Enticing Tessellations

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Use your math skills to create designs like M.C. Escher! A tessellation is a shape that, when drawn, makes even the negative space positively amazing!


  1. 1. Dutch artist M.C. Escher experimented with a lot of different tricks in his art. He challenges you to figure out what is the real subject and what is the background. Take a look at his work!
  2. 2. Escher created art with a mathematical shape called a tessellation. To create your own template for a tessellation, cut a 2 1/2-inch (6.4 cm) square of oaktag with Crayola® Scissors.
  3. 3. Begin at the top of the square to draw a simple curved line (no curlicues) with a Crayola Erasable Colored Pencil. Start and end your line at the top without touching any other sides of the square. Cut along this line.
  4. 4. Place the top straight edge of the cut-out piece along the bottom straight edge of the original square. Tape the two pieces together.
  5. 5. Turn the entire piece one-quarter turn. Inside the original square, draw another curvy line from what is now the top, back around to the top again. Cut out the new section. Tape it to the new bottom edge to make your template. What shapes do you see when you look at your template?
  6. 6. Place the template anywhere on your Crayola Color Explosion paper. Trace around the edges carefully with the Color Explosion color-reveal marker. When the line is completely dry, slide the template until it lines up with the right edge of the first shape and trace again. Repeat until your designs fill the paper. Parts of the template should go off all four edges!
  7. 7. Decide what details you need to draw inside your shape so people can understand what your object is. Draw these shapes the same in all of your tessellated shapes.
  8. 8. Challenge your classmates to find the background of your picture--there is none! Compare your designs to Escher’s. How are they similar? Different?


Work in groups to collaborate on creating the initial shape. Trace the shapes individually. Decorate each image block differently.

Create a tessellating shape as described, then alter it to model Escher’s Sky and Water I by only tracing the shape horizontally across the paper, and blending the forms above and below this strip.

Assessment: Students are successful with this lesson if they have carefully followed the slide method of creating a tessellating shape and have traced it to repeat over the entire paper.


Students respond to visual effects used in M.C. Escher’s artworks.

Students identify the difference between subject matter and background of visual art. They discover that a tessellation uses the background AS its subject.

Students compare and contrast the basic shapes they use to create a tessellation with the more intricate shapes used by Escher.


Grades 4 to 6


Visual Arts


30 to 60 minutes

curriculum standards links

US: Research U.S. Standards
UK: Research UK Standards
Canada: Research Canada Standards

safety guidelines

Color Explosion™ Black—Wash hands well with soap and water after use.

Scissors—ATTENTION: The cutting edges of scissors are sharp and care should be taken whenever cutting or handling. Blunt-tip scissors should be used only by children 4 years and older. Pointed-tip scissors should be used only by children 6 years and older.

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