Art Nouveau Drop Capital
illustration, graphic design
As part of a communication design course I took, I designed a decorative capital based on a movement from communication design history. After researching many different movements, I chose Art Nouveau because I liked what I saw of the aesthetic and wanted to learn more about the movement. Through my research, I identified colors, forms, and typographical styles characteristic of the movement and created an inspiration board of art, furniture, and architecture that I was drawn to. I was particularly inspired by Aubrey Beardsley’s art, Hector Guimard’s Paris metropolitan signs, the Tiffany lamp, and Alphonse Mucha’s posters.
In my initial sketches, I drew “N”s (for “Nouveau”) that incorporated qualities of the movement, including a mix of organic and geometric forms and an illustrative and decorative sensibility. I worked to include Art Nouveau’s characteristic “whiplash curves,” parabolas, and hyperbolas.
After drawing the “N”s, I sketched motifs from the movement, including lilies and peacocks, to possibly incorporate into the drop cap.
I picked the best “N” from my sketches based on what I felt most accurately conveyed the organic curves of the movement and began to refine its shape. Settling on a peacock with a cape because of its potential to fit nicely into the shape of the “N,” I drew it into the “N” as a flattened figure to give it the feeling of stained glass, which is one of the motifs I liked best of the Art Nouveau movement. I sketched ideas for whiplash curves to adorn the “N” or to serve as a border, but I ultimately decided not to go in that direction so that the “N” would be cleaner because I envisioned that the design used as a drop cap would need to be legible and cleaner than what might be thought of when one typically thinks of Art Nouveau.
Originally, I conceived of the “N” in black and white but decided to experiment with colored pencils to make the peacock stand out more from the “N” and to add texture to the overall form. I chose colored pencils as a medium because I wanted the drop cap to have a textured quality that felt more organic and consistent with the natural aesthetic of Art Nouveau, compared to a solid and even application that could be achieved with markers or paint. I went through many color combinations to settle on the right jewel tones and earth tones that felt appropriate for an Art Nouveau color palette.
As one of the first projects I completed in the communication design course I took, this drop cap assignment enabled me to learn about the history of communication design and challenged me to explore the use of color and think through the function of a drop cap.