People, Research

Graduate student creates superheroes to say ‘thank you’ to colleagues

December 14, 2020

It can be lonely being in graduate school. However, one Master of Arts student is using artwork to breakthrough this barrier and connect with colleagues.

Malvika Agarwal, a second-year student in the field of curriculum and pedagogy at the Faculty of Education, creates superheroes to develop camaraderie with her colleagues and as a way of saying thank you for their support.

“I’m not drawing just any graduate students, but those that I have a connection with - it’s the people that I feel in community with,” said Agarwal. “So far, the people I have drawn are co-researchers, office mates and graduate students with similar research interests.”

Using her knowledge of her colleagues as well as her feelings towards them and how they help her aspire to reach new goals, Agarwal has developed many superhero characters that highlight different themes, such as time, femininity, strength, mystery, justice, compassion and seeing the big picture through complexity.

“I’m portraying them as an assemblage of unique people that bring their origin stories, and superpowers to create a sense of collegiality in this otherwise dog-eat-dog world,” she said.

Agarwal’s artistic journey began at a conference. She wanted to show appreciation for a colleague who was “cool and amazing” because she made her graduate journey fun. Using a photograph of her colleague that she took, she referenced it to draw a superhero.

“That was the catalyst. Since the results were cool and I really enjoyed the process, I ended up doing some more,” said Agarwal.

Her art has received positive feedback from her colleagues  – they’ve enjoyed what they’ve seen. They’ve also shared Agarwal’s work on social media and they’ve posted her drawings on their office doors.

Technology is an important tool for Agarwal’s artistic process. First, she uses an iPad and ipencil to create a rough sketch. She compares her initial step as an artist drawing a concept for a video game. Her prototype drawing is based on a brief she develops for each person. This brief includes using personas – a description of an individual’s personality. Once this is developed, she imagines symbols and characteristics that describe the personas. Then, she draws in the moment.

“I’ve learned that it’s not easy and I don’t always like my initial artistic decisions. I have to remind myself that I am drawing real people so the decisions I make when drawing them need to be carefully considered,” she said. “I’ve learned that sometimes when we draw faces, we tend to omit details that make a person’s face uniquely theirs and that was perhaps one of my biggest weaknesses.”

However, her artwork is anything but weak – the positive feedback she’s received has encouraged her to continue. She’s working on portraying more people as superheroes.