Complementary Superheroes

By Andrew Doyle, November 24, 2009

Grade Level

  • PreK-1


  • City of Neighborhoods

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

100 minutes for classroom activities


If your students are anything like mine, they will need very little encouragement to get excited about superheroes!  They might however need some basic instruction about the color wheel and defining complementary colors.  Building on their interest in heroes, I thought this would be a fun way to discuss iconic symbols and their power by using opposite colors to create impact.  I would do this lesson after introducing various concepts about color.  Students should already know about the three primary colors, the three secondary colors, and contrast.

National Standards

Visual Arts

Standard 1. Level II. Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts

1. Knows the differences between art materials (e.g., paint, clay, wood, videotape), techniques (e.g., overlapping, shading, varying size or color), and processes (e.g., addition and subtraction in sculpture, casting and constructing in making jewelry)

 2. Knows how different materials, techniques, and processes cause different responses from the viewer

 3. Knows how different media (e.g., oil, watercolor, stone, metal), techniques, and processes are used to communicate ideas, experiences, and stories

 4. Uses art materials and tools in a safe and responsible manner

Standard 2. Level II. Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art

 1. Knows the differences among visual characteristics (e.g., color, texture) and purposes of art (e.g., to convey ideas)

 2. Understands how different compositional, expressive features (e.g., evoking joy, sadness, anger), and organizational principles (e.g., repetition, balance, emphasis, contrast, unity) cause different responses

 3. Uses visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas

Standard 3. Level II. Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts

1. Selects prospective ideas (e.g., formulated thoughts, opinions, concepts) for works of art

Standard 5. Level II. Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others

1. Knows various purposes for creating works of visual art


Students will:

  • understand the meaning of complementary colors
  • understand the potential impact of using color complements
  • understand why comic book artists want to use iconic symbols on their characters


Links to superhero logo pictures:




Green Lantern:

Wonder Woman:

Captain America:


The Fantastic Four:


  • paper
  • pencils
  • tempera paints
  • paintbrushes
  • crayons or colored pencils
  • water cups
  • paper towels
  • newspaper
  • blank color wheel
  • sheets of colored paper in each of the primary and secondary colors


  • color wheel: a chart in which complementary colors are arranged on opposite sides of a wheel
  • complementary colors: pairs of colors that sit opposite one another on the color wheel
  • contrast: is the degree of difference between colors or tones in a piece of artwork


First Session:

1. To refresh the students’ memories of color and contrast, display a large copy of the attached color wheel.  Have them identify the three primary colors, and then the three secondary colors. 

2. When they have done this, show them how to find the opposite of a color by drawing a line from red to green.  Explain that they are opposite or complementary colors.  Tell them how many artists use complementary colors.  When placed next to each other, complementary colors appear brighter, more intense. 

3. Have a student pick another color on the wheel and see if they can find its opposite. 

4. You can then use the colored paper sheets to demonstrate how contrasting colors affect artwork.  Start with a piece of the yellow paper.  Cut out a small shape and lay it in front of another piece of yellow.  This is an example of poor contrast.  Now place the yellow in front of a red sheet; this would be an example of good contrast as they are both warm colors.  Finally end with the piece of yellow in front of purple showing strong contrast.  Try this with the other colors that you have, generating more strong contrasts.

5. Now would be a good time to shift gears a bit and begin talking about superheroes and the logos that they often wear.  Hold up the picture of Superman’s “S” shield.  Ask if anyone knows what it is and who it makes them think of.  Ask why they think the artist who created Superman designed that particular logo for him.  Talk about how no matter where they might see that shield, it immediately calls to mind “Superman”.  Tell students that he is widely regarded as the first superhero and the tradition of wearing a representative symbol on the chest was mimicked by many subsequent superheroes, including Batman, Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Green Lantern, the Flash and many others. 

6. Share some of the other pictures and identify the heroes they represent.  Use this time to compare and contrast the logos.  Talk about what they have in common: simplicity, basic color menu, and that in some way the logo identifies either the hero or his or her power.

7. Now tell the students that their design challenge will be creating a logo for a new superhero.  They will need to think of what kind of powers their hero has, a name, etc., as they will need to convey all of this information with the logo.  Remind them that at the beginning of class you worked on complementary colors and why artists used them.  Ask them why they think you did that!  With any luck, they will clue in that you are further challenging them in this design by requiring them to use complementary colors for their logo!

8. Give the students this time to begin their brainstorming.  Each child should have paper and pencil for their sketching.  Tell them not to worry about color choice at first, but that they should now simply create their hero and decide the elements of the logo. 

9. While they are doing this, circulate around the room reminding them to choose a name and powers for their hero and to incorporate that into the design.  Encourage them to come up with a few different ideas.  Remind them of the design process and that the more ideas to choose from the better. 

10. Use the last part of the class period to help them refine and narrow down their choices and designs. 

11. Collect their black-and-white sketches for the second session.

Second Session:

1. Distribute the students’ black-and-white sketches from the first session and hand out crayons and/or colored pencils as well. 

2. Remind them that the second part of the challenge was using complementary colors in their logos.  Encourage them to experiment with various combinations for the greatest effect for their logo.  Set them to work!

3. When the students have done all of their coloring, tell them to narrow down their logos to the top two to share with you.  Meet with each student individually for them to present their design.  Can you tell what their hero’s power is from looking at their logo?  Does it represent the name they have made up in any way?  Is it made up of two complementary colors?  And finally, can they articulate all of this to you?  When the answer to all of these questions is yes, have them use the tempera paint to create a final version to share with the class.


Did the student create a logo?

Did the student use complementary colors?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Students can make a comic book adventure using their new hero.  They can also create a logo for a villain using the same complementary colors.  Every Superman needs a Lex Luthor!
  1. This lesson sounds like too much fun! I see that this is a Pre-k 1 lesson, but this could be extended to later grades, even at the high school level if the Literature course is brought in for some cross-curricular teaching.

    Students could analyze the use of color in stories and movies. For instance, students could catalogue the colors used by heroes and villains, then identify the common colors for hero and villain characters. Students could then use archetypal criticism to further analyze these color trends.

    After this dive into the archetypal meanings of different colors, students could then create their logo for their hero or villain. Students could also use the archetypes to defend their artistic choices.

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