How to Make a Mind Map: Creative Examples for High School Art Students

Last Updated on April 2, 2023

Many art students begin the year by brainstorming possible ideas, topics or themes for their art projects. This article features creative mind map examples and other visual brainstorming illustrations to inspire high school students.

creative mind map ideas

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 organize 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 color to show relationships, groupings and connections between 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’s 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 center and then connecting these to smaller branches; using single words and images; and adding colors for aesthetic and organizational purposes.

Tony Buzan mind map
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 map examples and visual brainstorming ideas

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 center, as in this example of a mind map by Dave Tiedemann:

creative mind map
An appropriate object can be photographed, printed, trimmed and then glued onto your workbook page – or digitally superimposed upon a page and then printed. Alternatively, you might photocopy an object (placing the item directly upon the photocopier or scanner, with teacher supervision) so that it seamlessly integrates with the page. The remainder of the mind map can then be added by hand. As the photograph becomes a dominant element upon the page, the object should be selected with care.

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

creative mind map examples
This approach gives you an opportunity to play with space and color, while recording ideas. A range of different painted marks could be used – splashes / smears / drips etc. It is worth remembering that color choices should be thoughtful and not distract from subsequent work in your sketchbook.

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

London map art
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 might 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.

Use collage to make a mixed media mind map, as in this example by high school student Chloé Zinn:

mixed media mind map
This eye-catching mind map was created by Chloé Zinn as part of her National Senior Certificate, while studying at Rustenburg High School for Girls, South Africa. This sketchbook page contains a range of mixed media, including carboard, tracing paper, black fine liner pen, gold paint, gouache, and magazine cuttings.

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

digital mind map
Many Art students find that drawing itself allows them to relax and thoughts to flow freely. You may wish to make a mind map in and around an observational drawing that sprawls across a page, in a fragmented, semi-complete way. As you think of possible ideas, these could be scrawled upon the drawing and extending out from this, creating an organic and spontaneous record of ideas. Strong observational drawers could find this an excellent way to flaunt skill to the examiner from the very first page of their sketchbook.

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

collage mind map
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.

Create mind maps from flowing painterly forms, as in this amazing example by artist Ward Shelley:

Using paint to create voluptuous forms can be a fun presentation method for students, as it allows them to ‘make art’ from the very first sketchbook page. A fast drying acrylic or water color paint is ideal. This approach is most appropriate when the forms and colors can be connected with the subject matter itself. Care should be taken to ensure that the resulting mind map is not overly distracting and disconnected visually from the remainder of the work.

Draw over an abstract watercolour ground, as in this artist mind map by Roberta Faulhaber:

artist mind map
Drawing a mind map over blurred and running watercolor forms can result in an exciting abstracted diagram. As mentioned in the above example, colors that link in with the subject matter should be chosen (muted, softer colors are usually more appropriate than psychedelic pinks and greens, for example).

Create a simple mind map using text, with circles and dots for emphasis, as in these examples by Lia Perjovschi:

text mind map
Students often feel pressured to create a complex, over-worked mind map, when often a simple presentation is all that is needed. This elegant brainstorm of ideas would be a beautiful way to begin a sketchbook.

Record a stream of consciousness using handwriting and images, as in this journal by Sabrina Ward Harrison:

sabrina ward harrison
These journal pages are reminiscent of how many artists record thoughts and ideas. The background of images, layered paper and smeared paint has been covered with scrawled handwritten texts; passages have been written in larger font to create emphasis and lines help to segment parts of the text.

Brainstorm ideas using chalk on a blackboard or whiteboard and photograph it, such as this mind map by Julien Muckensturm:

whiteboard mind map
If you do not wish to feel constrained by the size of your page, you may wish to begin making large-scale mind maps on a blackboard, whiteboard, or other large sheet of paper. Once completed, this can be photographed and integrated within your sketchbook, possibly with further digital manipulation taking place.

Make a mind map on small pieces of paper and cardboard, inspired by the road map created from multiple sketches by strangers, compiled by Nobutaka Aozaki:

mind map photography
You may wish to layer pieces of paper and torn card and then photocopy this, writing ideas onto the photocopy. Alternatively, you may wish to glue pieces directly into your sketchbook, or write onto the layered paper and then photograph the finished piece, as in the example above. The latter option has the advantage that pieces can be moved around and added to as needed.

Attach images and notes to a pinboard, as in the ‘Capturing Memory Mind Map’ by Red Biddy:

physical mindmap
Many students begin with a ‘mood board’ along these lines: a collection overlaying images, materials and text. This example has string and other items connecting different parts. This could then be photographed and annotated further.

