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Art Deco 101 - Adding Up the Angles

Draftsmen traditionally have four angles as their bread and butter: 90 degrees, 45 degrees, 60 degrees, and 30 degrees. They will have one triangle with 90 degrees and 45 degrees, and the other with 30/60/90 degrees.

If you stack these angles cleverly, you and add and subtract, thus getting you:

45-30 = 15 degrees
60-45 = 25 degrees
30+45 = 75 degrees

In general, you will encounter angles at 30/45/60 degrees, but other angles are possible, just not as as likely.

This doesn't mean that you won't get other angles. There's no enforcement angel slapping an architect's hand every time that they make an unusual decision.

A second way to create an angle is to locate intersection points and connect the dots. When this happens, it's up to you to figure out the exact methodology. Because this is drafting, there must be a methodology, so don't give up easily.

Finally, professional architects and engineers have drawing arms which twist around to any possible angle. If they want an angle, they will get it. From my observation, that sort of measuring generally wasn't used in Art Deco as it violates the principal of relationships. When I have trouble figuring out a drawing, I dig deeper, and somewhere back there is a primary geometric relationship, not an arbitrary decision.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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Because Art Deco was produced by architects and draftsmen in the days before computer, the drawing were produced using entirely different mediums. As is true between any two mediums, some things are harder in one medium and easier in another. The same is true between drafting on paper and drawing with vectors.

I highly recommend learning some drafting, using a table, with manual tools. I do recognize that this isn't always possible, but it will give you more appreciation of the process of drawing. Just like you learn how a painter paints, from sketch to preliminaries, to final product, so too should you learn how a period professional drafted. Art Deco didn't appear in a vacuum. It appeared, and looks the way that it does, because the designers used particular tools to ply their trades. These tools, and the relative ease or difficulty of their use, influenced the creation of the designs.

CAD software, especially the sort designed to produce blueprints, generally works similar to drafting. CAD is an outgrowth of analog drafting, used to create similar effects. While useful, the software isn't designed to produce pretty pictures, so most artists won't be very interested in learning the medium. Some CAD software can even export to vector packages.

More than likely, you will be interested in (or already proficient with) vector software. While this software does wonderful things (I used Inkscape myself), the differences are even greater between vector graphics and drafting. Some accommodation must take place.

The most important difference is how lines are drawn in vectors. With pencil, a line is drawn or not drawn as the drawer decides. The pencil is lifted up and down. I have yet to see any software that can rival this power of the draftsman. Instead, in vectors, object must be intersected or cut, which is always more cumbersome. In some cases, the overhead is small, but in other cases, the overhead is absolutely aggravating.

Circles present a problem. In drafting, you locate the center point of a circle, then draw its diameter. Placing a center point on an intersection is easy. With vectors, circles are created using bounding boxes, so placing it at the center point requires additional steps. As an artist or recreator, you need to know that the center points of circles matter, not the boundaries.

Draftsmen have french curves for more unusual joins. Essentially, these are compound curves. The draftsmen would use these curves for spirals and the like. More than likely, if an architect chose a curve, he would keep using the same curve for the entire drawing. At worst, he would have 2-3 sizes.

The thing about pencils and curves is that once you have the curve, you can keep drawing the exactly line that you want, as often as you want, through the most ridiculous set of intersections that you ever saw. For him, that was easy, but for you, it'll be a pain in the ass.

If you are designing Art Deco, keep these differences in mind. More than likely, you will do what's easy for vector graphics and avoid what's hard. This will produce pictures that art Art Deco like but miss some element of the feel. The reason is that you are using different techniques from the period. If you want a similar feel, you need to use their techniques. That requires problem solving and more than a little pain-in-the-assery.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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One of the hidden parts of Art Deco is locating point. Rather measure from one place to another, and winding up with some weird number that somebody can't realistically measure, drafting relies on using geometric relationships to locate intersection points. Using a very well known set of procedures, you can mechanically solve geometric math problems. Done by a well trained draftsman, these points will meet across a page with literally pinpoint accuracy. (As draftsmen use callipers, which are literally pins in sticks, this analogy is quite literal.)

