Art Lesson Plan: Op Art -Elementary Level

Checkerboard Op Art

Submitted by: Patti Caiola, Reynolds Elementary School in Toledo, OH
Unit: Op Art - Art/Math Concept
Lesson: Psychedelic Checkerboard Op Art
Grade Level: Elementary Grades 4th - 6th (adaptable to middle school)
Lower Grade level adaptation -Substitute Lesson Plan (see below)
Op Art Lines - Bridget Riley Inspiration (see below)
Middle School Lesson Below



Using a unique "checker-board" design using vertical lines and concentric circles, students will create colorful optical illusion designs.



9 x 12 (23 x 30.5 cm) white Drawing Paper.
Drawing Pencils.
Kneaded Rubber Erasers.



Victor Vasarely and Bidget Riley (links for Op Art below).


TPS Course Of Study: 5.1.3, 5.2.1-3, and 5.2.7. 6.1.3, 6.2.1-3,5, and 6.2.8

  • Explore the use of geometric shapes in art

  • Develop skills in pattern - create alternating pattern - contrast

  • Work with positive and negative shape

  • Gain awareness and understanding about Op Art

1 2 3



Cut white paper, hang up class example - Prepare PowerPoint of Op Art examples (optional)



Symmetry, asymmetry, balance, repetition, movement, radial, Op Art, optical illusion, concentric circle, vertical lines, horizontal lines.



Optical Illusion packet, Op Art example by Victor Vasarely.




Bridget Riley. - Each new development in Riley's work generates fresh interest in her art. Here, Paul Moorhouse, Richard Shiff, and Robert Kudielka provide an overview of her work and career, and fresh analyses of the ways in which her work relates to theories of aesthetic perception.


Bridget Riley by Bridget Riley. - Early works inspired by Seurat are to be seen alongside the well-known black and white paintings, monumental wall drawings and wall paintings, and recent canvases with curved forms and vivid colors. Illustrations of over 60 paintings are complemented by more than 80 drawings. An interview of the artist is included.


Bridget Riley: Flashback. - Produced in close collaboration with the artist, Flashback tracks Bridget Riley's career from its sensational beginnings in the early 1960s, at the helm of Op art, to the ambitious and powerful paintings and works on paper of recent years.


Vasarely. - Widely considered the father of Op Art, the Hungarian-born artist Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) was instrumental not only in provoking a school of thought based on the relationship between art and science, but in creating some of the most striking geometric paintings in the history of late Modernism.


Victor Vasarely: 1906-1997; Pure Vision. - Influenced by the innovative use of color in Bauhaus art, Hungarian painter Victor Vasarely (1908-1997) developed his own abstract-geometric visual language, exploring the relationship between pure form and pure color.


Artist/Period: Op Art: Bridget Riley

Objectives: Students will be able to…

  1. Analyze optical illusions from the packets, both individually and as a class.

  2. Create an original optical illusion design using pattern and repetition.

  3. Evaluate each space in the design to determine which color needs to be in the pattern


  1. Distribute the Optical Illusions Packets to the class. them have 2-3 minutes or so to look through the packet and experience some of the optical illusions themselves.

  2. Next, involve students in a class discussion about their discoveries from the illusion packet. Talk about the science behind the illusions, why some designs hurt our eyes and others trick our eyes. Talk about how some of the illusions are used in our state proficiency tests, math section, to test your visual skills.

  3. Show examples of Op Art by Bridget Riley.. Emphasize the meticulous craftsmanship, even rhythm, symmetrical balance and movement of the Op Artists.

  4. Pass out paper, pencils and erasers. First name, last name and room number written immediately in a corner, on the back.

  5. Demo on the board of ideas on how to approach project. Draw "wavy" vertical lines across the paper. Careful not to draw them too bumpy or too close…simple is better. Think gentle flowing waves. (Fat worms not skinny hair)

  6. Introduce concentric circles to the students. Compare concentric circles to a target, or bulls-eye. Off-center, somewhere on the white paper, draw a small circle (size of a quarter). Continue drawing concentric circles to the edges of the paper.

