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M.C. Escher. The Father of modern Tessellations. Who is M.C. Escher?. Escher was born in Leeuwarden in Holland on June 17th, 1898. He was the youngest of 4 brothers. He is usually referred to by his initials which stand for Maurits, Cornelis. His family called him Mauk.

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m c escher

M.C. Escher

The Father of modern Tessellations

who is m c escher
Who is M.C. Escher?
  • Escher was born in Leeuwarden in Holland on June 17th, 1898.
  • He was the youngest of 4 brothers.
  • He is usually referred to by his initials which stand for Maurits, Cornelis.
  • His family called him Mauk.
  • This is one of his self portraits.
how did he get started in art
How did he get started in Art?
  • Here his art teacher noticed he had a liking for pen and ink drawings and taught him how to make linocuts.
  • He became good at it and sent some to the best known graphic artist at the time, Roland Holtz, who was impressed and suggested he switch to wood.
  • Escher began failing in school, so Holtz suggested that he become and architect to motivate him to work harder.

Head of child, 1916

a teacher made the difference
A teacher made the difference
  • In 1918, Escher enrolled in the School for Architecture and Decorative Arts' in Haarlem, Holland where he studied until 1922.
  • Escher showed one of his favorite teachers, Mesquita, one of his prints and he loved it.
  • Mesquita saw Escher’s potential and got permission for Escher to change courses and put him on the road to becoming a famous printmaker.

Self Portrait in Chair, 1920


He created the pen and ink drawing “8 Heads” in 1922.Although it is not a tessellation, it is an indicator of what was about to come.Escher loved to play with you mind. For example, when you flip the drawing…

the block print lions was his first attempt at creating a tessellation
The block print “Lions” was his first attempt at creating a tessellation.
  • He printed his tessellation in gold and silver ink on silk…
  • And was rather disappointed that people weren’t more impressed with it.
what gave him the idea to make a tessellation in the first place
What gave him the idea to make a tessellation in the first place?
  • The tilings in the Alhambra in Spain were laid out by the Moors in the 14th century.
  • They are made of colored tiles forming patterns, many truly symmetrical.
  • By our definition, they are not tessellations but they did inspire the young M.C Escher, who copied them into his notebooks and later converted some into true tessellations.
  • Escher noted that the tilings never included animals or plants. His tessellations hardly ever left them out!

Escher's drawing of Alhambra tiling.

what are tessellations
What are Tessellations

The word 'tessera' in latin means a small stone cube. They were used to make up 'tessellata' - the mosaic pictures forming floors and tilings in Roman buildings.


Today, the term has become more specialized and is used to refer to pictures or tiles, mostly in the form of animals and other life forms, which cover the surface of a plane in a symmetrical way without overlapping or leaving gaps.

A tessellation is created when a shape is repeated over and over again covering a plane without any gaps or overlaps.

Another word for a tessellation is a tiling.

Escher quickly became obsessed with the process and discovered mathematical equations and properties to help create his tessellations.
escher used four main mathematical functions
Escher used four main mathematical functions





china boy 1936

China Boy 1936

Squirrels 1936

His obsession led him to begin playing with his tessellations to see how far he could stretch the mind.
Playing with the mathematical equations, he started to stretch his understanding of what a tessellation could do.

During his life, he became obsessed with filling the plane with pictures that did not overlap or leave spaces.

Aged 68, he stated, "Filling the plane has become a real mania to which I have become addicted and from which I sometimes find it hard to tear myself away."

Escher has inspired artists to create tessellations of their own. Look at some of the tessellations that students have done.

Motorbikes by Pete Akroyde

now try it on your own
Now, try it on your own!
  • Cut out your tessellation from the four inch square.
  • Tape it together so it won’t fall apart.
  • Trace it in your sketchbook three times to make sure that it will tessellate (rotate).
  • Create three possible sketches that will fill the shape completely.
  • Remember that there shouldn’t be any negative or empty spaces.