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Op-Art Line Doodle

I made a vow at the beginning of the year to step out of my teaching comfort zone and introduce art projects to my students that may not be something I would normally gravitate to. These line drawings were such a thing. Other art teachers have done this lesson and according to their blogs, quite successfully. Not me.

Before I get into the do’s and don’ts, I just have to say that my fourth grade students really had fun with this lesson. And I mean lots of fun. The kid’s attention was keen from the moment they stepped into the classroom and peered at my white board. I pinned my teacher sample on my white board and was somewhat surprised to see the expressions on my student’s faces. They all seemed to be thinking the same thing: this isn’t a typical Mrs. Palmer art lesson.

Of course, everyone said it looked hard and I agreed. It is hard. But only for one reason: you must follow certain steps if you want to achieve the 3-D look. Most of my lessons allow the flexibility to add your own stamp, create-your-own-art type of thing. That’s not the best mantra here. The instructions from other blogs are great, but what you may want to know is that the instructions really must be followed.

I demonstrated the drawing and added steps on the white board:

  1. Draw a wavy line across the middle of the paper. But not too curvy or too straight!Okay. So far, so good. Only two kids managed to create such a line that made you wonder what on earth they were thinking. For these kids I had to allow them to turn over their paper and helped them draw a wavy line. 
  2. Add 6 dots. Not 7, not 10…SIX! (I used 1/2 sheets of 12″ x 18″ paper so I reduced the number of recommended dots from 8 to 6) It is truly amazing how many times one can say a number, demonstrate a number, draw a number and some kids don’t hear you. Many of my students added 8, 9, 10 dots for the very reason they couldn’t accept that the dots could be unevenly spaced. Even though I stressed that, BTW.
  3. Connect the dots with curved lines. Many kids missed this step and jumped to step 4. Not too serious, but it was a pre-curser to other problems.
  4. Start drawing the curved lines, beginning at one dot and connecting to the next dot. Move up towards the top of the paper.This is where the problem started for most kids. The idea of drawing curved lines from one point to another was hard. I don’t know why. Seriously. I studied the kid’s art and tried to demonstrate proper curves but many ended up with lines stacked on one another.
  5. Draw more curved lines but this time between the columns/worms/tornados. Very few kids were able to see how to connect the columns without creating another column. At this point I knew it was a really hard lesson to described; it had to be demonstrated multiple times. So of course, it took many interruptions from me to help the kids out. Many kids ended up with a pattern of lines and squiggles but nothing like my sample. Sigh.
  6. Do I sound discouraged? Don’t worry, I’m not, and I wasn’t when I was teaching this lesson. The mood in the classroom was great and we all had a great laugh at trying to figure out how these stupid wormy things work. 
  7. Most kids didn’t get to the coloring/shading. But when I see my fourth graders again in 8 weeks, we will tackle it again. For now, our “tornado’s” will remain a work-in-progress.

Okay, all you successful tornado creators…how in the heck did you do it????? Please share your tips in the comment section!


  1. I did a demo after reading about this project..all jazzed up to use it. Absolutely everything you said is so so true…I found myself going back to the instructions time and again to clarify steps. While the instructions are clear and concise I think your addition will make my session much smoother. I tend to teach with lots of room for creative input from the student and can see that this might challenge them to do the necessary…”follow the instructions”. I still love the results and think it’s an incredible project…just so glad you took the first step and tried it out in the real world. Thank you for being so generous with your time and experiences!

    paula rodgers

    January 12, 2012

  2. Saw this on your site and have been looking for the directions for how to do it for ages! Went to Art with Mr.E to get directions and began these with my 5th graders! They love them! I made several examples at different stages,some showing what not to do so they could see what it would do to the 3d effect. I also drew up 4 of them on my own to work out any bugs and figure out how to explain the directions in a way that was easy for them to understand. Gave step by step directions at the chalk board,drawing my example on a 12″x18″ paper so they could see what I was doing.(the students got a 9×12 sheet) I stessed
    that it was not hard to do IF they followed my directions even though it looked hard and very grown up! I also drew up a sheet with all the steps (one by one exactly as i demo on my paper) that i made copies of for the students so they have the directions right in front of them. I had them draw the first line with the dots and their first curved lines( I said it should look like they stringed footballs of various sizes togetther) in pencil first so I could see how they were doing.This way they could fix any major problems without wasting paper. After they completed 2 rows, if they were connecting them correctly I let them go right to the marker. I had them do each football shape one after the other for a few rows not skipping any. After a bit they got the hang of it and completed the top rows and then went to the bottom rows. It was a lot of fun and the students loved it! Everyone learns in a different way, some of my kids needed a little help getting their first rows started but were able to complete it . We have not colored yet ,they look really nice in the black and white. We may leave them that way.


    January 12, 2012

    • could you attach your directions? Sounds like that would be very helpful.


      January 12, 2012

      • Hi Denise,
        I don’t use attachments in my post but you can click through to my hi-lighted links to find tutorials on another sight. Also, you can read the other comments for some great tips/links from other instructors.


