Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rhythmic Line Designs And Patterns

 Op Art Animation courtesy http://www.op-art.co.uk/  
Before reading this post, click here for a list of resources and supplies (and where you can buy them) to get you started creating your own wonderful rhythmic line drawings.  

Rhythmic designs are formed any time a line is repeated to form a pattern. Rhythmic patterns can be seen all around us, from the veins in a leaf to the curling waves of the ocean to the whorls of your finger prints. They're even in the pattern on the bottom of your sneakers! 

While planning this unit, I experimented with all the ways I could think of to use black and white rhythmic lines. I took photographs wherever I found linear patterns and looked at how artists throughout history used rhythmic line  to create dynamic art. Each piece I saw inspired me to experiment, create and develop my ideas. Hopefully this lesson will do the same for you.

Here is the sphere pattern I used in the above video:


Assignment 1: Before you begin your journey, print out this worksheet and follow the directions to find out how much you already know about rhythmic line designs. You may surprise yourself. Linear patterns are all around us.
You will need a piece of drawing paper, a pencil, the worksheet and a friend who you can trade papers with when you are done drawing. Do not use a ruler or compass. Instead, draw your designs free hand.
How can you transform a circle into a picture of a three dimensional form? If you simply add shadows, mid-tones and highlights, you will have a sphere. 

 Take it a step farther by experimenting with rhythmic line and pattern and you could transport your audience into the virtual world of your imagination.

Look at the world around you, including video games and movies, to get ideas for your drawings.

Art Installation by Tony Oursler-Eyes from Rachel Wintemberg on Vimeo.
This art installation was created by the artist Tony Oursler.
Unlike other video artists, Oursler projects his images 
not on a uniform surface but on to dolls, balls, architecture and other surfaces such as treetops and clouds of steam. To learn more about this artist click here and here.

Spheres are only the beginning! There is no limit to what you can create with line.

 Below are some black pen doodles that I created while thinking about rhythmic lines in the last few days.

How about drawing a magical garden, densely packed with different types of rhythmic, repeating lines?
Above, are my experimental magical line gardens. Below are some vintage illustrations of Edgar Allan Poe stories by the artist Harry Clarke. How many different types of rhythmic lines, patterns and textures does he use? When he repeats a line pattern over and over, it gives his drawing unity. When he uses many different types of patterns, lines and textures, it gives his pictures variety. To learn more about this artist, click on the link below:

Assignment 2:
Photograph rhythmic line patterns in nature. You can use any camera, even a cell phone camera.

 Look at leaves, flowers, ferns, sea shells and anything else you can think of. 

Here are some of my photographs of natural forms with rhythmic line patterns.

Photo credit: My husband, Tim Wintemberg. Eastern timber rattlesnake, New Paltz, NY

 Zoom in and crop off just a small section of each of your photographs to isolate the rhythmic patterns. 

Assignment 3: Make a series of small sketches of the patterns you find using a sharpened pencil and a fine tipped graphic pen.

It may be easier to concentrate on the rhythmic line patterns if you print your reference images in black and white.

Zebra Shells (Modified from a photograph by Sheri from www.facebook/Math-Explosion.com)
Assignment 4: Start creating your own rhythmic line doodles using the images you've been gathering to inspire you! Print out and refer to this rhythmic line poster and see if you can figure out what types of lines you are combining to create patterns.

Using a pencil, try shading in the edges of some of your shapes to give your patterns a three dimensional look.

Here is a doodle I created, 
 using organic forms as my inspiration.

Notice how I used curved lines that follow the arching three dimensional forms of the ribbons and spirals
 to create shadows.

When you envision the shapes you have drawn as three dimensional forms you can create a much more engaging image, as this picture of two spheres clearly illustrates. Without the curved lines that define their form, 
they would merely be flat circles.

Here is another doodle I created by combining different types of rhythmic lines...

..and here is the design I created from the doodle above.

Assignment 5: Once you have created a doodle that you like, try repeating it, overlapping it or tiling it to create interesting designs. Don't be afraid to rotate, flip, overlap, combine or re-size you design to create a unique rhythmic pattern.

Here is another small doodle I created...
...and the design I created from it. 

Now that you have gathered inspiration from the world around you, it's time  to take a look at what other
 artists have created.

An excellent source of rhythmic line designs is South West Native American Pottery

Try zooming in and cropping sections of the images below
 to isolate the rhythmic line patterns that Art Nouveau illustrators, graphic designers and artists used.

Poster designs by Alphonse Mucha

The black ink drawings below were created by the Art Nouveau graphic illustrator Aubrey Beardsley.

