Making an Original Art Deco Poster

David Hamilton Behind the Scenes


Anything Goes PosterAs many of you may know, I often design posters for one of the local community theatres (one of the prices of being on the board.)  A lot of work goes into some of the posters, but occasionally I have one of those fun projects that really reminds me why I enjoy doing this stuff in the first place.  Case in point, this poster for Anything Goes.

Really, making Art Deco artwork is fairly easy and rewarding.  All that you need is a vector art program, a good eye for perspective (or distorting images) and a little bit of photo editing skill.

Things you’ll need:

A vector art program (like Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator)
A bitmap art program (like Corel Photo Paint or Adobe Photoshop)
A sketch pad.

Step 1: Find Art Deco Posters that Appeal To You

There are a lot of these out there.  Not all of them have to be from the time period. In today’s world, sometimes it’s enough to get a flavor of the period, and there will be a lot of new work out there that fits the category.  Just run an image search for Art Deco posters.  Add in a theme if you like (i.e. ships.)  Save several of your favorites to the hard drive and print small versions.  I like to print six to the page.

Step 2: Find photos of the objects or landmarks that you want to include.

These don’t need to be in the Art Deco style.  Just get some good photos where you can see the details.  Save these onto your hard drive – you’ll need them later.

Step 3:  Sketch Your Poster

Even with all the technology available these days, there’s a lot to be said for getting out an art pad once in a while.  Make a rough sketch of where you want to include all of the objects that you want in the poster.  Be sure to save room for any text that you want to include.  Going back over your print outs,  find style elements that you want to use from various posters.  Be sure to make notes on your sketch to remind you which poster each element should resemble.  These elements might include items (1), backgrounds (2) or even reflections / shadows (4).

Sample Art Deco Posters

Step 4: Assemble elements in a vector art program.

Import the files that you want to use into a vector art program like Corel Draw. This is where you will use the photos that you saved to your hard drive.  In my case I took a specific patch of the New York skyline from 1930 and a photo of the Queen Mary.  Draw the outlines and major elements using vector graphics.  Remember that many Art Deco posters don’t require a huge amount of detail. In my case, I drew the skyline but only used bars to represent lines of windows.


Photos for an Art Deco Poster

Step 5: Play with Perspective

Once you have the basic shapes of items, play with the perspective a bit.  Things in Art Deco posters often appear larger than life, especially objects in the foreground.  In this case, I made the prow of the ship extend forward further and lift higher and slanted the whole thing a bit so that it looks like it’s charging through the water.  Looking at your inspiration posters can give you some ideas here.  Once you finish one of the objects, export it as a .png with a transparent background.

Step 6: Start Assembling the Product

I like to use my photo editing software here.  Open up a canvas the right size for your poster (in my case 11 inches by 17 inches.)  If it’s going to be printed, make sure to set the resolution to 300 dpi or higher.  Import that objects into the file as you finish them and move them around the canvas.  Set a background color and lay out your text. There are some great Art Deco fonts available free on the internet.

Step 7: Trace elements from inspiration posters

Love the shape of a wave, or the way a shadow falls in one of the posters?  Trace it in your vector program.  Most elements in Art Deco posters are fairly easy to trace and manipulate.  Try mirroring or stretching them to fit in your poster.  Save as a .png and import them onto your canvas.  In my example, I used the wave around the prow of the ship, the sailboat, and reflections in the water.

Step 8: Create additional elements to tie it together

In my case, I added some exaggerated rays of sunshine similar to one of the inspiration posters.  I created the rays in the vector graphics program, saved them as a .png, imported to my canvas then set a high transparency level.  I used a feathered eraser around the top to help them blend into the poster better.

Step 9:  Add texture

Art Deco posters often have a grain quality. To emulate this, I made a stamp of all my layers (select all layers, press alt then merge layers) so that I would have all the art on one layer but still have the individual layers in the background.  Then I went to Filter > Add Texture > Grain in Photoshop.  Add grain with a high contrast and low intensity.  Project finished.   And since you have all of the building blocks there, you can even move them around and make art in alternate shapes and sizes.  In this case, I also ended up making a horizontally wide version for Facebook cover pages.

Anything Goes Cover Photo