  7. Now that the grid has be created, using a pencil lightly mark in every other space. This is how to plan our coloring before the marker touches the paper. (Pencil does erase, marker does not) Start on the edge of the paper opposite from the circle and begin to mark your spaces to be colored. Go slow and take your time.

  8. Walk around the students, double checking their work and encouraging their successes.

  9. Carefully start in one corner and begin to color in only the marked spaces with a single color of marker.

  10. After all spaces are colored in a checkerboard design with one color and the white of the paper, students may color in all the leftover white spaces with the complement of their first color choice.

  11. Clean Up: Approx 3-5 min. Students will put all caps back on their markers, close their marker boxes, and set them on their trays. All pencils and erasers are placed on the tray. The student helpers will collect all supplies and student work.

Possible Adaptations:

  1. Paint the spaces using larger white paper and tempera paints.

  2. Crayons to make a watercolor resist design.

  3. Simplify the design for 4th graders.

  4. Use Contrast-O with older students (need X-acto knives)


Did students follow project directions, complete objectives, give their best effort and follow posted classroom rules? 1=Outstanding, 2=Satisfactory, 3=Needs Improvement, ✓=Unsatisfactory

Evaluation after the lesson: Students needed extra help with the planning out of the grid before coloring, the marking of each space with an "x" before they colored with the markers. Nevertheless, after they "got it" the lesson went quite well and both the 5th and 6th graders enjoyed the project. 4th graders were also able to complete the project, but with much more guidance.


2 Submitted by: Patti Caiola, Toledo, Ohio
Unit: Op Art - Math concepts
Lesson: Substitute Teacher Lesson: Optical Illusions
Grade Level: Elementary grades 3 - 4


What you need:

- White Drawing Paper. cut 9" x 12" (23 x 30.5 cm)
- Rulers., circle templates (plastic lids work well)
- AquaMarkers.
- Drawing Pencils.
- Kneaded Rubber Erasers.


What you do:

1. Have one student helper pass out paper, one student helper pass out markers, and one student helper pass out erasers and pencils.

2. Show completed example to students.

3. Using the 1-inch wide rulers and pencils, have the students trace the width of the ruler along the entire paper, creating vertical lines. Start by lining up your ruler vertically along the short edge of the paper. Trace the side of the ruler from the top to the bottom of the paper. This creates your first vertical column. Continue tracing columns across the paper.

4. Have students draw at least 5 different geometric shapes of different sizes on the paper in an interesting design. Suggested shapes: Squares, diamonds, stars, rectangles, octagons, Triangles., etc.

5. Pass out the markers, students choose one color to use for the project.

6. The first column will be colored, with all shapes inside that column remaining white. Students should plan, with a pencil, which spaces will be colored and which will be white by marking them lightly with an "X".

7. The second column will be white, with all shapes inside that column colored inside. (opposite of the first column)

8. The third column will be colored, with all shapes inside that column remaining white. (opposite of the second column, same as the first)

9. Continue across the paper, one column at a time, alternating colored with white shapes and white with colored shapes.

10. If there is time remaining, students should color all the "leftover" white shapes with a contrasting Colored Markers. (i.e. complementary color) to complete the optical illusion design.

11. Clean-up: Approx 3-5 min: Student helpers to collect all supplies.


Evaluation: Did students follow directions, complete objectives and follow posted classroom rules? 1=Outstanding, 2=Satisfactory, 3=Needs Improvement, 0=Unsatisfactory


Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsworth, La France Elementary, La France South Carolina
Unit: Op Art - Line - Bridget Riley
Project: Lines create illusion - marker drawing
Grade Level: Upper Elementary (Suitable for grade 4 through 6 and above)


3        4


From Judy: Look how appealing these drawings can be either direction. They are so organic in feeling. They brought to mind African termite mounds when I first saw them -- or Mud dauber wasp nest. Quite beautiful!

