When something is scaled to itself, what I mean is that if you remove the big stuff around it, the parts that make up that layer work, feeling neither too big nor too small. Your eye naturally differentiates the different sizes.
Once you have different sizes, you need to present them in a way that makes sense and that feels nice. Generally, bigger items contain or imply smaller items. Small shapes, grouped, imply larger shapes.
When I say imply, I mean that the surround shapes approximate another shape, but don't necessarily complete it. For example, a circle is a circle, but if you group a bunch of circles, the space between the circles becomes stars. You didn't seek to draw those stars, but the stars were implied by the way that you drew the circles.
The effect of the layers and hierarchies add up. By keeping each layer simple, complexity emerges from the interactions of the layers. This principal helps produce a pleasing design, rather that a design that overwhelms the eye and razzle-dazzles the viewer into fatigue.
The better that you design the interactions of the layers, the more multi-fasceted the design will be. Simple and elegant, well executed, usually beats clever.
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.