If you know how to locate points geometrically, you can recreate the relationships in existing work. You can also more accurate recreate the feel of Art Deco by understanding that points don't exist at random. Geometry determines your important points for you.

Art Deco takes this one step forward, creating shapes and patterns with geometric boundaries. You've seen many examples of such shapes. What you may not realize it that many relationships are created by these shapes, even if you don't see them.

I took one set of typical Art Deco blocks and determined their width based on other shapes giving us guidelines.

Note that pure circles are extremely strong, so they are used sparingly. Ellipses and spirals are used far more frequently.

I am very satisfied with the image. It explains more than I can. You will note many familiar Art Deco patterns in the image.

Example - Matching Curves.png

The issue with patterns with that draftsmen used pencils to create what they wanted. They could take a curve and draw just want they wanted, over and over again. For them, that sort of thing is trivial. If you are using a vector art program, you can do the same, but the process can be far more labor intensive, depending on the complexity. This is especially true for wallpaper patterns.

One point that I can't emphasize enough is that there are no random points in Art Deco. Every point must be located through some mechanical means, either directly measuring or geometrically locating.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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Art Deco 101 - Art Deco vs Art Nuveau

What is art deco? Lots of people get very confused between Art Deco and Art Nuveau, so they read Wikipedia and everything becomes as clear as mud.

I'm here to sort it out for you. By no means am I the foremost expert on anything, but I am a man with a blog, and I'm prepared to use it.

ART NUVEAU

- Designed by Artists
- Using pencils, ink, and paint
- Aided by compasses and drafting techniques
- For advertising and aesthetics
- (And yes, this list is grossly oversimplified)

I think of art nuveau as a scaffold of geometry superseded by naturalism.

ART DECO

- Designed by Architects
- Using drafting tools (t-squares, triangles, compasses, french curves)
- Informed by architectural theories
- For architecture
- Constructable by skilled labor
- (And yes, this list is grossly oversimplified)

I think of art deco as drafting taken to the level of art.

* The lists above are about focus, what was most important in the art form.

Does that make more sense to you? I hope that it does. Underneath art deco are solid drafting principals and geometric relationships. The rules of drafting create the underlying rules on which all art deco aesthetics are based. The designer must be able to create the blueprint, and then a craftsman must be able to take those blueprints and create an object. That means that the craftsman (who also has drafting training) must be able to sort out the relationships in the drawing.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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Art Deco 101 - Measurement Systems

If you are reverse-engineering a piece of art deco, knowing the original measurement system is critical to getting the proportions correct. Different measurement system produce different results. Indeed, different measurement systems encourage different thinking.

The foot may not contain the decimal beautify of the decimal system, but the 12 inches relies on the superhero abilities of the number 12. With no math at all, you can divide 12 into 2, 3, 4, and 6. As half- and quarter-inches are easily produced, you can divide by 12 and 24. That's an absolutely massive and flexible range.

Compare this to metric. The formal math for base-10 is easy, but it only divides by 2, 5, and 10. However, that doesn't mean that you can't divide by three. The designer could easily choose a scale which breaks across threes easily.

Because art deco must be manufactured, the designers aren't going to use crazy numbers that nobody can reproduce. Their work will be based on blueprints, which contain reproducible numbers. That means that the English units should break along major English dimensions, while metric should break along major metric dimensions. You should see the the footprint of the original measurement system in the relationships of the objects. You are more likely to fifths and tenths appear in metric while you are more likely to see thirds and quarters in English. Doing so tends to make the math easier.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the process of construction is inexact. There will be errors. Perfection is impossible. Architects and engineers know this. Their designs take this into account. Don't get too caught up in looking too closely at the numbers. If your numbers are all coming out too complicated, you likely haven't worked out the correct answer for your design. More often than not, when you hit the measurements right, you'll find simplicity.

Everything builds off the scale and the measurement system, so take the time to work them out.

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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The Rowan (1990)

The Rowan (1990) by Anne McCaffrey is an expansion and continuation of the Rowan story found in Get of the Unicorn, a collection of stories written in the 1960's.

