by TeacherLem Iglesias

Project Title: ‘How to Design a Superhero’

Target Class: Year 9 (13-15 years old)

Prerequisite Knowledge / Skills: Artist Inspiration and Gathering of Resources

For a better understanding of this topic, read my previous blog: CLICK HERE


2nd Meeting- PREPARATION: Mind Mapping and Creating Thumbnails

Approximate Time Required: 80-minutes

THE second part of this four-part blog series deals with the PREPARATION stage for the project. This part is the initial stage of the actual drawing process.

In our last blog, after trying my best to inspire the students by introducing them to a famous artist (see ‘Artist Inspiration: Jack Kirby’ from the previous blog) and allowing them to Google-feast and collect visual images that could inspire them (see ‘Resources’ from previous blog), they will now try to visualise their own ideas into words and then interpret these using drawings or designs.

This part will include Recall, Brainstorming, Mind Mapping  and Drawing Thumbnails.

RecallI begin all my classes by ‘unfreezing’ topics and ideas that were previously discussed. In this case, facts about the Artist Inspiration Jack Kirby. I ask the students to respond to simple questions connected to our last lesson. Oftentimes this portion of the lesson becomes a graded recitation, where I give out quick extra points to those who could answer the questions correctly:

  1. What is Jack Kirby’s nationality?
  2. Which comic book publishers did he work for?
  3. In the process of creating a comic book, what was his main job?
  4. What was were his biggest accomplishments during World War 2?
  5. Can you explain the controversy between him and the Marvel Company?

I also quickly do a recall on what activity was done last meeting. In this case, the students were:

(1) asked to go and search in Google,

(2) choose pictures of famous superheroes that they like,

(3) print out their choices and

(4) paste these pictures on a page in their sketchpads.

I want the students to remember what they have learned and what they did last meeting to gauge how much knowledge was retained a week after our last class. Even if I often do not require students to take notes, surprisingly, they do remember a lot of information with the effective combination of visuals I have presented and the pop quiz that was given after the presentation.  This 10-minute recall-discussion at the start of every meeting gives me the perfect opportunity to break the ice before I segue to the main lesson of the day.

BrainstormingI tell my students that this part has no right or wrong answers. I encourage them to ‘throw ideas back and forth-write them down on paper-cross them out’ until the best ones remain.

I plant ideas in their minds (I call these ‘question seeds’) and wait for it to grow. I usually ask my students to answer a series of prompt questions about the project’s theme to kick start their imagination. For this project I asked them, “If you were a superhero…”

What would be your superhero name? — list as many as you can but narrow it down to three to five  suggestions after 5 minutes.

What would be your superpowers? — list as many as you can but narrow it down to three to five  suggestions after 5 minutes.

The amusing part of this activity is that students either start with funny suggestions and then end up with serious ones (from the dorky ‘Pizza Guy’ name that would later evolve to the dramatic name of ‘Mafioso’) , or start seriously and end up with funny suggestions (from the fairy-like ‘Ariana’ becoming the ‘Fabulous-Fe2-Iron Girl’).

Brainstorming Sample 1

Brainstorming Sample 1

Brainstorming Sample 2

Brainstorming Sample 2

Mind MapAfter giving the students several minutes to think about their answers, or ask for suggestions from others in their group, I ask them to turn their answers in a form of a Mind Map to transform their ideas into a simple visual format. The centre bubble of the Mind Map would show the phrase “If I were a superhero…” The other bubbles surrounding the phrase would have the possible superhero names to choose from and the superpowers they would want this superhero to have. This ranges from the usual ‘Super-strength-Super-speed-Flight and Invisibility’, to the more imaginative ones, like the power ‘to create rainbows’ and ‘to strike enemies with acid pee’ (what???).

Our basic Mind Map format is below. You can use this same format over and over again by changing the prompt question, while the possible answers are written around it. By the way, you can also ask them to colour the mind map for extra points 🙂

Superhero Mind Map

Superhero Mind Map


Thumbnail Designs*Thumbnail Designs or Sketches are simply small drawings or doodles, usually the size of the thumb, quickly drawn by artists to study ideas visually and workout possible design problems before making a final drawing. I tell my students that ‘the best designs come out after about 20 to 50 (or even 100) thumbnail drawings.’ Sometimes, one student would say ‘Why can’t I just make one good drawing? I can do it.’  I show them THIS VIDEO to convince them to follow this important part of the creative process (thanks Alphonso Dunn).

Once the Mind Map is done, and the students are fully convinced about the necessity of of thumbnails, I ask them to draw just four thumbnail figures in pencil based on an artist mannequin. They are reminded to keep in mind that the figures should be in the right proportion, which is 7-8 heads tall (see photo below from our  previous lesson on Basic Figure Drawing).

Thumbnails by Min, Year 9 Love

Thumbnails by Min, Year 9 Love

After they finish drawing, I challenge them to doodle some costumes on the four figures. Every figure should have a different costume based on the superpowers that they have included in the Mind Map.

Sketches by Min, Year 9 Love

Sketches by Min, Year 9 Love

If some students find it difficult to do this, I tell them to refer to the pictures that they have printed and pasted on their sketch pads as ‘Resources’ (see the previous blog entry). To start off, I encourage them to pick one part of each costume from one of their Superhero Resources, e.g. Batman’s gloves, Superman’s boots, Iron Man’’s body armour and Thor’s helmet, and try to draw them together in their first superhero design. Strange as it may seem, if they can do this, they actually create a new superhero. And once they have understood this process, more combinations and ideas will come out in their next drawings. And in the end (usually in the last two figures), some students will go at it on their own and say ‘Can I just make my own?’. Then they would create amazing designs that you’ve never even imagined.

Printed Images (Resources) on top and New Designs (Thumbnails) below.

Printed Images (Resources) on top and New Designs (Thumbnails) below.

This part of the project involving Brainstorming, Mind mapping and Thumbnails can be gathered in one page of a sketchpad (or an A3 paper) .  See the photo below– and see you all next time.

Sketchpad Page_1

To be continued on my next post: 
3rd Meeting PROJECT MAKING – Scaling-Up and Colouring in Tonal Gradation

The featured image at the very top is created by my student – Sun of Year 9 Love.


5 thoughts on “Design a Super Hero 2: Mind map and Thumb nails

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