Hand write ideas over a photograph, as in this example by Stefan Sagmeister:

Stefan Sagmeister Lou Reed
Students who enter an art course with strong photography skills may wish to create an entire mind map or brainstorm upon a single large-scale photograph. This could be photocopied to create a surface that is easier to write upon – or a medium such as Indian ink or permanent marker can be used to write directly upon a printed photograph.

Create a mind map online using free mind map software, a mind map app or any other digital drawing tool, as in these bubble diagrams by Leoni Wharton:

bubble mind map
Students who are confident using digital technology – and who have access to a computer during class – may find this an easy way to quickly generate an aesthetically pleasing mind map. This may be particularly appropriate for a design student, who intends to produce a considerable portion of their portfolio using digital tools.

Make a textural collage of ideas, as in this GCSE Art mind map by Jessica Rump, while studying at King’s Lynn Academy:

GCSE Art mind map
Exploring the topic Force, this mixed media mind map contains a wealth of details, texture and depth. Similar colours have been used throughout, linking the different aspects of the work and making the page cohesive.

Produce a sprawling hand-drawn mind map, as in this example by Tlemermeyer:

simple mind map
It is worth emphasizing, as mentioned above, that students should not feel obligated to produce an intense, time-consuming brainstorm presentation. Many high achieving students submit very simple mind map presentations (if indeed any are submitted at all). It may help to imagine what kind of brainstorming method you would use if you were a famous, crazy, genius artist!

Use illustrations and colors to communicate and emphasize ideas, as in these sketchbook pages by Eva-Lotta Lamm:

mindmap drawing
Graphic Design students in particular often feel confident brainstorming ideas in graphical format. Note the clever repetition of color in this work and how borders around certain areas of text draw the viewer’s attention.

Integrate observational drawings, as in this example by high school student Laura Viruly:

mind map with images and text
This beautiful visual exploration of ideas was completed by Laura Viruly, as part of her National Senior Certificate (for which she was awarded 92%). This work was completed while Laura studied at The Peter Clarke Art Centre (formerly known as the Frank Joubert Art Centre), South Africa. Integrating observational drawings within a mind map can be an excellent way to impress the examiner from the very first page.

Organize ideas visually in a grid formation, as in this illustration by Grid London:

visual brainstorm of ideas
If your teacher is open to this approach, a more formal, grid-like structure can be an aesthetically pleasing way to collect ideas (with images organized in related columns or rows). Although this doesn’t facilitate discussion or linking between different ideas, it can be a great way for students to contemplate a whole range of possible subject matters that are related to a theme. Images can be photographed, drawn or collaged, with annotation beneath.

Add a painterly splurge in the center, from which ideas extend, as in this Year 11 exam example from Bishop Luffa School:

Year 11 mindmap
Exploring the theme ‘Fragments’ this beautiful Year 11 mind map has a central idea positioned on black paint, around which ideas extend.

Integrate text within an artwork, as in this example by Julia Lewis-Thomas:

text integrated in artwork
This sketchbook page was completed by Julia Lewis-Thomas, while completing the National School Certificate at Bergvliet High School, South Africa. The right hand image integrates collaged train tickets, with text and drawings using pen and crayon. Julia was awarded 97% overall for her National School Certificate qualification.

Use multiple colored pens, as in these examples by Asiphe Sinari and Elà Aguiar:

colored pens mind map
Using colored pens can be a quick and effective way for students to express ideas. This sketchbook page was completed by Asiphe Sinari as part of her National Senior Certificate, while studying at Rustenburg High School for Girls, South Africa. Note how the color of the ink pens links in well with the color of the acrylic wash and the accompanying photographs.
mind map using pens
This visual exploration is by high school student Elà Aguiar, completed while studying at Reddam House Bedfordview, South Africa. The use of pilot pens to explore ideas, mark-making, and texture offers plenty of inspiration for those contemplating mind map creation.

Use a ruler to frame images and text, as in this example by Annie Richardson:

GCSE Art mind map
This mind map is by Annie Richardson, completed while studying OCR GCSE Art and Design at Hall Park Academy, UK. Annie gained A* (100%) for GCSE Art. More of Annie excellent work can be viewed in our online collection of art sketchbooks.

Once you have selected a presentation method for your brainstorming, the next step is to actually generate some ideas! Please read our guide to selecting a great Art project idea.

You may be interested in our new book: Outstanding High School Sketchbooks. This book has high-resolution images so that fine details and annotation are clear, making it an excellent resource for students and schools. Learn more!

Need more help with your high school sketchbook?

This article is part of a series we have published about high school sketchbooks. You may also be interested in viewing our other sketchbook resources:

This mind map collection is continually updated. Please bookmark this page so that you can return to it when needed! If you would like to submit your own mind map for inclusion, please contact us. ????


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