Cambridge Drawing Society Membership

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.

In The Swirls Of The Cam drawing by Donna McLuskie alongside photograph taken by Martin Bond

An April Fool

Here’s one of my flash stories published by the lovely people at Visual Verse:

Link to my story

If you fancy some quick instinctual writing exercises, Visual Verse is a wonderful place to look for intriguing writing prompts. Have you tried this yet? Let us know in the comments, if so, so that we can have a look at your story too : )

Dream Wally

Dream Wally is my pareidolia drawing of Wally’s world, which shows what he was eating and, perhaps, dreaming about during his southern shores adventure.

Wally-the-Walrus, probably of Svalbard, made a heart-warming 2021 tour of coastline, well south of his arctic home, before heading back up north. One day, when he was hanging out off the Isles of Scilly, he swam up close to Joseph Pender’s boat to have a good, long look. Blessedly, Joseph is a very good photographer and was able to mark that encounter with several beautiful images.

Joseph Pender’s photograph, which inspired my pareidolia drawing of Wally

Working from one of Joseph’s photographs, I have drawn this pareidolia portrait of Wally. Just head to this about page on my website if you would like more information on what pareidolia is.

I aimed to understand Wally from his own point of view. We saw lots of images of him lounging around the shorelines on rocks, piers and even working his way up onto various boats, sometimes accidentally sinking them! But I realised that Wally’s world, where he spends most of his awake time and energy, is underwater.

In the rolls of Wally’s skin, I perceived quite a few sea creatures – squid, crab, lobster claw, mussel, worms etc. This led to research about how walruses eat their prey, what they eat and how what they eat looks while a walrus is swimming around and able to catch these creatures unaware. Just to give you some idea of what I learnt, here is a video of a scallop flitting about.

Walruses feed on bivalve creatures like clams, mussels, oysters and scallops. They also enjoy eating other molluscs such as squid and crustaceans, like lobster and crab. We’re all aware of the challenge it can be to shuck clams and to get at the delicious meat inside a crab’s shell. Wally has a formidable ability to suck these creatures right out of their shells. Even limpets, which are famously difficult to pry loose from their hold, are no match for Wally’s ability to hoover up these raw edible delights.

Limpet hitching a ride on Wally’s back

Whilst vacationing off the Isles of Scilly, Wally could also find little wentletraps and cowries to snack on. Their shells are so prized and beautiful to humans that jewellery has been inspired by the wentletrap’s fascinating spiral and the compact, glimmering shell of the cowrie. Both shells are considered highly collectible but I hope that many of these shells can remain in the sea in case a creature needs a replacement or to upsize their home.

Wentletrap on the move
Wentletrap head-on

Did you know that cowries wrap their body up around some of the outer face of their shell, which extends the pearlescence that is evident inside clam and oyster shells to part of the outer cowrie shell face as well? You can see how these charming creatures look in their shells within my drawing. Here is a detail from the drawing:


I’ve drawn a clam basking with its shell open, unaware that Wally was nearby and out on the prowl. I learned that live mussels with their shell forced open can look quite ghoulish and within the raw oyster – as it lay in its opened shell – I perceived a whole series Oyster People, who make an appearance furthest along Wally’s skin in the drawing. Perhaps the easiest catch for Wally are seaworms.

Mussel below a seaworm

Oyster People

Joseph’s photograph is beautifully focused on Wally, with the sea around him left hazier. I thought of this as Wally’s dreamscape. And what would he be thinking about? He was around four years old during his southern tour, so too young to be preoccupied with thoughts of breeding.

Certainly, he would be missing his fellow walrus companions. Whereas we see sea birds afloat and bobbing about, Wally would witness their webbed feet treading water, the dainty dance of scallops, the sounds of fish and molluscs communicating, moving and filtering water, as well as the rasps, clacks and chirps of crustaceans.

I imagined Wally dreaming fondly of when his mother taught him to swim, taking him protectively under one flipper as she guided him through the water.

Wally’s first swimming lesson with Mum

I’ve watched this captivating National Geographic video countless times as inspiration for my drawing:

If you’d like to own a limited-edition fine art giclée print of Dream Wally, it’s available right here.

