glorious physical visit into the world of Winnie-the-Pooh.  20180325_163856 I hesitated in the first room, and thought our tour would be brief, as Feets is spoilt by interactive exhibitions and couldn't keep her attention on the displays, after counting how many Winnie-the-Poohs she could see.
20180325_16280320180325_170859But then the second room was a treasure trove of magic.  A door, which I would never fit through, a bell, a tent, a river across an interactive floor, which kept them occupied for house, trees with seats inside, and finally a table, where Feets sat with Steph for a good hour, concocting drawings of trees and Piglet and cups of tea.  Even ... a slide.  A slide!  20180325_171406 Happy, happy people.  Thanks, Steph!  Thanks, V&A!

27 March 2018

Granny and Me: My New Friends

I've become incredibly attached to the characters in Granny and Me - I find myself chatting to them (especially as a plasticine arm falls off - even worse, a head!).  Here are some initial sketches.
Granny at Arne Leo

20 March 2018

Squash and Carrot Soup

Our artist friend Wendy Horler is forever saving, drying, cutting, painting bits and pieces from her garden and her kitchen.  She's fascinated by watching them rot, but also by watching them change as they dry out and the sculptural forms she can build from them. 20180111_130639 20180111_130620 20180111_130555

Feets and I are, of course, 100% inspired by this, so I've begun to save bits from our own cooking and dry them out on the radiator.  Usually they end up all over the floor and then in the bin, but this time our mutual patience led us to pick them all up twice before I left Feets and Bean to make pretend soup in their cooker.  When that ran out Feets asked if she could paint them.  I was reluctant at that moment (I admit!) so we agreed she would colour them with pens instead. 20180303_131505
A happy hour later, and I am blissfully collating Feets' coloured bits into some kind of floral design.  Bean is sorting out the lids of the felt pens and Feets has moved on to making a storybook.

Thanks Wendy!

13 March 2018

Granny and Me: Back to Plasticine

I am illustrating a book, my first commission of this kind - a memoir, written by a mother for her baby son. She asked me to do it after seeing Across the Sea, which is why I said yes. A joy to be asked to do something similar to previous work rather than imitative of some unknown style!

It's a rollercoaster adventure, a gorgeous, luxurious opportunity to spend many drawing hours at my desk. An incredible, intense learning curve - one moment I realise just how much I am 'growing up' through this journey, and the next, how much I still have to learn. And yes, right now, a wee bit daunting as I watch time slipping away. 20180213_113714 20180227_120508

First things first - I returned to an approach I find immensely comforting - to make my characters from plasticine and draw them. Creating Mummy and Daddy in bed, with whatever I had to hand as props amused me enormously!

6 March 2018

Roald Dahl's Story Centre

In a brief spell after the workshops, I took a peek into the Story Centre at the Roald Dahl Museum.

And was utterly inspired ...

What a magical place to play with words.
20180210_164057 20180210_164859

I quietly put the writing part of my mind to one side years ago.  It returns in articles, blog posts, diaries and in the stories I tell my children, but I haven't put pen to paper to write a story for a long time.

And the Story Centre, targeted of course towards children, set my imagination going too.  It made me feel that we should ALL be writing - that, just as we are all artists, we are all writers too. 20180210_164808 Most inspiring, perhaps, was the thoughts, inspiration and processes of popular children's writers of today.  As an illustrator, I often hear my insecurities saying 'what do proper illustrators do?'  It feels as though I need to conform to an idea of how artists should work.  And just like artists, it turns out that every writer has their own approach.  Roald Dahl set himself up in his hut every day, while JK Rowling writes somewhere different every day.

Watch this space ...

Oh - and I made a 15 frame animation for my lovely Mr Liam. 20180210_164729

27 February 2018

Early Excellence

20180206_160402 I joined the Early Years Network for an exploration and introduction of the Early Excellence Centre in Canada Water.  It's a gorgeous place, full to the brim of beautiful displays to inspire the best in learning for 0-6.  Gorgeous in part, because the displays are new, unused and uninterrupted by eager but clumsy hands. 20180206_160451 But, incidentally, nurseries and schools almost always impress me with their ability to re-set with inspiring set-ups and arrangements every single day.  Knowing, of course, how difficult it is for me to keep on top of merely two small children and their mess!

Inspired for now by ideas of multi-layered learning through blocks, from building bridges to putting them away in correct numbers on shadows of their shapes, and of multi-sensory transient art, crystals and light boxes, I've also stored away a pile of good intentions to find out more about how small children learn and how they see the world. 20180206_160419 I was also a little unnerved to realise how my mindset has slowly adjusted to the new status quo.  In the past, I would have sniffed to find that the work of training schools in teaching for early years was done by a business rather than a charity, or indeed a council organisation.  Now, I was pleased to find that they had found a way to make it work ...

20 February 2018

From Bag to Beast

After years of making lampshades from plastic bags, it seemed time to push the boundaries of audience and time frame for working with this luxurious medium.  Last weekend I delivered short workshops for families at Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre.  Sadly the weather didn't favour us with the glowing sunlit backdrop that I hoped for, but still, we managed a lovely array of beasts from our new textured material. 20180210_125548 Little time to gather photos, and sadly the weather was not in the mood to light up our creations but here's a quick shot.