This idea came from a Getty TeacherArtExchange post from Denise Pannel, Defiance Ohio. Denise did an Op Art project using black Sharpies to make dots & lines. They drew a large rectangle on their paper & placed approximately twenty pea sized dots randomly on the paper. Then, beginning at the bottom of the paper, they drew horizontal lines, making a hump over each dot they encountered. They continued this until they reached the top of the box. The humps begin to form mounds that look like tunnels. They showed movement as well, like a Bridget Riley painting. Denise found this in a drawing ideas book Creative Drawing: Point and Line by Ernst Rottger and Dieter Klante. Jeryl tried it with different color fine point markers with great success. Jeryl found this to be an excellent time filler while "stragglers" finished up a more difficult project. You could also leave this idea with a substitute. Every project turned out successful.


I am curious what this lesson would look like with out the black dots showing? Maybe have them done lightly in pencil and erased? If anyone tries that approach send and image to Incredible Art Department.


Submitted by Mike Sacco, Galina Jr. High School, New York
Unit: Op Art - Art/Math

5 From Mike:

I first show them how to use a compass, just drawing circles on scrap paper. Then using an overhead I draw a 3d sphere with them step by step on either scrap paper or their sketchbook. I then give out an op art ditto that has these steps on them plus some background ideas. They start their project on Railroad Board. or heavy paper and I have them draw their backgrounds first lightly. I demo a lot of perspective stuff and distorted stuff too for this part.


They then go back and add the 3-D spheres. They ink using razor points for the outlines and fill using a black sharpie. Inking takes the longest time. Open the windows because the sharpies can get intense. Color using color pencils. I give out a color pencil worksheet too. The things I focus on in this lesson are balance, rhythm, value, and warm and cool color contrast in this lesson. See Op Art Lesson by Carolyn Roberts. (Archive)


From Judy Decker: I think it would be neat to try some 3-D relief effects. Do an Op Art larger background and add the circle/circles (or square elements) on in relief (support with scrap foam core board). If anyone tries this idea - please send on image to Incredible Art Department. Mike got a lot of help on this lesson from Bunki Kramer. The original idea came from School Arts or Arts and Activities many years ago.


Detailed Lesson from Mike Sacco:

1st Session/Period. I open the project with a period on Op Art. Showing Vaserely and Riley. Students point out the elements and we also talk about foreshortening and other perspective depth stuff. I also show Riley and Victor's color work and talk about warm/color advance and recede effects. Students in general like to see this work and I rarely have much time left in the period, maybe 5 minutes or so.


2nd Session/Period: I introduce the compass. On scrap kids practice making circles for about 10 minutes maybe a little less. I show my preferred way, by twirling thumb and forefinger and the "Ole" turn the paper method. With my students, most seem to like the turning paper method although I push for them to at least try both methods.


Same period, using an overhead (great idea from Bunki Kramer) I demonstrate how to make the 3d globe. You need a compass that can take a Vis-à-Vis® marker.. We do it together, step by step. Here's the directions from an old email I have:


1) Draw a circle and have them put a small dot to mark the center. Use a ruler and divide the circle in half by drawing a line through the center dot that touches opposite sides of the circle (a diameter, nice math tie-in) It doesn't matter if the diameter line is straight because the next step will ensure the globe comes out looking correct.


2) You need some small Protractors.. I have little zip lock baggies that have a small metal compass and a protractor in them. Each bag is numbered and the number corresponds to the student in my grade book.

Take the protractor and line up the perpendicular point ( point where the center vertical line and horizontal line meet) on the center dot of the circle just drawn. Then line up the protractor's 90 degree line with the diameter line drawn through the circle. With this protractor in place, have students make small tick marks on both sides of the protractor. (the 0 and the 180 degree side). Remove the protractor and draw a line that touches both sides of the circle and goes through the tick marks. You have now perfectly quartered the circle.


