Lynn Excell, 48, from Essex in England describes her artistic disciplines as drawing, painting, photography and fibre arts. A single mother of 2 young men aged 21 and 18, Lynn studied art briefly when she left school at Braintree College, but then went on to become a college lecturer and Curriculum Manager in Beauty Therapy and Holistic Therapies and found she did not have the time to pursue the things she enjoyed and lost confidence in her abilities.
Lynn believes she is seen as a bit of an eccentric by some, just ‘quirky’ by others, but always colourful! Believing in not sweating the small stuff, Lynn believes in seeing beauty wherever you can and in whoever you can. Believing in getting to know someone before you judge them and even then remembering that you haven’t walked their journey.
Lynn also enjoys talking to strangers because you never know whose day you might brighten and believes in paying it forward as an important philosophy.
We at ASLI wanted to find out more about Lynn so here is our interview with her:
What is your artistic/creative background?
As a child, my grandmother (a dressmaker by trade) spent time encouraging me to enjoy artistic pursuits-I remember making collages of ladies with sweet wrappers and making clay flowers with her. Her and my other grandmother also taught me to knit, although my favoured fibre art these days is crochet. As a teenager, I was encouraged to apply to art college despite the fact that I wanted to be a make-up artist and so this is the route I took. However, it wasn’t my time to take that route in my life and so I only stayed for a year, and decided to put my paintbrush down for many years. I have, however always loved the ‘art and craft’ side of things and still went to art galleries, craft fairs, open air theatre etc.
What motivated you to deal with your chosen submission subject?
I had started to ‘get back into’ drawing and had started to show some of my work on my fb page, when a wonderful lady who taught me LaStone Therapy asked me to design an aborigine inspired turtle doodle. I know turtles mean a lot to her and I thought it was a wonderful creature to draw and show my skills. It has become one of my favourites because of the peace I feel when I look at it, and the way the colours look.
What is your process when creating?
I often do a lot of research for my images-I have an image in my mind, but I may need to know how, for example, a chameleon’s tail looks wrapped around a plant, or what plant or symbol would be relevant to that particular creatures habitat or native culture. However, sometimes I like to let my mind just wander and let my pencil do the work. I usually draw my image first, then go over it in fine pen, then bolder pen for areas I want bolder. In some of my designs, such as the turtle, I allow my imagination to make patterns that you wouldn’t see naturally, but once the patterns are coloured they produce a lovely overall effect. I sometimes use watercolour paint and sometimes pens as a medium to colour the pictures. For my photography, I prefer images of people’s lives to landscapes and flowers, but I try to suggest an image that not everyone would think of (don’t we all?!) For my fibre art, particularly my embroidery, I really let my imagination run wild-I use crochet pieces, many different embroidery stitches and shisha embroidery, which I love because it reminds me of my youth-I did grow up in the 70’s after all!
Who are you influenced by within your artistic discipline?
I am influenced by so many artists, it isn’t possible to specify-from Grayson Perry to fellow art college student and gallery owner Ian Moss. Like many artists, I find that my art evolves with the influences I wasn’t expecting to gain.
Who inspires you in general?
My children, my boyfriend and my parents influence me for many different reasons. My younger son is autistic and his view on the world has brought a whole new world to mine. My elder son is sensitive beyond what other people see, and the fact that he shares his thoughts with me make me humbled. My boyfriend has opened my world because of his love for making the most of life and his love of nature and being outside. My parents are strong beyond belief, especially in the face of adversity and I am eternally grateful for my blessed upbringing and my strong work ethic which I gained from them.
What causes and world issues are you passionate about, campaign for, volunteer for…?
I am passionate about issues that affect people’s lives. I dipped into campaigning for CND as a teenager and belonged to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I have been a vegetarian since I was 15. In my adult life, I have had cause to support campaigns for members of our society that are often side-lined such as people with additional needs and people that are on the spectrum. I was involved fairly recently in demonstrations regarding the unjust process of assessment that ATOS were carrying out at job centres.
What do the statements “art saves lives” and “art creates change” mean to you?
