Making Your Space Mod Using Optical Art Stencils

Mad Men mod officeAd man Roger Sterling doesn’t have to hard sell the stylish merits of op art. This “Mad Men” decoration has been likened to the work of British artist Bridget Riley. Photo from here.

I recently wrote about Mad Men décor, but intentionally left something major out. I never mentioned Roger Sterling’s fabulously chic and mod office because I thought it kind of deserved its own post. Besides the fab furniture, I am particularly in love with the black and white op art polka dot wall that energizes the room and captivates my eye. Before I go on and tell you how to recreate similar graphic effects in your home or office, I want to briefly return to the mid 60’s when Optical Art officially seduced the population.

60's Mad Men StyleBritish artist Bridget Riley. Image from here.

In 1965 artists Bridget Riley, Victor Vasarely, and a coterie of other artists exhibited works in “The Responsive Eye” at the MOMA. While museum guards asked to wear sunglasses while on duty, an enthusiastic public came to perceive illusionary movement. This show brought international recognition to the art form known as “Op Art” named after optics, the branch of physics that deals with light and vision.

Op Art from 1960“Pause” by Bridget Riley 1964 – Photo courtesy of Op Art UK

Op art mingles art and science, and its full effect relies on the connection between precision, color placement and geometry.  As Riley explains in a video, “Rhythm and repetition are at the root of movement. They create a situation within which the most simple, basic forms start to become visually active.” She goes on, “Repetition acts as a sort of amplifier, for visual events which seen singly would hardly be visible.”

Because of its mathematical foundation, Olly, a programmer and creator of Op Art UK says the genre “lends itself really well to computing.”  He started Op Art UK five years ago after noticing a collection or undulating works that belonged to a tutor. Intrigued by the art form, Olly studied the subject in detail, and was soon off off writing software that mimicked Bridget Riley’s work. Olly is constantly expanding the website “The traffic I get is consistent,” he says, “It seems like a lot of people like Op Art!”

Mad Men Op Art Ideas

While allover mind-bending patterns such as “Pulsate” (on walls) and “Waves” (on floor), The Stencil Library also offers small scale optical effects.

Op Art Room IdeaThe Crescent motif available in 4 sizes ranging from 7” to 35” in diameter.

wall stencilThe“Meander” border flows horizontally or vertically. Fun for a dressing room, this pattern reminds me of pearls. Above stencil images are from The Stencil Library

While Olly can get you a cool Op Art wallpaper for your iPhone, stenciled walls, floors, and furniture, even fabric, can get you a Op Art look in the room of your choice. At The Stencil Library, a UK-based company with over 3,500 designs and growing, Rachel Morris says, “We couldn’t have a comprehensive selection of modern design without several op art patterns. They are such fun and a prominent part of design.” When shown in hi-contrast black and white, these patterns may feel more suited to minimal and contemporary interiors, but in subtle tone-on-tone hues, the pattern, looking more textural than bold, is very adaptable. Rachel says all color combinations should work to some degree because “the illusion is created by the shape.” While she feels that what worked in the 60’s is still fresh today, she adds, “I would imagine they can still raise an eyebrow or two today as they did 50 years ago!”

Op art stencilFrom Dressler Stencils, Op Pop (left) and Cubic Repeat (right).

Jan Dressler grew up in the 60’s and thusly alongside Op Art. Naturally visually playful patterns appear in the Dressler Stencils collection. She says, “I like a challenge when designing stencils, so after I had produced the Op Art image in Photoshop, I wanted to see if I could make it into a stencil in Illustrator.” Dressler separates the design elements by layer. Op Art has two, and Cubic has four layers.  In the latter, the wall color is one shade and then two more colors are required to create the illusion. Olly at Op Art UK points out (using the British spelling for “colors”), “Colours in the cool range – blues, purples & greens – are recessive and seem to sink back on the surface whilst the warm colours – red, orange and yellow particularly – are ‘emergent’.”  cutting edge stencilA stenciled motif, such as Kobe (seen here and below) from Cutting Edge Stencils , may repeat a favorite accessory color or introduce a new one. A stenciled wall is sort of like a permanent piece of art until painted over.

stencil idea on old dresserRevive a thrift shop find with chic pattern and an unpredictable blast of color. Desk photo from Design Megillah.

Creating optical illusions with template and paint is usually less of an investment of time and money than wallpapering. Greg Swisher from Cutting Edge Stencils says that stenciling is easier – “no glue, no seams, no ordering too much or too little” — plus paint enables custom color and the ability to create varied intensity. With paint, one can fade and distress or make crisp and bold. Stencils make economic sense and can be loaned out to friends.

wall stencil ideaCutting Edge Stencil

There are stencils for all levels of expertise and that means lack of expertise too. Though mild frustration may occur relative to the scope of the task, when it is all done, a stenciled project has been known to deliver great satisfaction. Swisher agrees, “Stencils also seem to bring a sense of artistic accomplishment to the user.” Whatever, the case, in the end this labor of love produces major wow rather than woe, and requires only a dab more patience than paint.

Tropical Trance from StrideTropical Trance from Stride

It’s plain to see that, like gum, Op Art is long lasting!

What do you think of the Op Art style wall stencil?

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6 thoughts on “Making Your Space Mod Using Optical Art Stencils

    • Thanks Jody. I loved learning more about it too, especially watching some of the videos. When we were growing up Victor Vasarely was a household name — but i never knew about some of the other “parents” of the movement.

  1. Enjoyed this immensely. It brought back wonderful memories of the MOMA OpArt Show in the 60′s and I was lucky enough to have been there to enjoy it.
    It’s as lovely today as it was then.

  2. SO close, but I’m still looking for stencils VERY similar to the designs on Roger Sterling’s office wall. I’m looking to do a “Yellow Submarine” motif and, in that animated movie, there is a “Sea of Holes” segment I’d like to replicate on a wall. Any guidance is appreciated.-C

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