Doren Damico

How to Design an Art Deco Collage

So I’ve been dabbling in design…

There’s not enough time to do everything I’d like to do as a creative, but as Carole Isenberg told me last weekend at a focus group for The Mother Lode Workshop, “All things are for doing.”

Collage is one of those things I’m doing. It’s a kind of active meditation, a favorite playground for my mind. I’m also working on learning more about collage technique and applying design principles to my collaging. It feels a bit  like work sometimes, but DESIGN PRINCIPLES PROVIDE GREATER SKILL  & SUCCESS AT COMMUNICATING INTENTIONS.

So I start with a comparative study of Art Deco and Art Nouveau poster design. 

  LOVE this Art Nouveau poster(1893) of dancer, Loie Fuller, by Jules Cheret. She was one of the early free dance practitioners, developing natural movement and improvisation techniques. She combined her choreography with silk costumes and multi-colored lighting of her own design. DESIGN IS EVERYWHERE. 

This Art Deco poster (1924) by Horace Taylor was commissioned by the London Metro System to brand the Underground as a transport for everyone, even the elite (as evidenced by the tuxes and top hats). Taylor started his career as a stage designer and cartoonist, then from 1922 focused almost entirely on commercial art.

Making Design Decisions…

DESIGN DECISION #1: Create an Art Deco Window Collage.

I’ve been exploring a thematic styling of stained glass windows in varied media. I’ve done a few sketches and paintings I’d like to cut and frame in glass one day. Now I  play with creating my panes out of paper. 

DESIGN DECISION #2: Communicate an aesthetic of joy.

But first, a bit more study. I look at some Art Deco windows, and explore how the designs create movement. My joyful design will need some upward movement.


Left Image: The elongated diamond pushes the movement down. The circle encapsulates the central image and creates a bit too much stasis.

Right Image: The fan panels, the upward pointing central triangular shapes, and upward fan shape in white, create an opening and fanning upward movement. This is brought down by the lower point, but the proportions and colors bring the eye back up in a continuous movement throughout the design.

 These paired windows have a primarily up/down movement but the varied horizontal lines, vertical shapes and accents in red, move the eye throughout the picture plane in an engaging fashion.

This window  also uses the minimalist styling of one accent color and most panes in gray, textured, or toned values. It has an interesting use of radiating trapezoids to create movement throughout the picture plane.

DESIGN DECISION #3: Use one accent color and gray values.

Time to get into elements and principles. These are the vocabulary of every visual artist and designer, whether they intuit or purpose their work. From my teacher, Brian Ruppel, the Elements: Line, Shape, Value, Color, Texture. The Principles: Harmony, Variety, Balance, Movement, Proportion, Dominance, Economy.

So I write out my ideas for every element and principle. But I’m a newbie at this, so some of my original ideas have to be revised as I begin to sketch and analyze my sketches.

Originally I want to use masculine shapes like trapezoids, and triangles. I eventually work out a harmonious balance of curvy linear lines/shapes and triangular shapes.

I am a planner, so writing out a step by step plan for executing my first design decision: to make an Art Deco Window Collage, gives me a sense of accomplishment with each check mark. 




After sketching and analyzing sketches, I determine which sketch meets my objectives: joy, and art deco. Then I begin to do value studies. Value studies are important because they make a huge impact even on potential color decisions.

If you are working in paint, doing value studies can save you a lot of money!  

If you are working with limited paper images for collage, this can also save you from wasting images you’ve spent hours collecting.

DESIGN DECISION #4: This value study is perfect for a window. 

I’d use different textures or patterns if I was doing it in glass, and these light values–if I were to choose colors–would grace my window with pastels.

Now, to find my one accent color. Color theory is a HUGE element of design and I’m just beginning to understand the intentional use of colors.            

But since I’m using only one color, it’s pretty easy: I start with yellow. Yellow is joyful.  Good enough for a trial collage! 

Now here’s the tricky part: I’ve got to transfer these shapes to my collage paper. I trace my design onto tracing paper, and look through the tracing paper at various images I’ve sourced for my collage collections. Then I cut out all the shapes, like fabric pattern pieces, tracing around them over selected images. Of course, I’m thinking quite literally like a stained glass window designer, imagining each shape as its own panel. This is limiting, I realize later. But what a lesson to learn! 

As I explore paper, I don’t quite have the values I want for the grays. I eventually go with a darker value to contrast the bright organic yellows I want to use, and because that’s where I find compelling imagery.

DESIGN DECISION #5: Create a dialogue between organic and architectural imagery.

The process of design is both purposeful work to solve a given problem, and playful dialogue with elements, principles and media. I find a honeycomb image and a bee. How are people and their buildings like bee hives? I discover a great ad I have with imagery of an elegant theater. These add the interesting and engaging that may help my art transcend.

Framing with long cut strips of black is tedious, but I’m satisfied with the end result:

I’m not quite done with this design. I plan to do more versions, larger ones and experiment with patterns and other colors to mimic the original stained glass inspiration. That’s the power of design:


Doren is a proud slasher: author/musician/visual and performance artist/educator/poet. Celebrating all things creative! For more explorations into the hows and whys of ART, subscribe to her blog: Many Windows, One Doren.




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Doren Damico

Doren is a salsa dancing philosopher poet and fan of science fiction.

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