‘Art Saves Lives’ to me means that art is a way of helping to heal us when we are broken. I personally would have struggled in life without it. I think creating or even looking at things that have been created allows people space to release or find calm. I step into another world when I create and I think sometimes people need to be able to do that to aid their healing. ‘art creates change’ is also a message that hugely resonates with me, as I’m sure it does with any artist or creator. So many people I talk to have a pile of ‘WIP’s’ (work in progress) and I believe this is because someone that likes to create, likes to evolve. My work often comes out very different to how I thought it would-I think it’s a natural progression if you have a creative mind. It also leads you into a different direction. I have had times when I have felt like I hate art and everything that goes with it, but I find a different way of doing things, and there I am again, immersed in it!
Have your artistic and creative outlets saved your life in anyway and do you think your message within them could help create change in the world?
My brother died 3 ½ years ago. Up until that point, my only ‘art’ work since leaving art college were a few sketches here and there and some drawings for resources as a teacher. When my brother died, my world stopped. I have never, ever felt such pain and such numbness all at the same time. I can’t remember how I washed, cooked, even spoke in the weeks that followed. Even going to the shops was a trauma to me- my world and everything around it had collapsed. I had huge amounts of support from my boyfriend, but I also needed to concentrate on me-to be selfish for a while and find something to help the healing. I found crochet and was able to escape for a while. I slowly created beautiful things out of my misery and this, without doubt, helped my healing process. I think to enable someone to heal, they must be allowed to be insular whilst having an outlet. Creating in any form is perfect-whether it is writing, painting, singing, it helps to heal, because you are either releasing or neutralsing the darkness.
What are your present and future goals for your art?
Being featured in an online magazine is ‘wow’ for me, and I am also involved in a collaboration project with other artists from all over the world-I would never have dreamt of this even a year ago, so whilst I have certain goals, such as creating my own ‘doodle’ book, I like to let my path meader where it will. I have a myriad of ideas all the time and if they become something other than a thought bubble, so be it!
The following question are about mental health:
Can you tell us about your own experiences with mental illness?
I don’t suppose anyone thinks that they will have to deal with mental health issues when they are little, and I certainly didn’t. But, I have had my life touched by issues in a number of ways. My own depression happened when I found out things about an ex-boyfriend that I really didn’t want to know-including the fact that he had wounded a policewoman. He was controlling and bad to be around, but as with many people, I didn’t think I was strong enough to break free because he had destroyed my self-esteem. That strong character my parents had passed down eventually won through though and we broke up. For a while he was in a mental health clinic due to taking an overdose, something that he had done several times before, and I had found him slumped in his car. I stayed with him in the hospital but knew that I had to break ties and eventually did thankfully. I recently had another bout of depression because I am still very much grieving the loss of my brother. I found I was unable to socialise (something I normally love to do) and found each day a struggle. But I am now seeing things in a renewed light and once again seeing beauty in everyday things. My brother had mental health issues throughout his life mainly due to not being diagnosed with asperger syndrome until he was in his 30’s. Early diagnosis of any mental health issue is so important. Even my stalwart father has suffered with depression after being bullied at work. Alongside autism, my younger son is socially anxious and so finds social situations very difficult, which of course has impacted on family life. My elder son has also had episodes of depression. My work involves supporting people with additional needs including mental health issues.
How does your artistic /creative expression help you with your mental health?
My creative endeavours are my lifeline to as stable a mind as I can have-as explained above, they enable me to escape into another world whilst creating something beautiful. I have to do something creative every day or I feel on edge and unfulfilled.
Have you ever received treatment for mental health and if so, what was it, did it help and was it private or state funded?
Yes, I have used anti-depressants prescribed by my gp. It did help. For me it is like a plaster cast for a broken arm-allowing everything to stay in line whilst I heal.
Do you think society and culture is accepting of people with mental illness?
No, I don’t think our society is accepting of mental illness. It is becoming more accepting, but people are still frightened of things they haven’t experienced. I still think there is a ‘pull yourself together’ attitude from many and a ‘I have no idea what to do or say, so I won’t say anything’ from others. I think people are worried that if they offer support to someone suffering with depression, that they may get embroiled in their problems, and they ‘have enough of their own problems’. Much of mainstream society is scared of anyone that doesn’t conform to the supposed ‘norm’ and so will not stretch out a hand of support or even to just sit and listen.
