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Bridget Riley--inspired op-art drawings.

My high-school fundamentals of art class is an all-encompassing experience in drawing, painting, 3-D, printmaking and more, with most of the projects directly influenced by art history and artist studies. Students are generally attracted to optical illusions and often embark on a quest to conquer the "how to" of creating them. After much trial and error, I have developed a process for students of varying skill levels to be successful creating original Bridget Riley-inspired Op Art drawings.

First we use a "Roundtable" reading strategy to learn more about Bridget Riley: Divide students into pairs and ask them to write everything they already know about Bridget Riley at the top of a piece of paper. They will likely know few facts. Then direct them to draw a horizontal line under the facts they were able to record. Proceed by drawing a vertical line down the rest of the paper so students have two columns on their paper, and have each student write their name at the top of one of the columns.

Put together a narrative about Bridget Riley using Web sites and other resources, and read excerpts aloud, pausing every paragraph or two. Give one minute following each break for either the person in the left or right column (alternately) to write down as many facts they just heard read as possible until the entire reading is complete.

Following the reading, each pair counts the number of items they recalled. As students share their recalled facts, record the facts for all to see until all the facts are shared, and complete an Artist Information Card based on this information.

At this point I share images of Bridget Riley's works. Students are always amazed and intrigued, and believe that they could never do anything like that. Granted, our Op Art drawings are far less sophisticated than the works of Bridget Riley, but they are visually impressive and very rewarding to the students when they realize that they can do it!

Begin by practicing the drawing technique on a 3" x 5" index card. On one 3-inch edge of a card, measure and make very small, light pencil marks every an eighth of an inch. Use another 3" x 5" card, placed horizontally, to draw a horizontal wavy line that has peaks and valleys of varying heights, as well as varying widths. Caution: Make sure the line does not hook back (like an ocean wave). This will cause an undesirable effect. This practice session will help avoid this on the final drawing.

Carefully cut the horizontal wavy line using scissors. A smooth, non-jagged edge will produce a more desirable effect. Place the edge of the cut template even with the edge of the marked card and the top eighth-of-an-inch mark. Gently trace the wavy edge, move the template down to the next eighth-of-an-inch mark, making sure the edges are perfectly even, and trace the wavy edge again. Continue this process until the entire 3" x 5" card is a miniature Op Art drawing. While this is just the practice, sometimes these become spectacular works, too.

To take the project to the next level, use 5"x 10" illustration board (placed horizontally) to draw a horizontal wavy line with pencil in the same manner as in the practice session. Use scissors to cut the wavy line as smoothly as possible and sand any imperfections with fine sandpaper. "Paint" the edge of the template with white correction fluid to seal the edge, making it less absorbent when tracing with a fine-tipped marker. It may be necessary to coat the edge two or three times.


Select one or more colors, if you'd like a pattern, of fine-tipped markers to create your final drawing. Begin by making small, light pencil marks every eighth of an inch down the 10-inch side of a 10" x 15" illustration board. Following the same process as in the practice session, place the edge of the cut template even with the edge of the marked illustration board and the top eighth-of-an-inch mark, making very sure the edge of the template and the edge of the illustration board are even. Trace the wavy edge with marker, then move the template down and continue the process until the Op Art drawing is complete. Even though the edge of the template has been sealed with white correction fluid, it is still possible the marker will smear. When moving the template to the next eighth-of-an-inch mark, lift the template instead of simply sliding it.


The last time I presented this lesson to a group of students, they developed another method for making sure the template stays even when tracing.

They marked the edge of their illustration board the same as noted earlier, but this time they marked both side edges. They then taped a straight edge to a drawing board in a way that the illustration board to be drawn on could slide under it. The marks were matched up on the straight edge, the template was placed flat against the straight edge, and then traced. Some students found this to be a more successful method, while others preferred the way I developed. It is always amazing to me how I somehow become the learner in the art room and the students take on the role of teacher.


Lastly, encourage students to sign their work, and of course be proud of their accomplishment!


1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes.

a) Students select media, techniques, and processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of their choices.

b) Students intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of their experiences and ideas.

2. Using knowledge of structures and functions.

b) Students employ organizational structures and analyze what makes them effective or not in the communication of ideas.

3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas.

b) Students use subjects, themes, and symbols that demonstrate knowledge of contexts, values, and aesthetics that communicate intended meaning in artworks.

4. Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.

b) Students describe and place a variety of art objects in historical and cultural contexts.


High-school students will ...

* identify works by Op artist Bridget Riley.

* create their own Riley-inspired Op-art drawing.


* 3" x 5" blank index cards

* Pencils

* Scissors

* Rulers with eighth-of-an-inch marks

* 5" x 10" illustration board

* 10" x 15" illustration board

* Fine sandpaper

* White correction fluid

* Fine-tipped markers


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Ronda Sternhagen is a grades 6 through 12 art teacher teaching at Grundy Center Middle School and High School.
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Author:Sternhagen, Ronda
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2008
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