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.

9 August 2020

Mythicous Creasts

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Last week, Mythical Creasts, a creation that connected eight local families, returned from it's journey around the neighourhood.  It was lovely to have it back ... but best of all was the sharing of photos, videos and messages that flowed alongside it's tour through family homes.
20200803_123100 The project grew from the joy that we all felt in the invisible interactions of the Dragon Trail.  The trail's success set my mind to pondering what else we could do that would enable engagement with our friends and neighbours, without the mediation of a digital device.

I have long held a dream of creating a collaborative mix 'n' match book, but I wasn't sure that it was the right project - whether it would demand too much of my stamina and too little from the children, relative to the time we respectively had available, and whether it would be too constrained for children to do at this point in time.
20200803_123220 (2) Then, as is so often the case lately, one day I found myself blurting it out - 'Guys, would you like to make a mix 'n' match book of mythical creatures, with your friends?'  And that was it - I was committed.

20200803_123142 Mythical creatures was the continuing theme from school, so offered a natural theme through which to connect with school friends, and so we created a very long list of people who might be interested, and invited them all to take part.  I hoped that not everyone would say yes - I suspected that for many families, as I have been finding, they wouldn't want to commit themselves to an outcome - and in the end our participants self selected, with eight families taking part.

20200511_125055 My initial task was to create a page marked up with dividing lines and markers for the neck and hips, which I delivered on a series of evening runs, along with an electronic instruction sheet, challenged as always by our lack of printer.

Meanwhile, the children built a magical box which we left outside the downstairs front door to await deliveries of mysterious and magical creatures.  Checking the box and recovering the goods was a daily delight (okay, partly a trauma as they fought to get there first ...)

20200518_225200 (2) The trouble is, that once all the pictures had arrived and were laid out in front of me, I was so inspired by the detail, care and imagination that each child had put into their work, that I couldn't help but go the whole hog - to make their artwork sing, it needed to be on colourful backgrounds.  So I cut out each creature and laid it onto coloured paper, prepared with watercolour.  Then I took the names and descriptions the children had given their creatures and passed a number of evenings adding them onto the pages.  I had thought about asking the children to write the titles themselves, but I wanted them to be able to read the book and at this stage, handwriting and spelling skills are highly variable!

Next step, to make a mock-up, trying to understand how to bind a book with three separate spines and ideally, a single front and back cover.  This is the kind of puzzle that absorbs me - and the second attempt proved the better one.  Thankfully I tried out the first on Feets, else I would never have realised its fragility.

Finally to bind it, and to work on the cover.  I realised I needed reproductions for the cover so put in my order with a neighbour.
20200803_123018 It was a long, slow process, squeezed in twenty-minute bursts of energy after a frenzied day of home-school.  It was a satisfying process, because it helped me find my happy place and escape from the continuous mind-buzz of planning the next day's learning.  It was a rewarding process, because from the moment I handed it to Feets to look through, the warm fuzzy feeling of pride (mine - yes, but hers too) enveloped me ... 

When I build a handmade book, the vision that sustains me is the excitement and connection that a child will feel when they handle it, and see themselves, their story or their work emerging from beautiful pages.  This is the first time one of my books has centred primarily on artwork created by children - indeed, of many children - and I hope they each felt the same thrill of ownership that I saw in Feets as she read the book.
When I thought the job was done, I found myself returning to it, to find a simple way to create a small run of copies that could be shared permanently with the families.  I realised that a spiral bound book would allow me to cut the pages without the spine falling apart, so I built it on myphotobook - surely not the cheapest way, but almost certainly the simplest!

2 August 2020

Begin with a Story: The Gruffalo's Child

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As much as this post is about The Gruffalo's Child, it's about a loveable, two-headed creature called Namgoona ...

School sent us a daunting poem about Perseus and Medusa to read and digest, and the challenge to invent a mythical creature of our own and write a rhyming poem about it.

Surprisingly, literacy has been our biggest academic bugbear of lockdown.  Maths presents an endless array of puzzles and magic, with only correct and incorrect answers.  Creative time has infinite possibilities.  But no matter how we put it, literacy involves reading and writing, and the word-count for each of these was less each day.

20200505_161004 So I rejected Perseus and Medusa and took out the Gruffalo's Child, which had been waiting in a cupboard for a rainy day and is the cunning sequel to The Gruffalo, itself a longstanding family favourite.  Thankfully, with the Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson has invented a mythical creature and developed stories around it in her ever distinctive, ever inventive rhyming couplets.  I can't help it, I'm a massive fan of Julia Donaldson.