How do you feel your Government in your country helps people with mental illness and could they do more?
I don’t think the government in England helps people with mental illness-they do the bare minimum that is required of them, and with welfare cuts, things are only likely to get worse. With our ever fast and confusing lifestyle, there are more and more people suffering with mental health issues and less and less people qualified to deal with it. The cuts seem to be aimed solely at the most vulnerable in our society and as such there is likely, in my opinion, to be an increase in mental health issues and suicides related to them.
Have you ever had any creative therapies as part of your treatment, did it help?
No, I haven’t officially had creative therapies as a treatment, but have certainly used creativity as a therapy.
Do you think artistic / creative expression can be used to help people with mental health problems?
I have no doubt creative expression can help people with mental health problems. I have heard of colouring in of familiar images being used as a tool for altzeimers and I would love to extend my work into this area. The freedom that creativity can bring is such an amazing release mechanism.
Do you think artistic / creative expression could help raise awareness and communicate how mental illness affects people?
Yes, I believe creative expression would help raise awarenessand communicate how mental illness affects people-I know that many people with aspergers have been able to express how they feel by using a creative platform, and I myself have a vision in my head of an art piece I would love to make to explain my grief and depression when my brother died-one day I’ll produce it or commission someone to produce it!
What made you want to get involved with ASLI’s MENTAL ILLNESS, HEALTH AND RECOVERY CAMPAIGN?
It felt as though it was meant to be-I’ve just started a different path in my creative expression and the call out for artists came at just the right time-my use of art as a therapy to help with my grief ties in so well with what ASLI stands for, and I truly believe that creativity can lead to recovery for someone with a mental health illness.
Do you believe in more rights for mentally ill people in the work place and for equal opportunities?
Of course! No-one should be discriminated against-I am only too aware of discrimination as a mother of a child with autism so I am passionate about equality for all. I also believe the workplace should be open and supportive about mental health issues. If a workplace is not open about matters of mental health, it will never be supportive and it’s workers will suffer as a consequence.
We at ASLI want to de-stigmatize diagnosis labels within mental illness so that people treat others and their own mental health label as that of a diabetic or any other chronic “physical” illness, as we know the brain is physical and this would further improve stigma and marginalising mental illness. How do you feel about diagnosis labels?
I agree that people should be treated as individuals and not be defined by their diagnosis ‘label’. However, in our current society, without a ‘label’ individuals and their families and carers are often unable to access the support they need and want. I was told my son had ‘global learning difficulties’ and I felt stranded and unable to go to a particular group for help. I was aware that he was on the autistic spectrum, and so pushed for him to see a specialist in autism who confirmed my opinion. This opened up the world of autism to us as a family, and I see his autism as a benefit now, with a few different ways of doing things. Labels are not necessarily a negative thing, but can be if used in a negative way. My brother would not have suffered the way he did with mental health issues if he had received the correct diagnoses early on.
Everyone within ASLI is affected in some way by mental illness, with our MD having several chronic mental illnesses and other members either caring for or dealing with mental health issues. Would this make you think twice about working with ASLI? And does this make ASLI “less professional” in your opinion and if so why?
In no way. I think the fact that all involved in the organisation has experience is paramount to it working effectively. Too often organisations are run by people that have no experience of the condition/illness/issue/trait themselves and so can’t possibly understand and give an opinion on the issues surrounding them.
Are there any artists/creatives/performers which you admire, who suffer from mental illness that you feel use their work to discuss or highlight mental health?
I find that most people are still reluctant to use their art to highlight such issues.
Finally is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself or your experiences?
I firmly believe we are all on a journey and some people have a more meandering, obstacle strewn road to walk than others. I do also believe that when we can, we should use these ripples or rocks in our journey to influence more creative and wider thinking. I believe that this is why we have these experiences, so that we are reminded of our individuality. I try to find beauty in every day. Some days it is more difficult than others. However, my work and my family mean I get people showing me a different view on life and therefore I am able to use that to my advantage.