There are two ways to expand a story: rewrite it or extend it. Anne chose to extend, keeping her story from the 1960's intact. This choice that Anne kept all the weirdness and kludginess in the original SF romance story, with all the complication of setting up a larger story around it. Because of this decision, and her limited narrative skills, the results are largely a failure. Indeed, the later half of the work reads largely like documentation, sending the characters here and there, seeing them do things, and no parts of the story hanging together at all.

Personally, I blame continuity culture. Anne should have taken the original story and completely rewritten it within so that the entire story works as a novel, revising or revisiting the dated tropes of the original story. Instead, she accepted her continuity as inalterable, which meant that she left herself with all the bad decisions inherent in her original tale.

The cover for my version is gorgeous, a bright vision of SF that we don't get to see any more. The Rowan herself appears with huge guzumbas, thin arms, and shapely legs. The faint face of a man adorns the cover, gently hints at romance. But hey, look at those gazumbas!

While I absolutely adore Anne at her best, at her worst, she's a waste of ink. She's the Lucy to my Ricki and she drives me baba-loo. This manuscript leaves me ranting in faux Cuban Spanish. How did Anne's madcap plan go so wrong? Not only does this book feel dated for the late 80's, early 90's, it feels dated for the mid-70's. Even Anne's work in the 60's feels a little dated for the 60's. Even if you can get over the dated feel, the architecture of the novel doesn't even work. The sections aren't workable stand-alone stories, and the stories together don't add up to anything at all. What we're looking at here, folks, it a literary McMansion, a total failure of architecture at every level.

The only reason that I don't give the book one star is that I've read one-star books, and even being a failure at every level, it's still better than a one star book.

Art Deco 101 - Measuring

The among very first lessons in drafting is measuring. Measuring matters. Measuring is everything. If your measurements are off, then everything based on that measurement will be off as well.

The first action of every drawing is to true up your t-square and establish a baseline. Truing up a -t-square means making sure that it's well seated against the board, delivering you a reliable line. From that point, you can slide your square up and down the board and always get a parallel line to the baseline. If any line seems off further into the drawing, the baseline is correct.

You need a baseline because you can't guarantee that any other line or reference point is accurate. Even the paper can be cut wrong. The baseline, in that way, is totally arbitrary, but it's well understood arbitrary. It does what you want, which is to give you a reliable reference.

From there, you draw lines and measure. The thing about drawing lines is that in drafting, you can flip your ruler around any way that you want and measure a length with high precision. Measuring lines is easy. This is important to note when you are simulating art deco designs in a vector based software. In that software, you need to think about how you are going to measure an item so that it comes out to the right size.

Take a look at the image below.

Example - Measuring.png

In this drawing, I began with a 2-inch square rotated 45-degrees. I then created two additional squares from that, one where I measured out one inch along the side of the square, and the other where I measured out one inch from the vertical. Do you see the difference? These drawing have different proportions based entirely how I determined where to place my one inch increment.

When recreating art deco, pay attention to how the original draftsman measured. If you can match his measurements, you'll have a far easier time getting the proportions correct.

Of the above, which is correct? Well, the one on the right seems nice to the eye, but the one on the left is easier to construct for a known bounded space. They're each right, but used to different effect.

If you can determine the original measurement system, you'll help yourself immensely. Use Imperial measure for the English world (these divide into 4ths and 8ths easily), while you should use metric for elsewhere (as these divide into fifths and tenths more easily).

Return to: Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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Art Deco 101

Art Deco is a wonderful art form. I love it immensely. Go on the internet and search for picture and you'll find them with no trouble. However, if you want to produce Art Deco, or reproduce it, the number of references out there plummet to nothing. Everybody loves it but nobody talks about creating it.

I'm here to rectify that. Join me on this perilous journey back to the days of paper and pencil, where the men of the past designed the future.

