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Art Deco 101 - Color

Today's view of Art Deco is gold lines on black. If you're lucky, you get silver lines on black. While certainly acceptable Art Deco, this selection represents a mere fraction of the colors present in the design form.

Art Deco, books, naturally choose the prettiest objects to show, which are the premium objects. This gives the illusion that Art Deco was gold with black. This is a selection bias that should be recognized, but not embraced.

If anything, the colors of Art Deco are beige. If you look at any large building, you'll mostly see beige with a smattering of other colors, because so many buildings were made of concrete and stone. By surface area, beige wins.

But winning doesn't tell us how to use color.

Black is an important Art Deco color, especially as black formed lines. Black forms many more lines than gold ever did or will. Take a look at a chrome grill. It's made of metallic lines,right? But between those metallic lines are black. Most grill work, though, was wrought iron, not chrome, because architecture needs to work, and most things that need lots of metal are things like grates, grills, and gates. In most cases, nobody's going to keep all those things polished. Only interior or well shielded objects get to be shiny, while only choice objects will get the premium treatment of brass or gold leaf.

You frequently see tripartite colors, three shades in the same general tone rather than two contrasting colors, or three contrasting colors, each making the others stand out. The exact choice depends on the overall tone of the finished piece. Why, there's often no black at all to be seen as the colors and shades sufficiently differentiate themselves.

When choosing colors, don't look at black and gold, look at color theory, especially color theory as it existed in the 1920s. This is exactly what architects were drawing on. If you don't want to be period, use modern color theory to choose your colors.

So when designing, remember that Art Deco loves color, because nobody wants to live in a black room covered with gold lines.

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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.