Optical Illusion Art for Kids (and Adults!)

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I recently worked as a long-term substitute teacher for a 6th grade class at a local elementary school. One of the things that pleasantly surprised me was the fact that, every Wednesday, the general classroom teacher would teach an elective of their choice. I’ve been inspired to pursue a career as an art teacher for quite some time, but have felt held back by the fact that there just aren’t that many art teachers around these days. Elementary schools don’t hire them like they used to. Wednesday was the highlight of my week for the duration of my sub assignment for this reason. 

The idea for elective Wednesdays was that the students would be working on a project, rather than being given a brand new lesson week after week. After much thought and research, I decided to teach my class about optical illusion art, or Op Art. Students were introduced to Op Art, and they learned how to manipulate certain elements of art to create the illusion of movement on a flat surface. The end project was a three-dimensional paper cube with geometric Op Art designs on each side.

I found some ideas online for inspiration, and from there I created my own packet to hand out to students. We started with the most basic Op Art design – a simple railroad perspective sketch using a single vanishing point – and we worked up to more complicated designs. In the art packet, I included several exercises for students to practice different Op Art designs and techniques. We worked these as a class, and then students were given the opportunity to brainstorm and practice several of their own design ideas before moving on to the main project.

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Students were immediately interested once they were shown examples of Op Art. They thought it was so cool, and they couldn’t wait to learn how to make their own! There’s only one thing that is more satisfying to a teacher than that kind of student enthusiasm, and that is the moment that a student completes a difficult task with pride and excitement for what they’ve done. I got to experience both of these things during art class every Wednesday! Students even began practicing drawing OP Art at home, and they would bring it in to show me what they’d done on their own time. There were a couple students that struggled with mastering Op Art, but I saw those students improve with practice each week. The most challenging part was to hear some students say that they were bad at art, or that they couldn’t do this project. Just like adults, kids can talk themselves out of the ability to do     something before they really give themselves a chance.

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Most of my students came around, and all of them gave their best effort, even that one student that learned that they didn’t particularly love Op Art. Seeing my students work on their projects was a big inspiration to me as a teacher, as well as a creative personality.

Here are some YouTube videos that I found helpful when teaching this to my students:

Basic Op Art Tutorial

Square Checkerboard – 5th Grade Demo

Swirly Design

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