For a deeper insight into the way pareidolia works, we also have collaboration prints on offer, which show Joseph’s lovely photograph and my Dream Wally drawing together as one fine art limited-edition giclée print – available here.

~ Feedback and your insights are always welcome.

There is space for comments below ~

Dried Mushroom and Lentil Soup (inspired by a Ruthenian Mushroom Soup recipe)

This sugar-free, oil-free, vegetarian (also vegan) recipe was invented by Donna McLuskie on 27 Feb 22, lunchtime, using foodstuffs in the larder on the day.

Rinse 2 cups dried mushrooms. I used oyster, shitake, porcini and boletus mix.

Soak for about one hour in hot water. Then remove shrooms and chop them to bitesize and save the soaking liquid.

Meanwhile, fry 3 medium red onions finely chopped and two big cloves of garlic mashed in a bit of broth with salt, splash of water, splash acv, heaped t yeast extract until translucent (but these could be baked to become browned instead).

Remove onions mix and add to the uncleaned pan 3 medium carrots chopped and two green peppers chopped and T miso and t Dijon mustard and about a cup or more of washed dried speckled green lentils and 5 cups boiling water and the reserved mushroom liquid and the chopped shrooms and squirt of balsamic vin glaze and cook until the lentils are done. Add 22 small grinds of black pepper midway if you like pepper as much as I do.

Pour the soup over croutons that have been oven cooked dry (with balsamic vin glaze squirted over and a good dusting of nutritional yeast before baking). Top the soup with the onions and garlic mix, add a ribbon of balsamic vin glaze and a good sprinkling of ground almonds and serve.

The wonderful umami stayed with me as a gentle, warming aftertaste long after lunchtime and I’m hoping that Ukrainians have the nutrition and resources needed to defend their hard-won democracy x

On the Science of Pareidolia

     In their 2017 publication called Characterizing the response to face pareidolia in human category-selective visual cortex, scientists Susan G Wardle, Kiley Seymour & Jessica Taubert aimed to study how human brains process face perception.

 They used this series of images for their study and described them thus:

     “We collected 56 photographs of naturally occurring examples of face pareidolia in objects such as food, accessories, and appliances. For each object with an illusory face, we found a similar image of the same category of object but without an illusory face. Importantly, this yoked image set of 56 images was matched for object content and visual features typical of the object category but did not contain any illusory faces.”

     Right from the out, I have to disagree with their set-up. I perceive creatures in most of these 112 images and the more interesting creatures are in the versions not meant to contain any faces. These scientists conducted their research on nine people – on whom they used MRI scanning to locate regional brain activity whilst the subjects were looking at the images. One participant was one of the authors of the publication and another moved so much during the MRI scans that her input had to be discounted for this study. For whatever reason, all nine participants were women. Whether or not any of these participants are prone to marked pareidolia is not stated within the publication.

     Glancing at the 112 images used, here’s some of what I perceive in the images described as non-pareidolic:

     There’s a caricatured human profile on the individual fried egg, fetus on the coffee froth, cheeky mouse face in the skewed view of an aeroplane cowling, nosebowl and propeller. I see faces in both chocolate chip cookies and both potatoes. There’s a droopy-eyed, long-nosed face in the cut mushroom (the image showing both halves of a mushroom that was cut). Olive eyes in the martini, a squished cleft-lipped face on the burger, and the reflection on the aubergine is a dog-faced slug. The fan heater is an upside-down owl, aeroplane fin is a shark and there’s a distressed creature stuck inside the washing machine. The dripping kitchen tap is a snail and the mop has a creature peering out from the top and another one underneath.

     Without dwelling on them, there are hidden creatures in almost every image of this experiment and I think that’s a crucial aspect that the scientists did not take into account during their study. Pareidolia relates not only to perception of hidden faces in inanimate objects and unusual places but also to hidden creatures. This is why I’ve named my business Hidden Creatures Art, not Hidden Faces Art. I focus on depth of perception in my work more than just superficially spotting two eyes and a nose or mouth and calling that a face.

