3rd Grade – Taking Inspiration from Bridget Riley’s Op Art

3rd Grade – Taking Inspiration from Bridget Riley’s Op Art

Description of the Unit – This delightful unit introduces students to optical illusion art. Students will observe and discuss different examples of optical illusion art, focusing particularly on the work of Bridget Riley. Using basic measurement skills, students will create their own two-color optical illusion design.

A photo of Op Art painter Bridget Riley in her studio, some time in the 60's.
Bridget Riley in her studio

Activity statement – Short for optical illusion art, Op Art is an art style that uses, of course, optical illusions! Though some pieces are in color, most often these artworks are in black and white. All, however, use abstract, geometric shapes to create such optical effects as warping, fluttering, undulation, shrinking, growing and other kinds of movement.

Artist Bridget Riley’s work is synonymous with the Op Art style. According to the Art Story (all art teachers should visit this site; seriously better than Wikipedia), “Riley experiments with structural units, such as squares, ovals, stripes, and curves in various configurations and colors to explore the physical and psychological responses of the eye. Her paintings inspired textile designs and psychedelic posters over the decades, but her objectives have always been to interrogate what and how we see and to provoke both uncertainty and clarity with her paintings.”

For good measure we do look at the work of M.C. Escher as well as some well-known pieces like the image “My Wife and Mother-in-Law” (first appeared in Germany in 1888 and later adapted by British cartoonist William Ely Hill in 1915.

Three black and white examples of optical illusion art, including, from left, My Wife and Mother-in-Law, adapted by William Ely Hill (1915); Sky & Water by M.C. Escher (1938) and Legs, by Shigeo Fukuda, 1975.
Students first observe and discuss a variety of optical illusion art, including, from left, My Wife and Mother-in-Law, adapted by William Ely Hill (1915); Sky & Water by M.C. Escher (1938) and Legs, by Shigeo Fukuda, 1975.
A checkerboard-like black and white pattern that gives the illusion of sinking in. Movement in Squares, ©Bridget Riley, 1961.
Movement in Squares, ©Bridget Riley, 1961
Circular, chevron-like patterns in black and white that make it look like the circles are moving. Blaze, ©Bridget Riley, 1962.
Blaze, ©Bridget Riley, 1962
Wave-like patterns in blue and red that give the impression of undulation. Cataract, ©Bridget Riley, 1967.
Cataract, ©Bridget Riley, 1967
Circles inside a grid, black and white. Untitled, ©Bridget Riley, 1960.
Untitled, ©Bridget Riley, 1960. Students will be modeling their own op art design on this particular Riley piece.

For 3rd grade students this project is a great introduction to combining measurement skills with the creation of art. They will be using 12 x 12 pieces of paper and measuring 1-inch rows and columns to create a grid. On top of that grid students will layer shapes. Finally, each student will choose two colors with which they will have to carefully and precisely alternate on the grid, with colors being separated not only by rows and columns, but by the shapes they placed on top of that; this is what will contribute to the optical illusion effect.

Goals – Students should…

Understand:

  • What an optical illusion does (tricks the eye into experiencing or believing certain things)
  • Contrasting (complementary) color and pattern
  • Ways in which optical illusions in art can be reproduced

Know:

  • The meaning of the term optical illusion
  • Who Bridget Riley is and her style of op art

Be able to:

  • Recognize optical illusions in art
  • Recognize patterns
  • Name contrasting colors
  • Measure 1-inch columns and rows
  • Alternate colors on a grid

Objectives – Students will:

  • Observe a sampling of optical illusion art, and discuss what they see, how the art shifts, and ways in which the art “tricks” the eye
  • Discuss the techniques used in the op art examples
  • Measure a 12 x 12 grid in 1-inch columns and rows
  • Complete an op art design with only two alternating colors

Resources and materials –

  • Examples of simple optical illusion drawings, plus art references by Bridget Riley.
  • 12 x 12 Bristol paper
  • Pencils
  • Rulers
  • Erasers
  • Sharpie markers
  • Multicolored markers

Questions –

  • (While looking at op art examples):
  • What do you see? Does the image shift or change? How?
  • What did the artist do to make it seem like the picture changes (or moves)?
  • What do you notice about the colors that were used?
  • Can you name contrasting (complementary) colors?

Evaluation – Did students:

  • Understand the concept of art?
  • Adeptly use a ruler to create a precise grid?
  • Include other shapes in their grid?
  • Mostly successfully alternate colors?

Informal:

  • Student questions
  • Group discussions
  • Oral responses to essential questions
  • At least one finished op art design
Optical illusion art by a 3rd grade student that features geometric shapes over a checkerboard-style grid, in red and white.
3rd Grade – Optical Illusion Art. I like the way this student chose to include these smaller “bubbles” or circular patterns.
Optical illusion art by a 3rd grade student that features geometric shapes over a checkerboard-style grid, in blue and green.
3rd Grade – Optical Illusion Art. It is always tricky for the students to follow the alternating color pattern. I’m always amazed by how well they do.
Optical illusion art by a 3rd grade student that features geometric shapes over a checkerboard-style grid, in red and yellow.
3rd – Grade Optical Illusion Art. The color choices in this one really make the pattern ‘vibrate’–a successful optical illusion!
Optical illusion art by a 3rd grade student that features geometric shapes over a checkerboard-style grid, in turquoise and magenta.
3rd Grade Optical Illusion Art – I like the way this student (most likely unintentionally) balanced the composition with the sharp geometric shapes on one side and the organic ones on the other
Optical illusion art by a 3rd grade student that features geometric shapes over a checkerboard-style grid, in blue and yellow.
3rd Grade Optical Illusion Art – The color choice here really adds to the rippling effect.
Optical illusion art by a 3rd grade student that features geometric shapes over a checkerboard-style grid, in black and ombre shades of green.
3rd Grade Optical Illusion Art – This one is a great example of problem-solving: this student started out with a dark green marker, but the marker went dry and she wasn’t able to find a matching color. So instead, she decided to go for an ombre effect gradually going with lighter greens, which I think makes her piece that much more fun and interesting.
Eight examples of optical illusion art by a 3rd grade students that each feature geometric shapes over a checkerboard-style grid, in two colors each.
3rd Grade Optical Illusion Art – Isn’t it fun how different these are?

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