When you were a kid, you (almost certainly) looked at a sky full of clouds and saw more than water vapor. Instead, you saw an ever-shifting sea of shapes: animals, characters, and fantastic landscapes. For a variety of reasons this is less common for adults. In this blog post we'll look into the issue of adult imagination, and why 'cloud animals' can be a practical tool for adult artists.
Imagination is encouraged in children, but often withers as we age. When was the last time you were encouraged to daydream? I'm not sure if this phenomenon is physiological or cultural, but it's clear adults spend less of their time pretending. I'd argue that artists benefit from breaking this trend. Artists, especially illustrators and concept artists, have a lot to gain from pretending.
Answering the question "what should I draw today?" can be extremely challenging for beginners. Art, after all, is not just about technical skills. Creativity is often equally important to rendering and technical craft. When considered through this lens, "watching cloud animals" becomes a very productive activity. Instead of a leisure activity, it can be thought of as brainstorming. Our brains are especially good at seeing patterns in random noise. Harnessing this power toward artistic brainstorming is valuable for kids and adults alike. The Ctrl+Paint video to the right is also about generating ideas, and will provide some additional resources.
I encourage you to look for cloud animals. In fact, don't limit yourself to animals -- look for hidden shapes wherever you are! Dedicating time to this activity is extremely useful, and it is best accomplished in a dedicated way (no multi-tasking). Next time you're waiting for the bus or want to jump-start your brainstorming, search for these imaginary shapes. If you're having trouble, I'll use this tree trunk to explain some exercises:
Juxtapose scale: Forget that this is a tree. What if it were 1,000 times larger? What if we're actually looking out the window of a spacecraft onto the surface of a planet? What natural phenomenon would explain the crevasses and ridges? In short, a dramatic change in scale can get your ideas flowing.
Distill 2D patterns: If you're trying to design a textile pattern, logo, emblem, or mark - natural shapes are a great place to start. The specific swirl of this bark, or potentially the grain of the wood fibers -- when taken out of context can provide compelling graphic motifs.
Upside-down: Sometimes all it takes is turning an object in an unusual orientation for interesting shapes to appear. This helps you break your existing mental associations, and allows you to consider an object with a blank-slate. What's on the inside of an acorn cap? What about the under side of a mushroom? Nature has tons of exciting surprises - make sure you're taking advantage!