     It’s been, in a way, helpful to step back from drawing for a bit and to consider other peoples’ perception of pareidolia during that time. On balance, I’ve gained reassurance that what I’m doing is worth sharing, regardless that these three scientists describe pareidolia in their report as “natural errors of face detection”. To err is human…

     So, signing out for now. There’s a queue of drawings to be done : )

Any guesses which real creature the sketch is of, which features above in this post?


Some sounds evoke a happy place, don’t they? Perhaps a particular noise reminds us of joyful springtime, a lazy summer day or a cosy moment during winter?

I painted Smoothing to capture the mesmerising sound of pebbles on Shakespeare Beach in Dover.

Smoothing – watercolour painting by Donna McLuskie

As I stood there watching at the shoreline, each swash of incoming sea pushed pebbles, along with a rush of water, up the gently sloping beach. Then, with the inevitable backwash flow to offshore, those pebbles tumbled downwards too.

It’s not an especially scenic beach, with busy Dover harbour and transport industry nearby. Nevertheless, as I stood on the shoreline admiring the relentless movement of pebbles, this sublime repetitive event encouraged mindful meditation. It was as soothing to me as it was smoothing for those small stones.

Moving upwards, they more-or-less floated on the forewash. I heard light clinks whenever two stones touched in their gentle ascent up the beach slope. This was a surprise opportunity for movement of inanimate objects. A delight.

The stones’ unavoidable descent back down, however, as each little rush of water receded, produced a noisy traffic jam, with uncomfortable clanking together where two paths crossed. A dismay.

Delight and dismay, delight and dismay seems rather like the current of life sometimes, well, to me anyway. In the process of being shifted about, those stones smoothed into beautiful pebbles that twinkled in amongst an everchanging froth of sea on the beach.

The way down to Shakespeare Beach is scenic in itself. I drew these images of picturesque Langdon Stairs, accessible via Langdon Hole, to also commemorate my visit there.

Heading down Langdon Stairs – pen and ink drawing by Donna McLuskie
On Langdon Stairs – pen and ink drawing by Donna McLuskie

My rendering of the stones in Smoothing is a nod to Scottish Arts and Crafts era architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s stylised interpretations of nature.

The Rocks watercolour painting by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 1927. Courtesy of M. Davidson

Fine art giclée prints of Smoothing are available now. Each print will be signed by the artist, accompanied by a Certificate of Authenticity and individually numbered in a limited edition of 50 only. This 12” x 16” giclée print, which is full size from my original watercolour painting, is suitable for 16” x 20” or 40cm x 50cm framing.

Smoothing – watercolour painting by Donna McLuskie

If you’d like to own one of these limited-edition prints, here’s the place to visit:

Watercolour Paintings

Hot Stuff

Here is an unusual memento of the 2021 volcanic eruption that first showed itself in Geldingadalir in Iceland.

This limited-edition collaboration print features a photograph taken by Ægir Thor of Lífsbjörg ICE-SAR team, alongside a pareidolia drawing by Donna McLuskie of

Pareidolia drawings show faces and hidden creatures perceived by the artist in unusual places and inanimate objects. Donna perceived a cluster of human faces in the gas cloud and realised that these men resemble some of the crew of the WWII Liberator that crashed into the side of Fagradalsfjall mountain in 1943. Hence, the drawing has become as much an ode to crew of that crashed aeroplane, called Hot Stuff, as it is a record of the early days of this eruption.

In delineating the sky around the volcano and hot gasses wafting above the lava field, Donna took advice from a thermodynamicist and a volcanologist.

Ægir’s photograph epitomises the keen tourist experience at this volcano. His image includes distinctively attired search-and-rescue team members, who keep 24-hour watch on site to ensure public safety and help scientists monitor the ever-changing conditions.

What first attracted Donna to create a pareidolia drawing inspired by Ægir’s remarkable image was the way he managed to capture the inward-looking nature of this volcano. Just as people have come close to admire the eruption, Donna perceived lava creatures staring in at the heart of the volcano, which they enclose.

Would you like to have one of the limited-edition fine art giclée prints of this collaboration layout?

Half of the profits from every print sale will go to Lífsbjörg ICE-SAR team, who have been helping out with regular 12-hour shifts on duty by the volcano.

