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Sometimes coming up with ideas for an Art project takes place within the classroom – an interactive discussion between students and teachers; on other occasions students formally document ideas within their sketchbooks. Humans have a tendency to think in a multi-dimensional way – that is, with lots of things occurring simultaneously, triggering further ideas. Rather than attempting to record thoughts in a sequential, linear fashion (i.e. writing these down in lists or paragraphs), students can find it helpful to collect, record and organise ideas graphically, using visual diagram such as a mind map. If this brainstorm is submitted as part of assessment material, it is essential that this is presented well.

What is a mind map?

Mind map creator Tony Buzan coined the term ‘mind map’ to refer to a diagram that has a branch or root-like structure radiating from a central image on the page, and which uses lines and colour to show relationships, groupings and connections betweens words, ideas and images. A mind map helps students think clearly and ensures that a range of possibilities are considered, encouraging thinking outside-the-box.

How to make a mind map

Tony Buzan sets out official guidelines for how to a draw a mind map upon the ThinkBuzan website. His recommendations include: using a landscape format; starting with a central image to represent your topic or theme; using curving lines to add main branches to the centre and then connecting these to smaller branches; using single words and images; and adding colours for aesthetic and organisational purposes.

Examples from the Tony Buzan mind map gallery:

It should be noted, however, that when your Art teacher asks you to begin creating a mind map, they are almost always happy with any visually pleasing representation of ideas – such as a tree diagram, spider diagram – or even just a splurge of thoughts on paper, as long as it documents a range of ideas and possibilities connected to a theme (or a set examination topic). The examples below, therefore, contain different visual brainstorming methods, not just those that are official mind maps.

Guidelines for Art Students

When brainstorming ideas for a high school Art project, remember that:

  • Single words are unlikely to express an idea adequately. As you think though possibilities, it is likely that you will want to jot down whole phrases and brainstorm possible ways of beginning or approaching a subject. Intentions and possibilities should be clear to someone else who reads the mind map at a later date
  • Images should be sourced first-hand (i.e. drawn or photographed yourself) or clearly referenced, and should be integrated within the mind map in a visually pleasing way
  • The appearance of the mind map is crucially important. This is likely to be one of the first things an examiner sees when opening your sketchbook – first impressions count

Creative mind maps and visual brainstorming

Please note that although some of these presentation methods are more complex and time consuming than others, this not does mean they are better. Sometimes a quick, expressive splurge of ideas upon paper is all that is needed.

Take a beautiful photograph to place in the centre , as in this example of a mind map by Dave Tiedemann:

Use painted areas to contain text , as in these creative examples by artist Martha Rich:

Draw lots of small pictures to illustrate ideas visually , as inspired by this Curiocity map of London illustrated by Nicole Mollet:

In many cases, the brainstorming phase of an Art project has to be completed quickly, however, if you are a fast drawer and have a spare weekend, you might wish to produce a collection of drawings to illustrate your ideas. You should avoid drawing things from imagination and may wish to include a range of different mediums. Before spending considerable time on this exercise, you should check with your art teacher whether this is appropriate for your project.

Overlay words digitally around a central image , as in this brainstorming example by A Level Graphic Design and Fine Art student at Durham Sixth Form :

Integrate a mind map with an ‘incomplete’ image that extends across the page , inspired by this digital illustration by Alex Plesovskich:

Collage torn images, textures and surfaces together , as in this example by Brittney:

Collecting, ripping and arranging a range of images, textures and surfaces can provide a creative base upon which to write and draw further ideas. These pages from a visual journal explore ideas related to illustration, fairytales and mythology.

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