Megan Dowsett is a creative consultant working in museums, galleries and the arts, an illustrator who is finding her voice through personal and local projects, and a parent to two young beings who can't help but influence her creative journey.

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.

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 ... !

14 September 2019

Lambeth Artists Open

All the most sensible people decide to put on an exhibition to celebrate their birthday!  Please join us if you can, all welcome.Invitation for Blog

18 August 2019

Black Sketchbook

Recently I picked up my black sketchbook again ... Black 1 Black 2

4 August 2019

Quick egg box flowers

20190426_103546 My Mum spotted these in a magazine, and I remembered how absorbed Feets had become in a careful painting kit a year or two ago.  So we took acrylic paints and eggboxes outside and painted.  There's something very satisfying about painting with acrylic - it's thick and easy to spread, and we steer clear of water.  Sometimes it's nice to give the children something different to paint with.

These are perhaps the simplist thing I've ever shared!

21 July 2019

Whose Shoes: The book, the whole book and nothing but the book

Beginning with the front and back covers, here is my recent 'Whose Shoes?' in it's entirety.

01 Front Cover               10 Back Cover 02 yellow pink 03 blue red 04 green 05 white grey 06 black 07 Purple 08 Orange Brown 09 All Shoes

7 July 2019

Van Gogh and Britain

It's something of a rare luxury to visit an exhibition with time to enjoy it at the moment, but having recently seen the film At Eternity's Gate, I was keen to see the Van Gogh and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain.  I enjoyed it, but I admit I was a little confused - almost the first thing I learnt was that Van Gogh hadn't yet become an artist when he was living in Britain.  And something else I couldn't understand was that he didn't seem to have done any drawing or painting at all during that time - even as an amateur, or a hobby, or simply a doodle.  I still find this a bit baffling - in fact, I think he must have done, but the exhibition didn't address this, or what is probably the lack of any work still remaining from this time.  Van Gogh I also struggled a little get particularly excited in most of the rooms, which aroused some curiosity in me - do I no longer have any attention span for exhibitions?  Are the crowds entirely off-putting?  Have I become more demanding now that I don't have opportunity to do this very often?  Or have I become more critical and analytical since I began to explore interpretation in my professional life?

Baffled by my indifference, I finally sat down and looked up a review.  And felt vindicated to find many of the same feelings expressed in the Guardian.

All of this said, surrounded by the work of numerous less-known artists, Van-Gogh's work shone.  It will always be beautiful.  And what caught my attention the most - or perhaps I simply had the courage to confront these less colourful pieces in my sketchbook - were some people studies from his early career as an artist.

30 June 2019

A Whitstable Retreat

I clawed a few days entirely to myself and took myself off to Whitstable to relax.  I had no concrete plans and wanted to stay free from pressure to 'create', but still I took a rucksack full of supplies and a couple of inspirational books, just in case. 20190507_121020 I felt as though I wanted to come home knowing what my next project was, that was all.  In the midst of work and family, I find I need to know what I'm working on to stand any chance of grabbing the spare half hour that appears a couple of evenings each week and letting art win out over TV. IMG-20190507-WA0005 It was blissful.  There was no TV or Wifi in the flat, so I was nudged out of my lazy moments, and I found myself happily pootling with tea staining, collage and book forms.  I returned to my black sketchbook - which I'll share at a later date - and I have settled on my next, slow project ... to make a book of my wedding diaries, which I began long ago and abandoned.

But for now, for this trip, I was every bit as playful as I'd hoped!  

16 June 2019

Easter Decorations

I've never been keen on the abundance of egg decorations at easter, since it seems to me more absorbed by chocolate than the original 'new life' thinking.  But this year, I've been completely converted. 20190419_131901 The simplicity of the egg shape gave us a framework for a day of painterly experimentation, for Feets, Bean and a schoolfriend.  And results which made lovely bunting.  I admit, I wandered around Pinterest looking for things that would pique not only the children's interest, but mine too. 20190419_132203 We tried:
- PVA and salt painting ... MAGICAL!  What a discovery!  The colours faded a little as they dried, but the texture of the painting and magic of watching the colour run through the salt crystals was wonderful.

- Painting doilies with watercolours, and mounting them onto coloured paper.  Also wonderful in being absolutely effective for all three children, even two year old Bean.

- Wax resist.  Again, five-year old Feets and her friend were thrilled to draw 'invisible' lines with a white candle, and reveal them afterwards with paint.  Less successful for Bean, but she was so happy to be painting that she didn't even realise she was missing anything.

Four happy ladies!  

2 June 2019

Dior at the V&A

20190424_105755 It was a spontaneous visit, one in company, and at a fraught time mentally. So I didn't take my sketchbook, nor did I linger, but it was fun to explore the V&A's Dior exhibition in a social capacity - something I rarely do.

As much as the dresses were spectacular, varied, abundant and awe-inspiring, the setting reflected this luxury just as much.  And so, ironically, the strongest memory for me was one mystical room which overflowed with white, paper-cut flowers.  What a gorgeous luxury of exhibition interpretation!  Every room had a very distinct atmosphere, theatrical to say the least.

