Color-blocking is thought of as the exploration of taking colors that are opposites on the color wheel and pairing them together to make interesting and complementary color combinations. It is commonly associated in fashion as a trend that originated from the artwork of Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian. However, other experts argue whether his artwork is the true origin of color-blocking.
It’s widely believed by most historians that Piet Mondrian, a turn-of-the-century artist, whose paintings were a collection of stark lines and flat squares, inspired this current color-blocking trend. Mondrian valued simplicity and therefore experimented with how far he could simplify his work, maximizing simplicity while still maintaining recognizable, although abstract, geometric shapes. Mondrian later named this style of painting Neo-Plasticism. In Piet Mondrian’s Neoplasticism movement, his art directly inspired the fashion world, as well as home décor and baked goods. Although Mondrian is said to be the key figure of the modern art movement, there are others that believe the credit for this trend lies with Georges Seurat and Claude Monet.
However sources report that it is Piet Mondrian who inspired other designers such as Yves Saint Laurent to create the famous Mondrian Dresses. Before Mondrian’s aesthetic overtook the fashion world, pop art’s materialization in the 50s opened America’s eyes to a more vibrant but structured world. Pop Art incorporated the same clean lines and solid colors that Piet Mondrian’s work encompassed. Proponents of the Georges Seurat and Monet origin theory claim that this novel acceptance lead to the color-blocking revolution.
Mondrian’s Neo-Plasticism aesthetic evolved through the decades, coming to include aspects such as synthetic color and a strong imposed structure in the 1960s. The color-blocking trend took off in the 60s as fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent adopted this revolutionary aesthetic. It wasn’t long before this new trend was reaching as far as London; the youth of London began wearing ensembles that would come to be known as mod fashion. Mod fashion much resembled the artistic style of Piet Mondrian; mismatched, solid color separates that were composed of blocks in different hues.
As for today color-blocking is more frequently seen in the home as a latest thing in interior design. Although some argue that color-blocking is a thing in the past, high fashion figures and enthusiasts believe that this retro trend continues to thrive as a result of the hipster generation who revive the trend and turn it into something seen as fashion-forward.
In the fashion world, the process of color-blocking refers to wearing blocks of colors. Color-blocking is different from how people usually dress because the colors in the outfit are considered louder, or colors that clash. Fashion figures explain color-blocking as wearing multiple articles of solid-colored clothing in a single outfit. Traditional color-blocking consists of putting together two or three different, but complementary colors together in one outfit. It is also considered color-blocking even if the colors are not direct opposites on the color wheel. For example, yellow and orange are right next to each other, but adding purple (a color on the opposite of the wheel) creates a color-blocked outfit.
Fashion icons, designers, and figures have developed rules that go along with the art of color-blocking. Basic rules for color-blocking are centered on the colour theory. The colour theory states that there are unwritten rules in color-blocking such as not wearing too many colors together at once, and balancing an outfit with a neutral such as grey.
Since color-blocking is an abstract form of art, it is easy to create illusions for accentuating body shapes, making people look taller and thinner. Color-blocking provides versatility to clothing that other trends and styles don’t provide.
Color-blocking has recently spilled over into home décor and interior design. This trend takes the same idea in home design that is does in fashion: the colors are paired with no concern of matching. In the home color-blocking is used mainly in room décor and walls. Décor clashing with each other, or in more mild cases the opposite colors complement each other to provide an interesting and refreshing atmosphere in a room.
Adapt the hot fashion trend of color-blocking for your home. Use these techniques to get started.
Make a mixed-media collage by arranging strips of scrapbook paper and fabric on a sheet of watercolor paper. First, add color blocks using acrylic paint. Tape off the areas to paint, use water to dilute the paint to your desired shade, and use an artist’s brush to paint on the color. For a free-flowing look, allow the paint to seep under the tape. Once the paint dries, remove tape and attach the paper and fabric scraps using spray adhesive.
Create a loose stripe color-blocked pattern with watercolor. Dip your brush in water, then in the watercolor paint. Drag the brush from the top of the stripe to the bottom of the stripe, without lifting it. Repeat with additional colors and frame when dry.
Use scrapbooking paper to create layers of concentric squares. Choose multiple shades of a single color. Mount the first full sheet (ours was 12×12 inches) to a piece of foam-core board using spray adhesive. Cut each square 2 inches smaller than the previous square, then layer using spray adhesive.
Color-Blocking on Wood
Wood panels from an art supply store are the perfect backdrop for graphic designs. Trace or sketch lines and curves onto the wood with light pencil marks. Use acrylic paint to fill in your shapes, allowing the panel to dry between colors and coats.
Switch up the texture of your materials, rather than the color, for another take on color-blocking. Two same-size squares in the same shade of yellow — one smooth scrapbook paper and the other nubby upholstery fabric — create a contrast in texture. Use spray adhesive to attach the squares to foam-core board, then frame.
For angular designs, use painter’s tape to mask off designs, especially if the colors will run alongside each other. The tape will give you a nice, clean edge. Be sure to let the paint fully dry and cure before you tape over it and paint the next color.
Change It Up
Combine two trends in one by pairing color-blocking with an ombre effect. Start with a base color for one block, then dilute it with white paint to get a lighter shade for the next block. Dilute it with another round of white paint to get an even lighter shade. Or, buy premixed gradients.