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

Author: lorraineglessner

I'm a mixed media artist, workshop instructor and former assistant professor at tyler school of art in Philadelphia, PA.

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