A Margate textile artist has launched mental health and arts project, will hold an exhibition and has created a book – all inspired by her late mum Diana and the hundreds of intricate doodles she created.
Rachelle Francis began work on the With & Without Diana project in 2019 after the death of her mum from a disease related to her alcohol-use.
Diana had experienced a complex childhood and trauma in her adult life and struggled with her mental health. She attempted to end her life twice in her 20s and was diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression in her 50s.
Feeling isolated and misunderstood for much of her life, in moments of solitude she found herself seeking comfort; and self-expression through doodling.
Between 1972, when she was aged 21, and 2019 when she passed away aged 68, Diana compulsively and cathartically escaped on the page: doodling, signing and dating around 1,000 beautifully intricate and treasured patterns. Her last artwork was left unfinished three months before she died.
Rachelle inherited the huge art catalogue and this sparked the project in her mum’s name.
Rachelle said: “When I was a child Diana loved showing me her hidden portfolio – so much so that her doodles inspired my career in textile design.
“By way of exploring our deep artistic bond, in the weeks following her death I cathartically began new work, hand-embroidering textiles inspired by her artwork. I was seeking to reconnect with Diana – a mother lost over a decade before she died, our complicated relationship a consequence of her mental health illnesses and subsequent addiction.
“The instagram account ‘With & Without Diana’ soon followed – born as a platform to share Diana’s artwork and life-story alongside my own ‘Diana-inspired’ textiles.
“I became aware of the power Diana’s artwork and story had to open important conversations around mental health, trauma and addiction when I publicly shared some of her art in 2021 at a London exhibition celebrating the legacy of outsider artist Madge Gill.
“I began to research the science behind doodling (the activity that both Diana had naturally turned to during the most difficult periods in her life). Diana’s love of doodling as a life-long medicinal tool for her mind made sense when I learnt that doodling reduces our cortisol levels and relaxes our nervous system.”
A meeting with artist and arts manager Hayley White was pivotal to the project and, after a year of research, planning and fundraising, With & Without Diana: Drawing for Mental Health was born. It received funding in October 2022 from the Arts Council England National Lottery Project grants.
The project consists of a programme of community workshops; the designed and published Mind To Pen doodle workbook and will include an exhibition in November.
Workshops have been held with East Kent Mind, SpeakUp CIC, The Garden Gate Project, Age UK, Young Lives Foundation (Thanet Legends) and Cliftonville Primary School.
Rachelle said: “I have been working designing and facilitating a series of creative/therapeutic doodling workshops with these groups, with my specially designed doodle activity journal Mind to Pen forming the focus of the workshops.
“Inspired by Diana’s artwork, participants are invited to discover their own creativity and the mental health benefits of Diana’s accessible, meditative, restorative and joyful pattern doodling pastime.
“Sharing elements of Diana’s story whilst doodling in a group often opens difficult but important conversations, enabling participants to reflect and connect – helping reduce the feelings of social isolation that people in these groups often experience. Participants are encouraged to continue doodling in their copies of Mind to Pen in regular community group sessions and in their own time.
“They are also invited to share their doodled pages on the project’s social media accounts, creating a connected and supportive community of mindful doodlers.”
Mind to Pen was created with designer Louise Heighes,, mentoring and editing from Hayley White and copy advice from clinical psychologist Lucy Mills.
A limited-edition print run is lithographically printed on 100% recycled paper by Lanes Printers.
Mind to Pen shares snippets of Diana’s art in print for the first time with her patterns sensitively edited by Louise Heighes into 34 doodling activities so others can doodle in, on, and around her lines.
The pages include Diana’s handwritten notes alongside Rachelle’s gentle activity prompts.
Hayley said: “Rachelle wrote this book to share the power and possibilities of her late mother Diana’s artistic doodling, as inspiration to support people to achieve mental calm in a chaotic world. “Collecting, arranging and compiling this book has been a journey of grief, love and connection – a way to have a posthumous artistic and personal conversation with her mother.
“By connecting her mother’s words, doodles and theory on the restorative process of ‘mind to pen’ doodling Rachelle has given us the privilege of being welcomed into the world of an outsider artist, her world as a textile artist and her mother’s hidden archive… and even an opportunity to become an artist ourselves.”
Buy the book
Mind to Pen is available to buy online for £16, with free postage or free local in-person delivery.
A not-for profit-project, all proceeds raised from book sales will fund project activities and events.
Buy a copy at: https://py.pl/gpN4p
The book will also soon be available from Lovelys in Cliftonville and Turner Contemporary.
The exhibition sharing a selection of Diana’s original artworks alongside doodled pages from Mind to and new work by Rachelle will take place at the Joseph Wales gallery in Margate from November 3 -12.
See artworks; learn more about Diana’s art and story and the project at:
Facebook group: With & Without Diana
For project enquiries contact email@example.com