Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada, USA, by Michael Muraz. 2013. Another Angle, Michael Muraz Photography, The Natural World.
I still remember those lazy days of summer when I was a kid. With nothing better to do, I’d lay on my back in the cool grass in front of my house just staring up into the sky. As I watched the clouds roll by I imagined I saw bears, faces of famous people, or the flowing profiles of birds in flight. There were never two of the same images, and that made it a fresh, new experience every time. I’d lay there in the grass, eagerly anticipating what I might see.
Pareidolia is the psychological term for this little blip in our brains that causes us to see faces, figures, forms or patterns in things. Ancient astronomers got it. They saw animal and human shapes in the many constellations brightening the night sky.
Leonardo Da Vinci even suggested in his notebooks that pareidolia was an excellent source of inspiration for painters. He expanded this concept to include imagery seen in city structures. Here’s what he suggested, “If you look at walls that have various stains or spots you will be able to ‘see’ or invent a scene that resembles different landscapes such as mountains or rocks, valleys or trees. Expressions on faces will emerge, and outlandish clothes and costumes will be able to reduce into separate and conceived forms.”
I’ve enjoyed viewing a painting in which the morphing cloud formations over Cloud’s Rest in Yosemite come to life in the form of stampeding steers in the dreamy skies above a solitary cowboy. An untold number of photographers have captured the slowly evolving shadow shapes and distinctive rock formations of the mountains at sunset in the Valley of Fire – which become imagined forms of seven sisters and a huge elephant.
As an illustrator and designer, this ability to “see” things in nature that go well beyond the obvious, is a continual source of creative inspiration. The flowing lines and radiating ripples in a local mountain stream became my inspiration for a corporate brochure.
Although I don’t spend much time on my back gazing skyward anymore, I still see images, patterns and anthropomorphic shapes in nature. The point is, inspiration is everywhere and all we need to do is open our eyes. No telling what we’ll see.