MindMapping For Artists

What’s your art about? Are you stumped by this question? Learn how to organize your thoughts and ideas in this article.

Do you silently cringe, not knowing what to say when someone asks you what your work is about? Have you tried time and again to write an artist statement but don’t know where to begin? In my first Resolutions post I challenged you to read everyday something that is pertinent to your work, but what if you don’t know what books to get? If any of these questions resonated with you, making a MindMap will help you.

MindMapping may seem like a relatively new concept to most, but its actually been used for centuries to brainstorm and organize ideas, to streamline them and keep from getting overwhelmed. MindMapping is used in many applications and most prevalently in education, business and psychological circles. Alyson Stanfield writes about MindMapping for art business and many other art related purposes in this blog post. What’s interesting is that MindMapping is a VISUAL tool and I’m always surprised when I find that most visual artists have never heard of it. Basically, it’s a diagram with a big idea in the center and smaller, supporting ideas branching off from it-sort of like an idea tree. I first heard about and used MindMapping in my grad school seminar course when it came time to write my thesis paper and it turned out to be an integral tool as I could barely write an artist statement at that time. I was lucky enough to actually find my grad school mind map and after some photoshopping, it’s proudly featured at the top of this article. I have used MindMapping many, many times since, mostly for writing and research purposes when my studio work has shifted and I need to figure out where its going.

If you Google MindMapping, you can find many useful tips, information and digital templates, but I think its much more fun to draw it out yourself in your sketchbook. This is a fun blog with lots of inspiration for hand drawn MindMaps and this site is totally devoted to MindMap art and artists. This post outlines the hand drawing process from start to finish, but I would recommend simple is best for beginners. Basically, the process is to put the BIG idea in the center and then branch off with other related ideas from there. Subsequent supporting ideas branch off from those ideas and so on. Your Map can be diagrammatic, pictorial or it can be a simple outline. You can use colors, patterns, symbols, anything you’d like in order to organize your MindMap. Scroll down for some fun examples below, ranging from extremely elaborate to absolutely no frills. The step by step process I use to create my MindMaps is very simple and, with her permission, I’m using a recent starter MindMap I created with one of my mentor clients as an example below. I use the outline format for simplicity and color code the steps to correspond with the Map:

  1. Think about The BIG Idea and write it in the center.
  2. Draw 3-4 branches from the big idea and write Secondary Big Ideas relating to the big idea. They should be related, but different and significant enough that they qualify as a secondary branch.
  3. From those 3-4 secondary branches, draw 4-5 Tertiary Branches and label with topics related to and descriptive of those ideas.
  4. *NOTE* Your topics can repeat-circle repeating topics and make a list of them to use later. You can also add branches anywhere you’d like and you don’t have to fill in all branches you’ve drawn.
  5. Follow tertiary branches with 4-5 Fifth Tier, 6th Tier, 7th Tier branches and so on. Label with even more detailed, more descriptive topics.
  6. The MindMap could go on forever, but I usually stop at 3-4 tiers and take stock of what I’ve done–What could I add, what subjects have I ignored, what branches could be moved, shifted or repeated, what branches are going in a strange direction, what repeating words should be circled, etc.
  7. Create your MindMap over the course of several days as more ideas will surface over time.
  8. Once you’ve completed your Map, use the words you have generated as you would a library card catalog of subjects to find books and articles in which to focus your research or writing.  The repeating words you’ve circled could be the subjects you begin reading about first, then follow with the secondary and tertiary subjects.
  9. Save your Map, it will be a good starting point for the next time you need one.
  • Form (the big idea)
    • Color
      • Color forms
        •  Play
        • Children
      • Post modern abstraction
        • Abstract expressionism
      • Color theory
      • Abstraction
        • De Stijl
          • Mondrian
    • Systems 
      • Highway
      • Public transportation
        • Subway
          • USA
            • List Cities
          • Europe
            • List Countries
        • Bus
        • Train
      • The body
        • Veins
        • Brain
      • Maps
    • Construction 
      • Building
      • Architecture
      • Toys
        • Blocks
    • Pattern 
      • Textile
      • Wallpaper
      • Types
        • Allover
        • Damask
        • Geometric
    • Design 
      • Textile
      • Interior
      • Architecture
    • Ornament 
      • Medieval
      • Renaissance
      • Moroccan
      • Coats of Arms
        • Family Crest
        • Identity
          • Nationalities/Ethnicity

