Defining the Project

Case Study | MFA Graduate Thesis Project

Academy of Art University Graduate School of Web Design & New Media

Week 1

Getting Started

Deep self-examination is the first step in defining our big project.

Lets start with first considering the conscious/unconscious cultural beliefs we hold about creativity, the art making process, and the artist herself - which are not true and do not serve a thriving artist mindset.

Some examples are:

  • The starving artist stereotype
  • Great art is a product of genius and rests fundamentally upon rare talent
  • The creative process is elusive and can not be learned
  • A profession in the arts is not a serious profession

It is important to keep an awareness of these notions so that we can replace them with a new set of accurate beliefs that support the creative process and provide a foundation for our growth and success.

Some examples of a thriving artist mindset include:

  • Self-worth is separate from external perceived value of your work
  • Making art CAN be learned and is not dependent on “talent”
  • Making art is dependent upon doing- so make a lot of art on a regular basis
  • Making art is a common worthwhile human activity that provides much needed value to the world
  • There are many thriving artists
  • There are many paths to success
  • Success is defined by YOU

Mind Mapping

With our new thriving artist mindset in place, we can conduct a deep self-examination by brainstorming through a process called mind mapping. Mind maps are a great way to get clear about yourself, providing self-reflection and ultimately help us define a project idea that is important to you. Knowing yourself will make your work personal and distinctive. This mind map exercise will help you find your “voice.”

To create your mind map you will need:

  • Sharpie
  • Large Notebook/Drawing Pad

This is a rapid process without any editing. The more immediate the better.

Let’s Begin:

Start by writing your name in the center of the page. Next, write associated words to branch off from your name. Include topics such as, “Things I like”,  “Background”, “Ideas”, “Strengths”, “Weaknesses”, “Inspirations”, etc.. Continue to branch off from each of those words with any associations that come to mind and continue this process as far as you can. I ran out of room on my drawing page as you can see below, so this is where I stopped.

Here is an example of my Mind Map.

Mind Map by Julie Davis Veach


Once you have finished your mind map set it aside for awhile and come back to it later. When you come back to it, take a significant amount of time to analyze it. Make additional connections or add notes. Draw new connecting lines to reveal new associations. Take notice of patterns, repetitions, connections, and cycles that may be present. You can repeat the mind map process based on sub-nodes to explore further.
After completing this process, create a text outline from your mind map. This will help you analyze and clearly see he hierarchy of your map. It is also a legible way to share your thoughts and ideas with others.

Here is an example of my Mind Map Text Outline.

Mind Map Text Outline by Julie Davis Veach

You should now be able to identify topics, interests, and ideas that are meaningful to you.

I would like to point out that one of the topics that came out of my Mind Map under “My Challenges” was “Fears” such as “I’m too old”, I’m not good enough,” etc... The list goes on and on.

I just want to remind everyone that fear is a common and normal response to the unknown and we all have fears.

David Bayles and Ted Orland, working artists and co-authors of the book, “Art and Fear” comment on fear and making art.

“ Making art is dangerous and revealing. Making art precipitates self-doubt, stirring deep waters that lay between what you know you should be, and what you fear you might be.

They continue to explain that...

“art is a high calling - fears are coincidental, sneaky and disruptive, ...disguising themselves laziness, resistance to deadlines, irritation with materials and surroundings, distractions over the achievements of others.”

Art and Fear - by David Bayles and Ted Orland

Each step in the creative process puts those fears to the test.

Always challenge your fears.

"The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step." -Chinese proverb

Coming-Up Next...

Next week, we will learn about:

  • A brainstorming process that allows you to quickly gather inspiration and gather ideas.
  • We will also cover the importance of receiving critique.


This blog will serve as a place to create my case study. I invite you to follow along with me as I journey through this process.

Thank you for reading and for your interest.

Julie A. Davis

Julie Davis