Lines Create Illusions: Op Art

Students will learn about some ways artists use lines, shapes, and space to create optical illusions.

Two-dimensional artworks, such as paintings, can present the illusion of an actual scene.  This kind of artwork is called realistic.  Artists can also calso create the illusion of motion on a flat surface without showing a realistic scene.  The illusions are creaed by controlling the way lines, colors, and spaces are arranged.


Op Art

Op art is a style that developed about sixty years ago in Europe.  The term Op Art was made up later to describe artworks that “startle” the eyes, making us think the work vibrates, flickers, or pulses.  The works below were all done by British artist Bridgette Riley in the 1960’s.  Discuss the images below.  Can you think of words that describe the movement?  (Rippling, wavy, rising, falling, rotating, moving in and out)


Look at the image below.  What illusions are created?  What do you notice about the spacing in the stripes?  Is the spacing different toward the center of the piece than it is toward the edges.  To create an effective illusion, spacing must be well planned.Op Art 2

Shape & Line

Artists also use lines and shapes to further emphasize illusion.  Take another look at the image above, how did the artist create sections?  What effect do the curved lines have?  What else do you notice about the stripes?  Is the placement of the black stripes the same in each section?  Do they alternate?  Overlap?

Looking at the image below, what do you notice about the shapes? What affect does mixing round shapes with angular ones have on the finished piece?

Op Art Sample


  • 40 pieces of 12 x 12 brightly colored scrapbook paper.  (This should be enough to cover one for each student.  With a few pieces for start overs or done earlies.)
  • 36 Black Sharpies (hold on to these until a complete sketch has been presented)
  • 36 Rulers
  • 36 Sketching Pencils
  • 18 Gum Erasers
  • 9 Compasses (The teacher should have these in her classroom.)


We have provided three “Cheat Sheets” for students to create thier own op art:  “Open Book”, “Spiral Staircase”, & “Water Drop”.  Because they have a relatively short time to complete their artwork, these are simple op art pieces.  Students may also create their own designs, just keep in mind the time limits.

  1. Students will use a pencil to sketch their whole design.  Sketch lightly so the lines can be easily erased.  If the point of the pencil is making indentations in the paper they are pressing to hard.  Use a ruler for straight lines and a compass for circles and curves.  They do not need to fill any shapes.  If they make a mistake that cannot be erased or worked into the piece, they can flip their paper and start over.
  2. Once the sketch is complete you or the teacher should check it.  The shapes do not need to be filled in, but all the lines should be drawn.
  3. Students will go over their design with a sharpie and fill in any shapes or spaces that need it.  Use the ruler again for the straight lines.
  4. When finished, students should write their name and a title on the back of their artwork with pencil.
  5. Students should be working to create a good quality piece of art and to take thier time.  These pieces will be on display with their names in our art gallery for Open House


The op art will be going on 12 x 12 x 12 cubes for the gallery.  The cubes are in the Reading Room.  There are enough cubes for each class to have 7.

Taking note of the name, title and location on the cube, glue 4-5 pieces on each cube.  Make sure to distribute the colors as evenly as you can on each cube.  If you don’t have enough to put 5 pieces of art on each cube, use 4 and leave the top and bottom blank.


Have each student sign their work on the front, bottom right corner.


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