4) The only real tricky part. Tell students to make a little tick mark in the middle of the upper half section of the vertical line that splits the globe. This is just a reference point. Then, tell them to make another tick mark slightly above that middle mark. The exact spot will vary and produce slightly different looking globes.


5) Have students take the point of their compass and stick it into the point where the center vertical line meets the bottom edge of the circle. With the compass point in place, spread the compass so that the lead touches the upper tick mark from the last step. This compass spread must not be changed for the rest of the steps.


6) Now using the above compass measure, and keeping the point of the compass on the bottom point, swing the compass and make a line from one side of the globe to the other. This begins the 3d illusion of the globe.


7) Finally, have students go to the remaining 3 points around the circles perimeter and using the same compass spread as in step 6, draw 3 more arcs to complete the 3d sphere.


If there's time left they begin making them by themselves on scrap paper.


3rd Session. They finish up their practice globes. I have most make at least two in different sizes. They save their samples.


I then give them a choice of paper. I take a 12x18 (30.5 x 46 cm) piece of RR white board and cut it either vertically or horizontally. They all have the same space but the possibility of a different orientation.


I demonstrate a variety of backgrounds using freehand wavy lines, concentric circles and convergent lines. I usually do a bull's eye background, a room type background and wavy simple one. The key is to use two different types of line that form a checkerboard or grid. I talk about spacing lines to create depth but I tell students that it is just one approach. I push them to try to come up with their own or to alter mine and many do just to be different.


I let them loose and they start their background in pencil on RR board.


4th Session/Period. I give them the period to finish up backgrounds. After a background is done it must be "x"ed out using small light pencil "x"s in a checkerboard pattern. If a background is complex, and many will be, this can drive students and you nuts. I got better with it as I did this lesson. They really must x out so they know which boxes to ink.


5th Session/Period. I explain Balance and Rhythm in their placement of the globes. I stress Rhythm with Variety/Contrast. I believe these can turn out weak and boring if there is no variety/contrast in the size and spacing of the globes. Students seem to make them all the same size and spacing if this isn't stressed.


Remainder of the period they draw their globes right on the RR board. After making the initial circle they erase the background lines that show through. They must use at least 3 globes in a variety as mentioned above. They should really use more though.


I also have a special handout (not available for sharing) on the cube-like shape that's featured on our website. The more daring will try these shapes and mix with the globes or use alone. They rarely need my help as the handout is pretty clear.


6th Period/Session. Inking. I'm sort of nuts about this. They must use a ruler to ink if they used a ruler to make a line in pencil. They also must use a black razor point (which I have the school store stock up on. We use these for other things as well). I begin with a demo showing them to ink all straight lines with a ruler. This includes the two straight lines in each globe. Any line that curves is not to be inked yet.  Most designs will feature some curves, so the next step is for them to outline all their "x"ed boxes with the razor point. Some will be partially outlined from their ruler work. This way they are only inking short stretches of curves.


After outlining they fill using a Sharpie. Open the windows. You can do it with a water based marker but the blacks just aren't as good. If it's nice out we ink outdoors. They must learn that an alcohol marker bleeds so putting the Sharpie right up against the razor point outlines will not give them a good edge. After a few boxes they learn how to space the Sharpie so it bleeds close to the outline. They fill any gaps with the razor point.


The inking takes the most time. Most likely 4 periods using my method. It probably could be done with one marker - but the razor point gives a much nicer finish.


Period/Session 10. Inking should be done by now. Demo on how to handle a color pencil. A color pencil blending worksheet for the period.


Period/Session 11. Warm/cool color , and Value talk. I push for value form every student in this project and  want all to color blend as well. They begin coloring.


Assessment: See Rubric



Optical Illusions (from
Akiyoshi Kitaoka's Optical Illusions
Directory to many Optical Illusions links (I have not checked these)
Op Art for Educators - Links to lesson plans and materials from (I have not checked all of these)
Akiyoshi Kitaoka's Optical Illusions



Add to or Comment on this Page:

More To Explore