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.

11 October 2020

Begin with a Story: The Dot

Looking back on another week of home-schooling in lockdown ...
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Abstract Art Week emerged from three coinciding feelings:
  • This magical book: The Dot, by Peter H.Reynolds, which we borrowed from a friend early in lockdown and immediately fell in love with.
  • The realisation that in all these weeks of home schooling, we had never stopped to look at art for its own sake, and to begin to explore the wonder of art history.
  • Bean's distinctive drawing technique, and her habit of drawing first, before looking at her creation and deriving meaning from it.  I couldn't help feeling she'd find magic in all sorts of abstract paintings.
And so, in the week before half term, we took a break from narrative themes and looked at Abstract Art.  This week, maths also fell to me, so we looked at 2d and 3d shapes and their properties, with mixed success!

20200521_152323 The connections between the artist and our own art were laid back to say the least, but beginning each creative session with a short look at one artist was intensely rewarding -  they found a natural affinity with abstract paintings and rapidly developed the confidence and vocabulary to express preferences, decide how abstract a painting was and describe what it might be about.

As for The Dot - well, it became our reference manual, helping us accept the different outcomes of our own work, and when it came to exhibition time, the children were immediately comfortable with what to do, Feets better able to draw connections with her memory of past exhibitions than Bean.

Over the week, we looked at:
20200518_122925 Kandinsky offers a great place to start, as his earliest works are hardly abstract at all, and it was wonderful to flick through the book, trying to decide which painting was his first abstract work, and then again to see how his style evolved continuously across years and decades.  We finally stopped at 'Circles', and took very loose inspiration from this work to use bottle tops, buttons, lids and junk to create our own abstract work.

I could happily have spent the whole week with Kandinsky, but we moved on to ...

20200519_115443 I was curious about how maths could genuinely be taught through art.  There are numerous activities, but it's easy to slip into art that uses a bit of maths, so I was quite excited when my research revealed this activity, which clearly and directly referenced Paul Klee, but was very mathematical in its focus.  The children were given a selection of squares, rectangles and triangles, all directly proportional to each other, and invited to build their own picture, inspired by Klee's 'Castle and Sun'.  There was a small, clear set of rules, which enabled them to learn about the relationships between the different shapes and how they fit together, but also to consider how some artists work by creating very specific constraints for themselves.

This project was very different to how I would teach art, and was one of the few times I drew on somebody else's activity plan, and the week was all the better for including a different activity style!

20200521_135602 The big day.  We watched a video of Pollock at work, impressed by the scale, freedom and daring of his paintings.  Then we set ourselves up in a discreet corner of the communal gardens and let loose with paint - dripping, flicking, spraying, rolling, rocking, tipping, with syringes, pipettes, toothbrushes, paintbrushes, hands and feet, marbles, paint bottles...  I really, really REALLY wanted this to be the time when I didn't say no to anything - when I didn't worry about mess, or the quantity of paint we got through, what people would think or whether the stains were permanent.

20200521_140032 I was surprised by how long it took to warm up - we never really reached the point where they could manage without help from me over something, the biggest battle being with the wind.  But nevertheless, it was a top day and an exhilarating session - I usually feel that an activity is worth it if it absorbs children for more time than it took to set it up, and this kept them both experimenting for several hours!

20200522_125015 A quiet time to look at Mondrian was a surprisingly suitable follow up to Jackson Pollock.  We had, by now, looked at the nets of various 3d shapes in maths, so after a peaceful time using black tape to create straight lines, squares and rectangles, and shading them with pastels, it was natural to develop one of them into a cube shape.  Another day that suited both Feets and Bean very well, each in their different ways.

Exhibition day
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We had such a stack of work by now that we decided to put on an exhibition.  So, we commandeered the landing outside our flat, and Feets took on the role of curator with staggering confidence and vision.  We designated areas for our different bodies of work and then hung them, each artist selecting the appropriate height for their work, and only minor rows along the way.  We had written labels for some work, and Bean took naturally to inventing titles for all her creations.  Finally, Mr Liam dropped by for snacks and a guided tour - himself a natural at filling all required roles, he was an enthusiastic and inspired customer.

I suggested inviting grandparents for a video tour, but my camera-shy children weren't keen.  I was reluctant to draw the attention of our neighbours to it for fear of rubbing our energy in their faces, but this was unravelled by a lovely message from our next-door neighbour to the entire block, encouraging them to check out the top floor.  20201107_123421 Our activity had inadvertently become a way to connect with others, and once again, the magic of this connection in the midst of the lockdown was probably the most memorable moment of all.

As I write this, I realise that all our artists were male.  I feel another art week coming on ... Mary CassattGeorgia O'Keeffe, Kathe KollwitzFrida Kahlo, Bridget Riley, Louise Bourgeois, Lubaina Himid, Yayoi Kusama ... okay, an Art Month!