30 January 2018

Schools at Brixton Windmill

I have spent the past three months reviewing the schools programme for Brixton Windmill.  It has been an incredible journey, and I've learnt a huge amount about my local area - what a privilege to do a project on my own doorstep!  From cogwheels to maps and census documents, and folktales to historical costumes, I've traveled a long way in a short time.  Watch this space for updates to the website.20180122_110021 Over the last couple of weeks, I've delivered trials of the four new primary workshops with local schools.  It's rewarding to work directly with this audience again, and no matter what innovative learning strategies I'm able to offer, to be reminded that the most exciting and enriching part of any educational visit is the building itself.

This adventure has brought me face-to-face with the national curriculum once more, and exchanges with so many people - teachers, volunteers at the Windmill and fellow Museum professionals - have left me feeling empowered, enriched and excited for the next step on my journey.  I've also had ample opportunity for reflection, sitting down with the impressive Friends of Windmill Gardens to consider what their aims for the learning programme are, which audiences we most want to work with and how best to achieve that.

Time for a morning off!

14 January 2018

Laydeez do Comics

Blog 1 I was delighted to stumble across Laydeez do Comics in an old email, thrilled to realise I could actually attend the next gathering, and brazenly offered my blogging services. Having, admittedly, not quite realised the brilliance of my blogging predecessors. Blog 2 An awe-inspiring evening in the gorgeous Teahouse Theatre, a warm, warm welcome and a whole bunch of creative people who do not require me to turn up reliably at every meeting - most exactly what I need! A new book that seems to have taken my precise life situation and put it into pictures and writing, thanks Richy K Chandler. Blog 3 And a new book to come that looks likely to embrace all my dreams about the potential of a graphic novel and tell - well, a much-needed story. Thanks Lucy Sullivan.

7 January 2018

The Boat

I found myself listening to a Digital Arts programme on Radio 4, and a discussion of The Boat, an interactive graphic novel by Matt Huynh.  Intrigued and excited by the idea of a new art form, a new way of forming narrative that combined illustration and animation differently, I did something I rarely do - I went online and watched it immediately.

And I can't work out what I think, actually.
I loved it.  I wanted to love it.  I dreamed of being surprised by something utterly 'out there' and beyond anything I could conceive, while still being beautiful and illustrative (I'm not so fond of the overly digital stuff).  I am always waiting to be surprised by something I've never even imagined, so you can guess how high I set my expectations!  I watched (and read) Persepolis some time ago and it has also set the bar extremely high - nothing has beaten it since!

I'd like to mention that my experience of graphic novels is mixed, too.  I'm frequently entranced by the beauty of the cover, and often frustrated by the generic 'comic strip' style of the illustrations.  I expect too much - there is a lot to fit into small images that need to be understood quickly, and so it makes sense that they are simple and usually monochrome.

Meanwhile, I am an avid reader - more than anything else, I relax by sinking into the world created by whichever novel I'm reading at the moment.  So graphic novels sometimes fall short of my narrative, literary need by feeling a bit too simplistic, and I read them too fast - I don't know how to dwell on them, to soak in the depth of the story visually rather than descriptively.

How was The Boat going to fit in with all this experience, these expectations?

Well.  The introduction was bewitching, enticing - beautiful, inky brushstrokes creating an animated scene that set the whole stormy backdrop beautifully.

And throughout, the illustrative style was exquisite.  Emotive, painterly, atmospheric.  I loved that I could see the layers of ink used to build the story.  I loved that the artist allowed pools and blotches to play their role.
I think I also liked the text.  As mentioned above, for me it served well to deepen the story, and I found it beautifully written.  A couple of the panelists commented that it was perhaps 'overwritten', and having seen it, I suspect they were referring in particular to a few sentences towards the end which were absolutely, painfully unnecessary, when the images would have stood alone perfectly.

But I can't help wondering how much was added to the piece by making it a digital work?  The radio show played a piece of music that was used within the soundtrack and I was thrilled by the idea that the piece had a musical soundtrack.  It returned me to ideas that I first explored with Kandinsky and friends through The Blue Rider - this group of artists, musicians and philosophers were absorbed by the inter-relation of art forms.

Anyway, the music was beautiful, but actually it was a song that supported two particular parts of the narrative.  The rest of the soundtrack was very sensitively done - the sound of waves, for example - a click or a shudder to correspond with a sudden movement on the boat.  And a lot of silence.  While I'm glad that the soundtrack wasn't over-worked, I also couldn't help feeling that perhaps it was hardly necessary at all.  What I most often felt myself wanting was a voice - a voice that narrated the story.  It felt strange to read the words on screen, amidst animation and soundtrack.  Perhaps I am too embedded in film culture.
So I'm still a little undecided.  I have watched a beautiful, evocative graphic novel with a stunning short-storyline that as a narrative was, I think, spot on.  I'm happy and inspired, but I feel as if I watched it through a powerpoint presentation with some amazing gimmicks!

I thought this might finally convert me to the possibilities of the digital world, but perhaps at the end of the day I'm still just a luddite, who loves the feel of paper between my fingers and the space to pick up and put down a book as often as I like, wherever I like.