Click on each of Beardsley's pictures to view the enlarged version. Download the images, zoom in and crop to isolate the many rhythmic line designs 
he used in each densely detailed illustration. 
Use these designs as a reference 
when you create your own  patterns.

Below are some commonly repeated Art Nouveau motifs that I found on the Internet using Google image search.

Please note: All Bridget Riley images are copyright protected. You may print them and use them for non commercial educational purposes only.

Bridget Riley is a founding member of the Op Art movement. 

Here is a doodle I created after looking at Bridget Riley's work and the Art Nouveau designs above.

And here is the design I created by tiling
 (repeating, rotating and flipping) my doodle

Contemporary artists who use rhythmic line designs and patterns

Assignment 6: After viewing Macarthur's work, draw a contour line picture of a bird, reptile or other animal. Use lines that follow the three dimensional form of the animal to divide your picture into distinct sections. This is very easy to do with birds or reptiles because they have different types of feathers or scales and distinct color patterns on different parts of their bodies. Your picture will look far more interesting if you draw your lines along these natural divisions. Remember, learning how to draw means learning how to see. A drawing that reflects insightful observation of nature will engage your viewers. Now fill in each section with a different type of rhythmic linear design.Continue to follow the three dimensional form of your animal to give your final piece a sense of volume.

Compare the zoomorphic (or animal) designs on the Native American Mimbres pottery to Iain Macarthur's work. Notice how three dimensional his pictures appear. 

There is nothing wrong, in general, with filling an animal design with flat patterns. Indeed, artisans from the prehistoric Mimbres tribe of southern New Mexico did this so successfully that reproductions of their designs are still sold throughout the world today. But, for the purpose of this assignment, I would like my students to make a conscious effort to express three dimensional volume in their work.

In 1515 Albrecht Durer produced this fanciful woodcut. No one in Europe had ever seen an actual rhinoceros. Durer created this picture from a description he had read. 

 Rhinoceros by Albrecht Durer, 1515 

To learn more about this famous woodcut, click here

Illustrations by Robert Crumb 
for Kafka and the Book of Genesis.
Click to enlarge each drawing. Notice how Crumb uses rhythmic line in every detail of his work; to create light and shadow, to show texture, volume and movement and even to express mood.

Robert Crumb 

The drawings below were created by an artistic duo from Brazil. they call themselves

Below is a video of this artistic duo at work

Detailed timelapse of a 5 day journey to complete the entrance hall at MIS (Museum of Image and Sound)


Zentangle is a form of design that uses a vocabulary of rhythmic line patterns to create small black and white designs on squares of paper.

Why is Zentangle useful to art students?

 As you can see from the images above, each artist has a vocabulary of patterns that they repeat to create beautiful designs. The bigger your vocabulary of patterns, the more engaging your designs will be. The following Zentangle websites are a wonderful source of patterns and designs and a great source of inspiration.

More Zen Doodle and tangle ideas

Basic Tangle instructions

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

I discovered these patterns in natural forms and created the worksheets from my own photographs. I discovered still more rhythmic patterns in the details of the artwork pictured above. Can you identify any of them?

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Zentangle by one of my students

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Take a look at my original photograph, before I removed the color and zoomed in on the pattern. Can you still see the rhythmic lines? 

Rhythmic linear designs can be found in all forms of art.
Below are photographs I took of some
contemporary sculpture and jewelry

Assignment 7: Now it's your turn to use rhythmic line design with three dimensional forms. I gave the assignment below to my 6th graders last year.

Rhythmic pattern by a 6th grade student

Printable worksheet for this assignment

Grading rubric

Artwork by 6th grade students hanging from the ceiling of my classroom. Great job kids!
Work in progress by bilingual 6th grade students:
Common Core Math Standards for this activity:

6.G.4 - Represent three-dimensional figures using nets made up of rectangles and triangles

More Op Art ideas

 photo null-2.jpg
To see this worksheet in it's original colors, click here

Sketchbook Pro for iPad. Music added using iMovie for iPad. Draw, reflect, transform
Free Printable Worksheets From Line And Form by Walter Crane
Click on the link below to download this free ebook:

A final thought on rhythmic line design and pattern:

"Limitations live only in our minds. If we use our imaginations our possibilities become limitless."
-Adam Granet 


  1. The bigger your vocabulary of patterns, the more engaging your designs will be.

  2. Thankyou for duch a yhorough job of putting these resources togethrr! How inspirational....and has given me some ideas to extend some of my year 8 students!

  3. Fantastic content very helpful fo beginner like myself just love the patterns and designs here. Cant wait to try some myself .