We read the story.  We re-told it with instruments for different voices.  We found the rhyming words; I had them guessing the end of each line.  We read it until we were chanting it in our sleep. And when we went out, we found ourselves making mythical creatures with our shadows.

20200505_124308 We built our week's maths around it - to measure length in mm, cm and m, we looked at a character from the Gruffalo's Child each day and measured the space between footprints, the length of snakes, with Bean drawing 'snakes' for Feets to measure, and the distance an 'owl' plane could fly.  We enjoyed length so much that we found ourselves translating huge numbers from metres into millimetres and vice versa!

Meanwhile, in literacy we discussed what made a mythical creature mythical, deciding to 'become' Julia Donaldson and invent our own.  Full gratitude to school for breaking down the process into daily bitesize chunks:  We began by enacting our invented creatures - Feets, grabbing a teddy, found herself to have two heads, and eight arms and legs.  Bean, grateful for an excuse to roar, became a dinosaur.  Naturally the two creatures clashed, and the ensuing battle suited the children but not poor Mr Liam, working in the room next door.

So we 'froze' the scene and I gathered a description of their respective characters.  This was a breakthrough for me - to ask Feets to do the thinking on one day, and the writing on another, and not to combine the two.  The range of adjectives, similes and the rest was fresh and imaginative, and I dug it out the next day for us to build together into phrases.

20200617_125715 A little aside about the relationship between Feets and I:  It can be fiery!  In lockdown, I would say at times it's volcanic.  As far as creative projects go, we are peas in a pod (as my mother-in-law would say) - we are an infinite fountain of ideas, with a vision that can be perfectionist (even while we love to experiment) and strong, clear opinions about the way things should be done.  I have a few more years' experience than Feets, and many of them have been spent learning to see the value in other people's ideas, listening to others, letting go of perfectionism and becoming more flexible.  Then lockdown came along: despite my 'child-led' values, many of my worst habits came knocking on the door, along with the task of being her teacher.

20200507_191854 (2) So I was pretty apprehensive about getting Feets to write a rhyming poem about her creature, named Namgoona after a democratic family vote.  More so, because I concluded that the best way to get beyond the first line was to write it collaboratively - take her ideas, make suggestions, combine the two and move on...

Over three days, a rather magical poem was born.  On the first day, we wrote a draft, while I scribed.  The next day we edited it, cutting it up and rearranging, both of us scribbling bits out and adding others.  On the third day, tasked with no further thinking, Feets wrote it up 'in neat'.  

20200507_192020 (2) And felt so pleased with the result that when I asked both children if they wanted to extend the descriptive poem into a full story the following week, the answer was a resounding 'yes!'

So, having 'nailed' our collaborative technique, the next week we mapped out our story, wrote it into rhyming couplets with interjections from both children (by now, Bean had a firm grip on rhyming words!), chopped it up and edited it to address narrative flow and fill any holes.

20200801_214801 Meanwhile, this second week, Creative Time fell to me too.  We watched the utterly inspiring 'I Want My Hat Back' by Little Angel Theatre, and agreed to create our own puppet show of Namgoona and the Dinosaur.  Grateful for the simplicity of the puppets in 'I Want My Hat Back', we created our own puppets and a theatre for the show.

20200515_121711 The balance between tension and excitement this week was a fine art.  I continually had to let go of my perfectionism and ambition and allow Feets to lead.  And yes, I did manage to step back, which also meant that Feets trusted me to listen to her and in turn, was ready to listen to me when she got stuck.  She was also willing to let Bean decorate the front of the theatre, quite an impressive concession by many standards!

Aware that Bean had little idea how the show would pull together or appear to an audience, and little attention span for practising, I performed the rehearsal for the children, who were delighted to role play their own trip to the theatre, before they came 'back stage' and we performed it together for the most important (and forgiving!) audience of all:  Mr Liam and an array of teddies.
Our children really revealed their contrasting temperaments in the performance - Bean beaming through the stage at Daddy, while Feets directed efficiently from behind the scenes, reluctant to show her face.

While I regularly counselled myself to take a break from such high-energy, intensive home-schooling, I could never manage it for long because of this - because tying all our learning together towards some kind of coherent outcome gave it purpose and meaning.  It created a narrative flow to each week and kept my own momentum going as well as that of the kids'.  I remember the same from every moment of professional teaching - the most successful projects had a clear vision and a tangible audience.  Thanks Mr Liam for so often being our audience!