Making your MindMap should be fun, but if you find yourself stuck or not even knowing where to begin, sign up for a mentor meeting with me and let’s get started!

Once again, I invite your comments, questions and suggestions on this post–comments are now located in the upper left corner of this post, scroll up instead of down. I would love to hear if any of you have implemented MindMapping in any way and of course, would love to SEE some of your MindMaps too!

By popular demand, my next post will highlight some of my favorite drawing/mark-making exercises to either get you started or keep you going on your daily drawings!

Above left to right: IllumineHand Drawn AdvantagesNature Picks Up Your Vibes, Balanced ScorecardSimple Pen and InkWind Surfing SensationsTime ManagementMind Map 1Eye, Art & Design

My 2018 Studio Resolutions, Part 2

Read the complete list of my 2018 Studio Resolutions so you can get started off on the right foot this year!

I hope you all have been spending the last two weeks purchasing books, reading at least 30 minutes a day and drawing, drawing, drawing everyday! If you haven’t done so, please be sure to read Part 1 of this post, which includes the how and why these resolutions are so important to me and my guarantee that they will get you started on the right foot this year. Remember, they will only work if you give them a determined try.

  1. Studio notes every studio day I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts why reading about what interests you in your work is so important and directly related to reading is writing. It is imperative that an artist write well! After all, we have to write statements, biographies, exhibition and teaching proposals, grant and residency applications, catchy snippets on social media, BLOGS..the list goes on. The only way to get better at writing is to practice writing. Remember Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages? I learned to love writing by making this a part of my practice way back in the 90’s and then fell in love with writing again in graduate school while writing my thesis. Reading is a huge help in sharpening writing skills, but you also have to put pen to paper and write your own words as well. What better way to do that than writing about your work every studio day in a short paragraph. I call it my Studio Log–it’s basically a short diary entry, (written in sentence and paragraph form with an actual pen on paper), that explains what you did that day in the studio-what you made, your process and how it turned out. Begin each entry with the date and how many hours you spent in the studio and add up those hours every week-this helps you track your progress and creates a feeling of accomplishment. Please note that while I know bullet journaling has become a very popular thing and it’s totally fun, we are working toward sharpening our writing skills with these entries, so you  must write in complete sentences in paragraph form. Writing in this way helps you to organize your thoughts, put things into proper perspective and see your accomplishments in writing. It’s also important to note that actually writing in a designated book or sketchbook and not on the computer completes the connection between your thoughts and your hand, the computer is a third party that breaks that connection. Further elaborations on your log entry can include but are not limited to…Do you like what you did that day and why, Do you hate what you did and why, What thoughts surfaced from the subconscious while you were working, Did you make any changes of note to your process or thinking, What are you going to work on tomorrow, next week or next month and/or any other thing pertinent to you and your work that day. I rarely look back at my daily log entries, but when it’s time to write a statement or a proposal, I have a wealth of information right at my fingertips.
  2. Visually document every studio session Something we should all be doing in order to promote ourselves in a social media obsessed world. Even if you don’t contribute to social media, photographing what you do in the studio will accomplish two things…1. It will enable you to gain insight into your process and 2. You will be able to track your progress and achieve a sense of accomplishment.  