With their Spring 2023 Exhibition, the Cambridge Drawing Society elected me as a new member. Said to be one the oldest of its kind in the UK, the society was founded in 1882. I love their motto – Nulla dies sine linea – which translates from the Latin to “Draw a line every day”.
In The Swirls Of The Cam created the biggest stir amongst the three pieces I had in their exhibit. It is one of my pareidolia drawings. As a pareidolist, I show my perceptions of faces and creatures hidden in amongst inanimate objects and unusual places. I devote myself to each drawing, with heart and soul, and do extensive research if necessary. This drawing was inspired by one of Martin Bond’s photographs. I found, during the private viewing, that backstory was of great interest, so here is more information about the development of In The Swirls Of The Cam:
I drew the woman punting first because it’s a tricky perspective and she and her features, including an attractive bosom, had to be drawn just right. I work with pen and ink on rough watercolour paper, which is an exciting but very unforgiving medium, so I always do the toughest part first in case I mess up and have to restart. I drew the punt in brown, as it is, to emphasise the only thing that keeps the woman separate from the water.
What first attracted me to create a drawing inspired by this photo was the face I noticed in the punt pole puddle. I pondered whether it would be off-putting to have the pole go into the mouth of that face. It had to be so, though, as that’s how I perceived it and, after all, it’s not so unlike a person sipping through a straw. I was also concerned whether people might perceive the young woman as a witch stirring her river cauldron. No one has mentioned this to me so, hopefully, that interpretation doesn’t come to the fore.
I am committed to being true to my perceptions. The biggest challenge was to draw a large spider. As my son described it, this is the bird-eating type of arachnid. He complied with my request to create a file with one image pasted inside that I could open and consult when ready to face my fear and draw this formidable, hairy creature.
Confronting fear is the theme of In The Swirls Of The Cam. Time spent on a river is magic. Floating along, the water carries a boat and allows it to glide, all being well, very efficiently. Sometimes the Cam up close looks like black tea, concealing its wonders within – eels, voles, water snakes, rats, many, many nematodes, slippery gripping weeds and things that went into the river but never came back out. These are all of what a capsized person blanks out whilst concentrating on getting back into the boat.
On the upper right is Oliver Cromwell, crowned at last. In his lifetime, he refused to wear the crown, possibly fearing that God would not forgive him claiming to be King. Instead, after two weeks of fraught deliberation (because Cromwell did desperately want to be crowned King), he used the title Lord Protector and had the royal ceremonial objects smelted down and sold the jewels. When I perceived a crowned head in the river on the photo, it looked too thin to be plump Henry VIII and simply had to be Cromwell, whose severed head was, reputedly, left somewhere in Cambridge. So feared was this man during his lifetime, that no one dared portray his face in true form. Thus, he commissioned a renowned miniaturist to paint him showing his ugly chin “warts and all”. I chose to draw Cromwell based on that miniaturist’s portrayal.
There are three eels in this drawing. Can you find them? They aren’t as scary as could be because a good friend assures me that they have no teeth.
My favourite spot is the lower left corner, where two folks are gossiping in the punt’s wake as one listens in and another looks on.
I love the perspective set up by the photographer. We, up on the bridge, feel privy to insights that the punter is too close to the river to enjoy. She isn’t actually punting very well as my son, who is an accomplished punter points out, but this adds to the sense that she’s testing the water and exploring how to move the punt. In the process, for a pareidolist, she has unwittingly churned up a fabulous array of creatures and little scenes, which emphasises what pareidolia drawing shares with storytelling.