19 May 2019

Whose Shoes: The Book

20190523_175118 I have been working on this book for about four years, beginning with Feets and finishing it just in time for Bean to enjoy.  I admit, Bean cracked her colours a month or two before I could show her the finished book, but she has hugely enjoyed having a book featuring our shoes and family, requesting it about three times a day for the first week or so.

I'm pretty happy, all in all.  There are plenty of imperfections, but I was keen to let go of some of the perfectionism that takes hold when something starts to go well.  And I was determined to finish! orange brown My biggest learning curves ... it really is time that I started making a dummy book to test the colours and space before I make the actual thing.  So much of the success of this book is down to luck, and there are a few pages that have just a bit too much space in them. More practically, I've discovered that poster paint tends to peel after a time. It's not designed to be used in enduring hand-made children's books! All Shoes And my next steps ... well, I think it's time to move on from board books - my children are growing up fast.  This is pretty daunting - I'm going to need a lot more than eight pages in my next book!

Before I do so, I plan to make three copies of the book to share with a couple of other special children.

I will share the full story soon.

5 May 2019

Food Colouring and Kitchen Roll

One of those glorious, spontaneous activities that came from nowhere and kept my children occupied for hours ... 20190210_164718 I can't even remember how it came about - I think I wanted to show that the colour from a felt pen would bleed when pressed onto kitchen roll.  It didn't work as the pen had nearly dried out, so I got a tiny amount of water and a teaspoon to demonstrate the same idea.  Then Bean wanted some too.  And then it occurred to me they'd see what was happening better if I added food colouring.

20190216_174102 Eventually I threw my hands in the air and gave them various tubs of coloured water, endless sheets of kitchen roll, refilled the tubs on demand and stopped only when dinner was ready and there was no surface space left for bits of sodden kitchen roll.

At the moment it's not so easy to find activities that occupy both children, so this was a success a thousand times over!  We went on to cut it up, punch holes and turn it into bunting.

21 April 2019

Messy Days

20180920_171529 I am a big admirer of a couple of creative parenting blogs (except when they leave me feeling utterly inadequate, but hey - that's my own headspace to sort out!), and they regularly rave about shaving foam.

20180920_170307 I finally tracked down some shaving foam to have a go at marbling with the children.

It was great to try.  Not as easy to get right as I expected - I suspect I used too much foam - but the children loved the new medium, whatever the results! 20180920_171437

We moved on to coloured, glittery ice cubes and shaving foam, which also kept Bean intrigued for hours.  It was one of those slightly chaotic, under-planned, but worth-trying sessions that made relatively minimal mess.  I'm certainly a convert to shaving foam, as I can just cart the tray off to the bathroom afterwards and shower it down!

My favourite creative parenting blogs are The Imagination Tree and The Artful Parent

7 April 2019

The other legacy of the Arty Party

20190310_091212 This morning, we were making birthday cards, when it crossed my mind to chop up one of the paper rolls that children had filled with paintstick marks at Feets' birthday party.  Somehow, this evolved into a feast of cutting, and collaging, as Feets realised she'd made a great set of teeth for a crocodile. 20190310_104631

31 March 2019

Time to say thank you

You picked my clothes up off the floor.
You brought me water, then juice, then milk.
I spilt the milk and you mopped it up.

You cooked, and cooked - meals, puddings, and more meals.
Lemon meringue pie, rice pudding, apple crumble, strawberry mousse.
I expected them.

You helped me, time and again, to say thank you.
Still, I forgot, I forget.

You loved me through my tears, my screams.
My foot-stamps, pushes, door-slams, biting - was I a biter?
I wound you up, up, up, and you wound me down.
You screamed 'one day you'll understand!'

I understand.

Thank you!

24 March 2019

Work in Progress: Whose Shoes?

When Feets was about 18 months old, she couldn't bear to get her fingers dirty. After a colleague commented that Feets surely must love painting, as a daughter of mine, I realised that something had to be done about this issue. Similarly, she was on the brink of starting to recognise colours.

I decided I needed to come up with a painting activity that I was myself invested in, that I could invite Feets to help me with - no more half-heartedly showing Feets what she could do with the paint while keeping my own hands as clean as possible; I would start painting and Feets could help me if she wanted to.

Red She also loved shoes at the time - indeed, 'shoes' was her first word. So I drew pictures of all the shoes in our house onto cereal packets and painted them with Feets ... with plans to make a book of colours and rhyming words alongside, loosely inspired by The Foot Book by Dr Seuss, which we loved.

Well, we didn't finish that project. I couldn't keep up with the speed of her learning, and she knew her colours long before I was ready.

  1 Gwen Those    1 Ailsa Those
But, roll on three years, and I found myself in exactly the same spot with Bean - after a messy play session at a gallery where I couldn't convince her to do anything, I decided to open the half-finished folder of painted shoes, draw a few new ones, and invite Bean to help with them.

Well, time is fast running out once again, but fingers crossed, the book will be finished before it's too late! I've created characters for Feets, Bean, myself and Mr Liam, and they will scramble over the shoes throughout the story. Watch this space!