        January 13, 2012

    • I have done these and I find that doing this works well:
      I have the students draw a pretty wavy line in pencil from one side of the paper to the other side. Then wherever the line curves I make a little “X” with my pencil. I do this across the wavy line using the doc camera. This bisects the paper into the top half and the bottom half. Next the students take a pencil and draw a line 1/4 of an inch on the top part (just a bit, there needs to be empty space between the original line they are making and the new one) that FOLLOWS the original line. The key is, wherever they encounter an “X” they go in and touch the line. They continue the line to the next “X” where they touch the line…on till the edge of the paper. Now! Turn the paper over so you are working on the bottom half and do the exact same thing from one side to the other.
      I show the kids that while I do this I say “follow the line, go in at the X, follow the line, go in at the X, follow the line, go in at the X. Till you reach the end. Have them say it , too! Along and in, along and in!
      Flip it over and continue adding the next line the same way, just a bit further out than the last line. Keep going until you have drawn lines all the way to the edge.
      Gosh. I hope this makes sense because it creates the BEST op art ever. It looks like sausages at first but I say this art is about perseverance! After they have done a few lines and I see they get it I trade their pencil for a black sharpie.
      I also start with a 5×7 piece of paper so that it takes only a short while to see the magic. I then have them color every other line in pen – it makes it pop. Then you always mount it on contrasting colored paper or black. They always want to do another one. That’s when I say they are ready for the big paper! Hope this helps. I do remind them that lines DO NOT overlap. You pick up your pen and continue where you think the line should go. The great thing is that you all start with the same directions BUT you always get a unique design.

      Melissa Gilbertsen

      May 9, 2012

      • Watercolor will paint it up quick…just remind them little water or it bleeds…though that looks kinda cool often times!

        Melissa Gilbertsen

        May 9, 2012

  3. I’ve done variations of this project for years, and I think it’s much easier if you DON’T build one column more than others. There’s a natural flow when you touch every point with your line, and the areas will naturally form into organic shapes. I also like to continue adding dots throughout. I am a fan of op art and nonobjective art, so i like to experiment and create my own techniques – if your preferred style is more representational, this kind of stuff can really get on your nerves. My suggestion is to not worry so much about the rules, experiment a little with your own ways of making line patterns and see what naturally develops, then teach your kids that. They know when it’s not “you.”


    January 12, 2012

  4. I tried this lesson 2 years in a row with my 4th graders and tied it into different color schemes–warm/cool; complementary; analogous. I ran into the VERY same exact issues you did both years. The kids were all jazzed to create this drawing after seeing my teacher sample but lost steam in the creation. The coloring was way too tedious for them as well. Both years they have gone somewhat unfinished much to my disappointment.
    Ah well, there’s always next year . . .


    January 12, 2012

  5. I did this lesson 2 years ago and the kids did love it.
    here are our results on artsonia (http://www.artsonia.com/teachers/members/exhibits/detail.asp?id=369409)

    When I taught it we just did one half of the paper at at time. I also had the kiddos touch the area with the marker where the pre-existing dots were (does that make sense?)

    You will see that some of my students didn’t “get” it, but all in all it was successul. Keep on trying. I don’t know how else to explain it in words…guess I will have to make a trip to the sun in CA to show you. hehe.

    jess ott

    January 12, 2012

  6. I’ve done this lesson as well with one of my art classes and the kids LOVED it! But as you describe it is one to describe and then sample, sample, sample from there on out. I had intended for it to be a two week project but ended up taking three classes to do it but the results were wonderful and the kids just loved this lesson for some reason.

    Julie M

    January 12, 2012

  7. My kids did this last year…I had a “rule” that once they started at one side of the paper they couldn’t pick up the marker till they got to the other side of the paper….dot, hill, dot, hill, dot, hill etc from one side of the paper to the other side of the paper- then come back and do it again…the “hills” don’t have to be the same heights (most hills aren’t 🙂 but they have to connect to the dot each time.

    I think the direction “movement upward towards the top of the paper” is confusing….you are filling up the space as you move to do the next line of hills but not doing a line of hills as illustrated in the photo on the top of the page…

    Joanne Duval

    January 12, 2012

    • This is exactly how we did it too. Didn’t have much trouble.
      Just told them that with every hill they HAD to come back down and touch the dot… and they couldn’t pick the pen up off the paper. Went straight across over and over and over again.
      WAY easier than the other way…
      LOVE your site, btw.
      Using mostly your lessons in my teaching! 🙂

      Jen Bailey

      January 18, 2012

      • Making the lines come all the way back down to the dot each time creates the depth necessary to really make the “tornados” pop off the page…

        Jen Bailey

        January 18, 2012

    • Lisa,
      Thank you so much for the website that showed wavy lines instead of dots — so much easier for me to understand! Now I feel confident that my students will get it. Thank you!

      Susan Rice

      April 4, 2012

    • This is my first year in the Art Room, but I remember doing this activity myself as a teenager. Today I did it with Year 4’s and it was great. I did it with the lines down the page (as you suggested but also the way I have always done it) and then got the students to find the widest part of each column and draw an eye-like shape. They then started at the eye and drew a series of arches over the top so that each arch touched the arch before it on both sides. The students then turned their paper around and did the other part of the column as I found they more successful with the arch shape. It went really quite well!

      Fiona Simcock

      June 2, 2013

  8. First day, I had the same problems with my students as Patty did. Second day we did a redo and things went so much better. I limited the number of dots as she suggested. I also stressed that for each new hill or bump, they had to go back all the way down to the dot on each side of the column. That helped us achieve the dark edges of each “worm” . Day 2 was very successful. Now, should we stop here or should we try to add the color shading? Any suggestions on that step?


    January 14, 2012

  9. I finally had a go at this with my Year 6/7 class (11-13 year olds) last year. I had similar problems and some certainly looked more 3D than others. However, the kids loved doing it and the results looked good displayed on the walls. In fact I started this with a small group whilst the others were at a choir lesson but they liked the look of it so much they wanted to do it too!

    Pam Thompson

    January 16, 2012

  10. I, too, have always wanted to attempt to teach this lesson, but have never gotten up the courage. I think my strongest students would ‘get it’, but my weaker ones would struggle, that would lead to frustrations, etc. etc. I think I’m also afraid that during the long colouring process I would hear the dreaded “I’m boooored, this is booooring” (insert whiny tone- lol!)

    But there are alot of great tips here in the comments, so maybe I will bite the bullet and try it at some point!


    January 22, 2012

  11. I have done lessons like this for years……yes, many students love the drawing part but get bored with the coloring. Here’s how i have approached adding color:

    After the drawing is complete have the students choose only one section to color to the very best of thier ability and leave the rest of te composition black and white. The craftsmanship was great, and this led to a discussion about what contrast, variety and focal point is all about.

    laura reddick-reichert

    April 12, 2012

      • I tell my students that you won’t see the magic until you get half way done! We go across the page
        back and forth with our “hills” . We colored using Crayola markers in lighter colors and then shaded with Ebony pencils in the valleys and then used colored pencils for highlights. Students love this project and they look awesomely clever. I personally love it when a “tornado” dead ends into another tornado.


        April 30, 2012

        • I have enjoyed reading through all of the advice for this lesson and I can’t wait to do this with my students! I am thinking of having them color the sections with colored pencil or markers, and then shade the valeys with black chalk pastel as a last step. I am thinking they could outline each curvy line with black chalk pastel, and then just blend with a finger a little bit to give the illusion of shading. Has anyone done that before?? Success or too harsh of a line from students??


          May 9, 2012

    • Instead of colouring with pencils I got my students to use water paint over the top so that there was a strip of the lightest colour running down the middle of the column and darker towards the edges. This really adds to the 3D effect. I also get them to use warm colours for one then cool colours for the next. Makes the colour process really quick and if you use permanent markers it works fine!

      Fiona Simcock

      June 2, 2013

  12. Sometimes, all you need to make coloring a little more interesting is changing up the medium you are using. After reading all of the comments, I think I am going to use this project as a way for my fifth graders to explore different media: ie. color one column using ebony pencils, one using markers, one using colored pencils, etc. I can tie in several elements,and techniques that way. Contrast, emphasis, value, line,etc. we could also have a great critique session when we finish discussing what our favorite column was and what the strengths and weaknesses of each medium were. I think I will try a perfectly square sheet of paper, no bigger than 10×10. I am also going to use the “wavy lines” technique from the link in one the comments above. Wish me luck!


    August 20, 2012

  13. The tornado project actually works good with less dots. I use only three and I do the project with my fifth graders. I explain to the students that they are following the contour of the previous line and that everytime they draw a line the line has to make three stops at the dots they placed on their first wavy line. We do three of the lines as a group to make sure they all understand the directions. Then I let them go off on their own. When they reach the top of their paper with their lines, I tell them to put the lines at the bottom and the white part becomes the top of the paper now. Since they already finished one half they have no problem completing the second half correctly. The projects also works good with any color marker, except yellow. It is too light against the white paper.


    October 18, 2012

  14. I have done this project for several years with my 5th graders with fantastic results. Some tips for keeping it simple: I have students place 4 – 7 dots across the paper on an imaginary line. I tell them to imagine that there is a pile of rope on one side of the paper then a piece crosses the paper and makes a pile on the other side so they get the idea that this will go on and on. Then they are told to connect the dots and that is a rule. Their marker must start at a dot and end at the next dot and can not stop anywhere else on the paper. I drill that in there head, “start at a dot, end at a dot”. They are also told they can not cut over the top of other lines, but they should follow the last line they created all the way in to the next dot. We use black sharpies and this creates a very dark shadow effect which adds to the 3-D look. Then they use colored pencils to color in the segments. They are told to color each segment as an individual and not over the top of the bubble or tornado. They look awesome!

    Brenda Socha

    October 24, 2012

  15. My 6 and 9 year old just completed this project at home and they had a blast. I’m blown away at how awesome the finished products are and how they stuck with it for so long. They loved doing the coloring and shading and my daughter said that hers looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. Fun!

    Terris | Free Eats

    February 22, 2013

  16. I use permanent markers and photo paper.


    October 9, 2015

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