These four Op Art Tutorials for beginners will show you how to make Op Art, an abstract style of art based on creating optical illusions. My students really love creating Op Art because it’s a puzzle for your brain and an artwork rolled into one. I love to use these tutorials as extension activities (or “what do I do when I’m finished” choices…”), sub plans or distance learning lessons. Because there are simple steps with a clear end objective, they work really well in a variety of learning environments.
This also makes them a fantastic distance learning lesson. I tried this in November when my school shut down for two weeks, and students told me they had fun and found the directions very easy to understand. That’s saying a lot when we were not actually meeting in person! Op Art is also great for sketchbook practice. I know I need to bend my brain every once in awhile, and this style of art gets me out of my free-hand comfort zone.
What is Op Art?
Op Art, short for optical art, is an abstract art movement that uses lines, rhythm and movement to create optical illusions. These artworks often look like they are moving, blurring or coming alive. Sometimes what you first see morphs completely into something else. Op Art can look surprisingly simple like this study:
or insanely complicated like this lithograph:
If you want to look at some inspiring artists, start with Bridget Riley. Op Art became a more well known style of art in the 1960’s, and Bridget Riley became a British Op Art sensation. Students are attracted to the bold patterns and rhythm created through her work.
If you really want to break your students’ brains, show them the art of MC Escher. His sense of optical illusions and tessellations will have you questioning reality. Discussing his work would be a great transition to teaching tessellations as well.
These following four Op Art tutorials for beginners can be adapted for a wide range of grade levels, learning objectives and learning environments.
Here are some great materials for Op Art. This post contains affiliate links to products I truly love and use in my classroom. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting this public school teacher’s side hustle so I can continue to provide free content.
This fractured checkerboard tutorial is perfect for beginners. All you need is paper, a pencil and a ruler. You can fill your checkerboard with any material, I used a Sharpie for dramatic effect. This could easily be done at home with just a pencil. I mixed up my design by including an eye in the center. You can simplify this by using a small dot or circle. I’d love to try this again using triangles or maybe two contrasting organic shapes.
This is hands down my students’ favorite. I love it too, because the steps are EASY and there are so many opportunities to teach shading and color blending. The design is eye catching, easy to understand, and you can keep it simple or make it really colorful. Because students at home have limited art supplies, some of my students did this with just a pencil during our shut down, and some went wild with color blending.
Download the free step by step PDF!
This is another Op Art tutorial geared towards beginners. All you need is a ruler, a pencil and a piece of paper. You start by creating a basic checkerboard pattern and then add an emerging sphere. The little bit of shading under the sphere really makes it pop. I would like to try this again with multiple spheres popping out!
I am ending with the most advanced Op Art tutorial. This one is the most time consuming because of allllllll of the shading and blending. Because of all of the color theory and blending techniques it addresses, this makes a great in-class artwork for a range of grade levels. Also, this artwork is in my sub folder if I need to miss multiple days. If possible, starting it with students and then having them finish it with a substitute is the best way to ensure success. I am obsessed with the wiggly lines that creates that moving effect.
What are your favorite Op Art lessons or artists? I’d love to hear from you!
Distance learning? Try out some of this student friendly tutorials!