AskDefine | Define decalcomania

Dictionary Definition



1 a design fixed to some surface or a paper bearing the design to be transferred to the surface [syn: decal]
2 the art of transfering designs from specially prepared paper to a wood or glass or metal surface [syn: decal]

User Contributed Dictionary



From décalcomanie


  1. The process of transferring decorative designs onto surfaces using decals


the process of transferring designs onto surfaces using decals
  • Spanish: calcomanía

Extensive Definition

Decalcomania, from the French décalcomanie, is a decorative technique by which engravings and prints may be transferred to pottery or other materials. It was invented in England about 1750 and imported into the United States at least as early as 1865. Its invention has been attributed to Simon François Ravenet, an engraver from France who later moved to England and perfected the process he called "decalquer" (which means to copy by tracing). It is pronounced DEE-CALK. The first known use of the French term décalcomanie, in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Eleanor's Victory (1863), was soon followed by the English decalcomania in an 1865 trade show catalog (The Tenth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanics' Association); it was popularized during the ceramic transfer craze of the mid-1870s. Today the shortened version is "Decal".
The surrealist Oscar Domínguez (referring to his work as "decalcomania with no preconceived object") took up the technique in 1936, using gouache spread thinly on a sheet of paper or other surface (glass has been used), which is then pressed onto another surface such as a canvas. Black gouache was originally used in Dominguez's practice, though colours later made their appearance.
Richard Genovese originated the practice of photographic decalcomania, in which photographic scans are superimposed on decalcomanias. His images are decalcomanias produced in a rapid succession without forethought, the most 'beautiful' ones, the ones that suggest something more or other than a decalcomania are set aside. Then a series of photographic images are superimposed upon scans of the decalcomanias and bits and pieces suggest themselves into the framework of the 'paint blots'. Anything that seems forced is immediately rejected. The process is similar to gazing at cloud formations and visualizing objects within the wispy fog. The photographic images "magically" induce themselves to the decalcomanias and vice versa. It is all rather by chance encounter and the exercise is a sort of re-suggestion of through more traditional decalcomania.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, King Features Syndicate marketed a set of decalcomanias bearing full-color pictures of characters from King Features comic strips, including Flash Gordon, the Katzenjammer Kids and Dagwood Bumstead. Intended for young children who might have difficulty pronouncing or reading the word "decalcomanias", these transfers were marketed as "Cockamamies", a deliberate mispronunciation of that word. The term "cockamamie" has entered the language with various slang meanings, usually denoting something that is wacky, strange or unusual.
The production of decalcomanias has not been confined to art. At Yale University fingerpaint decalcomanias have been analysed for their tendency, when the process is repeated several times on the same paper, to generate fractals.
A variation of this procedure in which paint is applied to a paper, the paper then being folded, is popularly practiced (though without surrealist intent) by young schoolchildren.


"Decalcomania," Harper's Bazaar, April 4, 1868
decalcomania in German: Dekalkomanie
decalcomania in Spanish: Decalcomanía
decalcomania in Japanese: デカルコマニー
decalcomania in Russian: Декалькомания
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