DrawingOut Invisible Diseases

People with ‘invisible’ diseases (e.g. Infertility, Endometriosis, Cystic Fibrosis, Chronic Kidney Disease, ME, depression) may find it especially difficult to explain their experiences to others. DrawingOut Invisible Diseases uses step-by-step metaphor-based drawing exercises to help people express and share their thoughts and feelings about their condition.

How it all started:

DrawingOut Invisible Diseases is the result of collaboration between two academics at Cardiff University: Dr Sofia Gameiro is a psychologist who focuses on understanding and improving the healthcare experiences of infertile patients. Dr Lisa El Refaie’s work has shown that visual metaphor can express people’s illness experiences more creatively and sometimes more accurately than just verbal descriptions.

DrawingOut Invisible Diseases was first used in two workshops:

1) With Black and Minority Ethnic women suffering from infertility in Cardiff (together with Berit Bliesmann, University of Aberystwyth University, funded by Welsh Crucible). Drawing helped the participants to overcome language and cultural barriers, and to facilitate the expression of sometimes very emotional, taboo views:
‘The drawing makes it fun and makes it easier for everybody to open up’
‘It empowers women not to think of infertility as a shame or as something really dangerous, but as something really normal’
‘It was the first time I was in a place where I could share, and I could hear other people’s experiences and relate to it’

2) With endometriosis patients in Wales, as part of a consultation exercise for the Welsh government to discover how sufferers experienced their symptoms and the treatment provided by the NHS:
‘The images helped everyone to share their own thoughts
It was absolutely tremendous experience for me…and it really made me feel less alone in my pain’

This website:

This website makes DrawingOut Invisible Diseases available to individuals who may be unable or unwilling to attend a workshop. It also offers detailed guidance for anyone who would like to run their own drawing workshops. In the galleries, you can find some of the artwork produced by patients, as well as links to information and support.

This website was designed and developed by Proper Design.


This project was funded from an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Acceleration Account.

Underpinning research:

Gameiro, S., Bliesemann, B., El Refaie, E. & Payson, A., (2018), ‘DrawingOut – An innovative drawing workshop method to support the generation and dissemination of research findings’, PLoS ONE 13(9), e0203197 (Open Access).

El Refaie, E., Payson, A., Bliesemann, B. & Gameiro, S., (2018), ‘Pictorial and spatial metaphor in the drawings of a culturally diverse group of women with fertility problems’, Visual Communication (OnlineFirst) (a free pre-proof version is available here).

Gameiro, S., El Refaie, E., Bliesemann, B. & Payson, A., (2019), Women from diverse minority ethnic or religious backgrounds desire more infertility education and more culturally and personally sensitive fertility care. Human Reproduction 34(9), pp. 1735-1745. (If you don’t have access to this journal and would like a copy, please contact us: drawingout@cardiff.ac.uk).