Here’s where to order your print:

For The Love Of Trees in the news

Here’s another collaboration print awaiting collection : )

Our limited edition collaboration prints are available here and can be purchased with postage worldwide or with free collection from Cambridge:

Cambridge Collaboration Prints Shop

This week I’m in the news. Our local paper, Cambridge Independent, has published an article, which I’m happy to see confirms that I’m still blonde as always, although perhaps not as blonde as before : )

With their speedy turnarounds and work ethic, there’s always the likelihood that something not quite right might slip into an article. In this case, I recall mentioning how I used to detail waterproof coursing and expansion joints, amongst other things, for skyscraper construction, but this has somehow gotten into print as “watercourses”.

Cambridge Independent 9-15 June 2021

Still feeling very grateful for Alex’s lovely article though.

And, happy day wishes to you!

What Is A Bear?

There’s a bear in my latest drawing and I’m calling him Ísólfur for reasons probably only Icelanders and, moreover, only some Icelanders will know about.
I’m still looking into this myself but, anyway, here’s Ísólfur.

Isn’t it interesting how few features are needed to describe a bear? This reminds me of a scene in one of my novels set in Iceland, so here’s an excerpt:

Sometimes Jóhannes pondered the question- what is a bear? What part makes it what it is and how much do you physically need to have an actual bear? Because to him, over the years, the rug became the bear as if this rug was all that bear ever was. Some nights Jóhannes dreamt of a creature that paced and fretted, its roar haunting Iceland’s coastline as it waited, hoped, pleaded for respite. What could possibly be more dreadful than a stranding, alone for however many weeks, afloat on a small sliver of ice in relentlessly tumultuous ocean?

Rútur had the rug fashioned using as much fur as possible and with the head left attached. Jóhannes liked to think that the look on the bear’s face was not dread but joy and hope for an end to hunger and confinement. Or could it be a look of surprise from the gunshot? Whichever it was, that emotional instant had been caught and suspended forevermore.

So, I hope this post tantalises you to see the drawing I’m getting closer to finishing and to read my novel when it’s published.

And, happy day wishes to you all : )

Spotlight on Cloudscape

Cloudscape is my first collaboration print. Positioning the photograph used as inspiration alongside my drawing provides a much deeper insight into pareidolia and also makes the artwork more interactive. Do you perceive what I do or do you see it differently?

During the 2021 Cambridge Science Festival (affiliated with MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts), the festival organisers and I both shared the central cloud in this image plus my drawn interpretation on various sites of social media. Many people commented about that incredible cloud with descriptions of what they spotted.
Some examples of these comments are in the word cloud above.

Details from photograph and drawing

Pareidolia is a naturally transient phenomenon. Even tiny variations to shadows, light and perspective alter shape perceptions. I often come back to a drawing-in-progress and see something differently, sometimes with my perception flipping between one and the other.

I drew Cloudscape on watercolour paper with a high tendency to bleed and used a very low-resolution photograph for inspiration. That image came from A Cambridge Diary website and was taken by Martin Bond at Waterbeach during September 2019. There was very little in the image – apart from a dog and an aeroplane – that I researched prior to drawing. Mostly, I simply drew my perceptions using various line thicknesses, which is a feature of the technical pens I prefer, plus a sort of binary language of upside-down Vs and circles as infill for shadows and shade.

If you hadn’t noticed the aeroplane just mentioned, it is worth a closer look. What began for me as simply a fetching scene that frames a remarkable central cloud, ended up evoking so much more when I looked carefully. During the World Wars of last century, it was not an uncommon scene to find an aeroplane discreetly camouflaged in the border of a field, such as I perceived along the treeline of this drawing, perhaps awaiting the arrival of a spy to be discreetly flown out to enemy territory.

Waterbeach is also in The Fens, where there is a long history of storytelling and myths, particularly in years prior to the successful, organised drainage of the land. Back-in-the-day, frequent unpredictable flooding would wreak havoc for those trying to live off this very fertile soil. Animals, crops and belongings could get sucked up in boggy marshes or disappear into a low creeping fog, never to be seen again. It’s not surprising, when studying a fenland scene such as this one, if stories known or imagined come to mind.

Cloudscape is available to purchase as a limited-edition of fifty 16” x 20” fine art giclée collaboration prints. If you’d like to own one of them, here is where to visit: