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Valentine Op-Art Inspired by Bridget Riley

a drawing of a hand reaching for a heartThis Valentine Op-Art lesson was inspired by the art of British artist Bridget Riley. I knew that the boys in my 5th grade class were not going to go for the traditional valentine project this year, so adding a heart to an Op-Art hand drawing seemed like the perfect compromise!
I’ve done this project a few times now, and some of my 5th, 6th and 7th graders have struggled with it a bit.  So, through trial and error I came up with a slightly different approach than the directions I first found via Pinterest.  I think it’s easier this way…. try it and let me know what you think!


  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Black (UF) Sharpie

Directions for Making Valentine Op-Art:

1. Very lightly trace your hand with a pencil, then draw a heart in the open space between your thumb and first finger.
2.  Now, put your pencil away!  You’ll be using Sharpie only for the rest of your drawing.
3.  First, cover your wrist and hand with curved lines.  Start about an inch from the bottom, and draw curved lines from one side of your wrist to the other.  Keep them as close together as you can.  The wrist is a great section to practice on, to get the feel for drawing the curved lines.  You can go back and finish the wrist after you get the hang of it.
4. Next, work your way up the hand and out each individual finger, covering the whole hand with curved lines packed closely together.  The more curved you make your lines, and the closer together they are, the better 3D Op-Art effect you’ll get!
5.  Then, cover the heart with curved lines, just like you did for the hand.
6.  Next, fill in all the open spaces with lines that are parallel to the top and bottom edges of your paper.  Wherever possible, try to make these straight lines connect with the curved lines you drew.  Turn your paper any way you need to as you draw so that your drawing feels comfortable and natural.
7.  Finally, erase your original pencil lines, which should be no problem because you drew them so lightly, right??!
8.  Add some color, if you want.  Voila!  A valentine even a 5th-grade boy can be proud of!

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  1. I can see where this modification would be easier. I, too, found the original method of using one line from side to side and curving the hand was difficult for some. I think it takes more patience! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Perfect timing! I have 12 books to cover for my twin's Year 1 class and I'm running out of creative ideas. I just traced my daughters' hands (the ones they write with – one left and one right) and got busy. They loved watching their hand come to life. Eventually I may be brave enough to let them try it themselves but right now, it was about getting the job done quickly.

  3. Very cool! I am also doing this project with a class right now, just without the heart, and I have already done a Valentine project with them this year, but what a great way to incorporate a season with a lesson!

  4. What a fantastic idea. I love this.

    I discovered your blog (Mixing 100 Colors Post) tonight on Pinterest. I look forward to visiting it over and over again!

  5. I did this Valentine project with my classes today, 2-5-13. I have three levels of students, K-1; 2nd-4th; and 5th -8th graders in a homeschool co-op that meets twice a month. Without exception, every student was excited about his or her results! I would like to add another tip that I found very effective. I knew that my students would find the finished product intimidating and feel that it would be beyond their abilities. Therefore, I introduced the activity by asking if everyone felt capable of tracing a hand on a paper. Of course, all thought this very simple. Next, I asked if everyone felt capable of drawing straight parallel lines. Yes, again–giggle, giggle. Last, I asked if they could draw arched lines. I demonstrated on the white board. Naturally, everyone felt this was silly and easy! Then, I showed them a sample that I had made of the finished project. Their eyes “popped out” and they were intimidated, as I thought they would be, until I showed them how it was made with the outline of the hand, the arched lines within the hand, and then the parallel lines outside. Thank you for sharing this wonderful project! We all had fun with it and I think the parents will be impressed!

  6. Do you need to use construction paper or would regular copy paper be okay? My students will ask if they can use rulers for the straight lines. What do you think?

    1. Regular copy paper is fine for this project, Sue. It might be interesting to let students choose if they want to draw free-hand or use a ruler. Sometimes rulers really slow them down, and for the perfectionists a ruler can end up frustrating them even more. But practice with rulers can be valuable, too. It might be a fun experiment to let them choose and see what happens!