The crowd-sourced definition of Color Block Art:

“the exploration of taking colors that are opposites on the color wheel and pairing them together to make interesting and complementary color combinations.”

– Wikipedia

I’ve been thinking a lot about color lately, and therefore my curiosity about color block painting has been piqued.

Color plays a significant role in my personal art practice and painting process, frequently acting as my muse or instigator. I feel a powerful pull to give a color its space; to allow it to lead everything from start to finish.

Learning about theories and concepts pioneered by earlier artists whets my creative appetite for experimentation and fuels my curiosity – both of which are true motivators that keep me productive.

The father of the color block phenomenon, Piet Mondrian, developed this radical version of abstraction in the early half of the 1900’s.

At the heart of this style was Mondrian’s desire for purity, simplicity, and harmony. Thus he distilled his compositions down to lines, colors, and pure geometric forms leaving representationalism for other artists.

The “color block” movement caught on, sweeping through the fashion, design, and architecture industries, and the theory behind it influenced the emergence of Helen Frankenthaler and Franz Kline’s simplified and color-driven painting styles as well as those of many other notable artists.

The practice of color block painting has evolved significantly over the past eight or so decades,

and it’s manifestations vary widely from Mondrian’s well-known pieces, Henri Matisse’s late-career collages, and Sir Terry Frost’s geometric abstractions.

This particular art of presenting color in thoughtfully placed “blocks” appears all around us today.

Check out the photos below to see the color blocking posts revealed by a quick Instagram search .

Color Blocks in Fashion and beauty:

Samples of color block style found in fashion and beauty
  1. Polymer clay earrings from Anna & Bull (Instagram: @annaandbull ) make a bold color block statement.
  2. Stunning iridescent earrings from Lisa of Small Talk Handmade (Instagram: @makesmalltalk ) also suggest color blocking.
  3. In addition to its role in jewelry design, color blocking also shows up in thoughtful outfit planning, like this ensemble from None To Wear (Instagram: @none_to_wear )
  4. This gorgeous hair color by Robin Owens Beauty (Instagram: @robinowensbeauty ) is also an example of color blocking in the realm of fashion and beauty.
  5. Another example of color blocking in jewelry: lovely woven earrings from Mountain Fable Handmade (Instagram: @mountainfable_handmade )
  6. A final example in fashion: another fun statement outfit, this time from The NXC Style (Instagram: @thenxcstyle )

Color Blocks in Architecture and Interior Design:

samples of color block technique used in architecture and interior design
  1. Color blocked bookshelf. Photo by Shawn Kohlmeier, vintage items stocked by The Vintage Completist, (Instagram: @unstaticvtg & @thevintagecompletist )
  2. Gorgeous color block architecture photographed by Rafe New York (Instagram: @refenewyork )
  3. Striking architecture creating color blocks with shadows and angles. Photo by Julie Noel Smith (Intagram: @Julienoelsmith )
  4. A new restaurant interior shared by Chef Anton Schmaus. Design credit to @kleinlaut and architecture credit to Pure Gruppe. (Instagram: @antonschmaus, @puregruppe )

For more interior design ideas with color blocks in mind, check out this post by B3D Architectuur on Instagram.

Color Blocks in Photography and Floral Arrangements:

  1. This composition by photographer Jayati Jain is a lovely use of color blocking.
  2. Additionally, this image by photographer Jule Frommelt highlights color blocking in a food styling composition .
  3. And finally, who would have guessed the practice of color blocking would show up in floral design too? This arrangement and photo are by TJ McGrath.

And of course, color blocking appears in JOURNALS too!

Examples of color block painting used in art journaling

Artists Jacquie Gardy ( image 1) and Lisa Yamaoka ( image 2) put blues and oranges together, both using the complementary pairing of hues in color blocking style.

Color Block art has evolved. . .

It’s clear that the practice of color blocking in art has evolved from the strictest sense.

No longer are creatives restricting colors choices to opposites on the color wheel or adhering to Mondrian’s purist goals of minimizing compositions to vertical and horizontal lines and primary colors.

Current-day artists are exercising freedom with their color-blocking styles; playing with their palettes, forms, and line choices, challenging the more rigid rules of the concept.

We see multitudes of colors in one composition, and we see paintings featuring neighbors – even groupings of neighbors – on the color wheel instead of opposing hues.

We see curves, forms, and compositions that challenge Mondrian’s insistence upon straight lines and the use of only primary colors. Today’s contemporary version of color blocking is adventurous and exciting.

Some consistencies persist though:

We see a preservation in the distillation of compositions to focus primarily on color. We often see restriction in the spaces they occupy – yet often practiced with freedom within their own space. The hues generally remain pure in their “container” (or multiple containers), in distinct spaces within the composition. They dance with (or play against) one another, and, overwhelmingly, most forms created within the artwork are non-representational.

I feel like some of my work dabbles in an altered version of color blocking. . .

. . .yet pushes the practice into a unique interpretation of what was originally intended.

The thought process of “distilling” intrigues me, and I want to go back to my past work now and consider if that’s something I’ve done without realizing it. It’s possible.

More than motivating me to review my past work though, this deep-dive into the concept of color block painting and the original theory behind it has me itching to work in my journals. So many questions and curiosities have emerged after learning more about Piet Mondrian’s beliefs and practices. I can’t wait to start experimenting!

If you’d like to read more about Piet Mondrian, his art, and his life, this article and this article are incredibly informative.

And, if you like the idea of using an art journal to experiment with concepts, you might want to check out my INSPIRED membership. December’s journal prompt will focus on using color blocking concepts on our pages.