Although you may choose to share these images , the purpose for collecting them is to see where you’ve been, where you are and where you’re going. If photographing while you work is distracting, just take a few photos of your work at the end of the work day to note progress. Or you may choose to do this at the beginning of the work day. Either way, it’s your studio photo journal and can be set up any way you wish. At the end of the week/month/year you have a collection of images that actually track your progress and this is so important for those times when we’re down on ourselves or feeling like we’re not doing enough. Even more elusive to us than a sense of progress is analyzing our process. We’re artists, we are visual people, we have to SEE things! Sometimes it’s not easy to see what is happening with the work until you look at from a different perspective -laying it flat or hanging it up. These photos offer many perspectives for viewing work, providing the opportunity to turn the image every which way, crop it, blow it up, etc . Observations made from these images can be shared in your studio log and used for social media posts, statements, proposals, etc. Understanding your process is an important part of knowing who you are as an artist, it sets you apart from everyone else, it’s defines you and helps shape how you and others view your work. More than anything else you can do to document your studio work, photographs give you insight into that process.While the studio log you’re keeping is helping to organize your thoughts and progress, keeping photo documentation will help you visualize this progress.
  3. Work toward a studio hours goal every week Your studio log entry requires that you log in your studio hours for the day and then add them up at the end of the week. This is yet another way to track your progress to make sure you’re meeting your studio goals. This was the first resolution I made to my list when I first started doing this in 2015 and I simply set a workable goal for a range of weekly hours I could get to into the studio. Everyone is going to have different hours due to addtional work and life responsibilities, so the key to achieving your weekly goals is making them feasible as well as slightly challenging. In 2015, I was teaching 2 days a week at Tyler School of Art, plus at least one day to prep for teaching. My goal for the studio was to do 25-30 hours a week with 25 being the minimum and 30 being the maximum (with plus or minus a few on both). I arrived at this number by creating a weekly calendar and crossing out the days and hours that I was scheduled for other things like teaching, paperwork, appointments, etc. I then began to fill in the open hours of each day with hours I could feasibly work in the studio and added them up. Once you arrive at a schedule and weekly goal, sign it and hang it up on your studio door or on the fridge, wherever you can see it that it will remind you of the promise you made to yourself. I also made rules as to what activities would fall under studio hours and again, your rules will be different. At first I was very strict and said that only activities contributing to making actual work could count toward my hours. I eased up after realizing that there are so many things I do that contribute to the making of my work-reading, drawing, photo research, even cleaning the studio counts! Give yourself at least 2 months to implement this schedule and if you find you were egregiously off in your hourly estimates, don’t be afraid to adjust the schedule. It is better to make a slight adjustment then to give up altogether due to frustration or feeling you have failed.
  4. Walk outside 15-30 minutes everyday I just added this resolution this year and I’m only doing so-so at achieving it due to the extreme cold we’ve had this winter…but I’m working on it! In the spring, summer and fall I walk everywhere I can and make a point of walking every night after dinner, rain or shine and I notice a significant change in my outlook and productivity. I have always known I’m just ‘better’ in the warmer weather and there are many factors that contribute to this, but I’m sure a huge part of it is walking and hiking. You may already know that there is much research to support a direct correlation to walking and boosted creativity, but just in case you don’t, this article is a good read. Another benefit to walking is the opportunity to snap photos of anything along the way that strikes your fancy, which can then be called ‘photo research’, which can then count toward your studio hours! The image at the top of this post is one of those images of mine taken on a walk on the dunes in Provincetown. So….Walk, get in shape, boost creativity, add to your studio hours…win, win, win, WIN!

By now you may have already forgotten your original 2018 New Year’s Resolutions, so you can now try these! Please feel free to post in the comments section (comments are now located upper left of this post), I would love the hear what you do to keep your studio practice alive and if any of my ideas have resonated with you. Remember, they are designed to work together with Part 1, so if you try them, please make sure to come back and post about your experience.

Stay tuned for my next post on Mind Mapping for Artists. What if you get to the studio and don’t know what to make or you have a whole body of work ready to go out in the world but you don’t know what it’s about? What if you don’t know what books to get or what subjects are pertinent to you or your work? Mind Mapping will help you narrow this all down. See you soon!