Art Deco vs Art Nuveau
Measuring
Measurement Systems (and their affect on designs)
Locating Points and Geometric Relationships
Differences Between Analog and Vector Graphic Software
Adding up the angles
- Architectural principals at play
- Materials Matter (how end materials drive and constrain design)
- Color (and lots of it)
- Negative Space
- Art Deco vs Art Deco-esque
- Origins of Art Deco: Orientalism and China
- Origins of Art Deco: art nuveau
- Origins of Art Deco: industrial design
- Origins of Art Deco: the assembly line
- Origins of Art Deco: not the assembly line
- Origins of Art Deco: Display of Modern Power (did it rise and fall with Fascism?)
- Symmetry
- Repetition
- Art deco in today's auto industry (logos, grills, wheels, and sexy rear ends)
- Better pages than mine (great resources for art deco from people who know what they're talking about)

Art Deco 101

Douglas Milewski is a fantasy writer who liked drafting class too much. In his recent artistic struggles to produce art deco for his own covers, he found no internet sites dedicated to the technical underpinnings of the art. Seeing a niche that needed filling, he has documented his hard learned experiences. He doesn't claim that he's right, and would very much appreciate it if someone more competent would save him from his own folly.

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The Origins of Double Jack

I've been working on Double Jack for a while. I wrote my first draft back in 2012-2013, after completing work on "Between Earth and Heaven." For several years, I had designs on writing a first person, noir style fantasy novel set in the 1920s, but at the time knew that I wasn't a good enough writer.

Getting Double Jack to work took a lot of time and energy. After writing it, I set it down. Sometime later, I would pick it up, throw out most of the chapters, then completely rewrite. The next draft, I would keep a few chapters, but throw out the rest. I went down many blind alleys, slowly learning what made this book tick, what made the genre tick, and discovering in every draft that I didn't yet understand the rules of the work.

I hadn't written in first person this extensively before. I had written a short story here and there, but not an entire novel. So before I even began, I had to get that voice right. I didn't want Jack's memoir to feel like a hardboiled detective, so I couldn't even begin until I could get a different voice in my head.

What does a fantasy novel set in the 1920's even look like? In truth, we know, because we have fantasy stories from back then. As we don't need any more of those, I didn't think that I actually wanted to write something like that. I certainly didn't want to write something like Lovecraft. What I wanted was something that felt more like F. Scott Fitzerald, so taking a few years, I casually read most of his books. Whatever I produced, I wanted it solid enough to stand alongside a Fitzgerald novel without shame. At the same time, I didn't want it to actually be a Fitzgeral novel. What I wanted was for it to feel like it came from the same time period. I wanted it to feel like the sort of fantasy novel that one of Fitzgerald's literary contemporaries might produce.

There are certain things that I didn't want. I didn't want steampunk or dieselpunk. I have no ill will towards either genre, but I felt that this memoir, this mildly noir style recollection, would go astray with if I made it one of those two genres. However, my research and a few insights revealed to me that, beyond all comedy, that the 1920's were already post-steampunk. In real life, humanity had actually produced the Victorian steampunk society, and now it was busily producing a real dieselpunk society, with radios, airships, plastics. The old steam society was literally being superceded by new fashions, trends, and vocabulary. The even amazing more truth was that the 1920s were an age of science fiction, so I didn't need to invent anything at all. I wanted the novel to feel like that, leaving one age to enter another.

One point where I wavered was whether the novel would take place in the United States or a fantasy world that looked and felt remarkably like the United States, just like most fantasy worlds feel medieval. Although I leaned very strongly to making this world entirely artificial, setting it in the US gave my readers a geography, and gave me access to all our existing history, maps, culture, and politics. By making the world familiar, I didn't have to explain vast swaths of backstory. Because I was already familiar with Baltimore, I set the novel in that city. Because of how history progressed a little differently, it's not quite the Baltimore of our own past, but it has enough in common so that you know it's the same place.

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Dalek Sing Along

Last night's story was Equestria Girls mixed with Doctor Who.

The Sirens summoned the Daleks from the future to get their revenge. Long story short, the Daleks were to sing against the Equestria Girl. DesignGirl provided the songs, with "exterminate" inserted into all the appropriate locations, even if that didn't scan.

I did make a few songs, with the one below working the best. Does this work or what?

If I had a hammer
I'd exterminate in the morning
I'd exterminate in the evening
All over this land

I'd exterminate justice
I'd exterminate freedom
I'd exterminate love between my brothers and my sisters
All over this land.

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