Using Reference

Exercise: Using Reference (1950s)

Sources: J.Legrand. (1988) Chronicle of the 20th Century. Paris. SA International,,


The 1950s was the golden age of public transport, in 1950 1 in 3 vehicles was a bus or a lorry. In the cities worn out trams were replaced by electric trolley buses and petrol buses which provided frequent services. The railways were nationalised with routes criss crossing the whole the country and plans to bring the steam era to an end. The motorway network was also modernised. Electronics and engineering had made great strides during the war and car sales were boosted with the end of petrol rationing in 1950. Few families could afford cars though, with many opting for the cheaper alternative of motorbike and sidecar. Bicycles were widely used both for commuting and recreation.

Sources: J.Legrand. (1988) Chronicle of the 20th Century. Paris. SA International,

The 1950s was a boom decade. The end of rationing in 1952; wartime advances in science and engineering; higher disposable incomes and ‘out with the old and in with the new’ in place of ‘make do and mend’ created a decade of consumerism which had a huge impact on its visual characteristics.


The 1950s was the dream decade for advertising companies. People had more money to spend so advertising was big business. But by today’s standards, the print advertising was mysogynistic, sexist, racist, politically incorrect and generally inappropriate!

Sexual images of women were used to entice men into buying cars, cigarettes and alcohol while gender stereotyping was encouraged through adverts depicting the perfect housewife using particular products. Women were portrayed as being weak and submissive with some adverts even contained images of physical abuse toward them for making mistakes with the shopping or cooking.

Adverts for drugs and cigarettes made outrageous claims about why they were ‘good for you’, even going as far as using pregnant women and babies in ad campaigns. They also weren’t averse to fuelling self esteem issues over weight!

Visually, advertising differed from today in that it contained a lot more words. In many adverts there were great chunks of text explaining why the product was needed and what it could do for you. Today visual communication is used rather than text. (Sources:,, Pinterest)

Graphic Design

The 1950s was the era when graphic design superstars Paul Rand, Saul Bass, Max Bill and Milton Glaser started agencies and unveiled iconic logos.” (Brant Wilson In contrast to the softly painted images of happy housewives, these designers were bringing something new and more cutting edge. Their designs were bolder in colour, used geometric shapes and were stylish in simplicity. The trend in fonts was sans serif which complemented the modern aesthetic.

Nona Triennale di Milano poster 1951

Bold colours, rectangles and sans serif font

TWA poster david klein.jpg

Poster for TWA created by David Klein

Use of bright colours and geometric shapes give this a look that could be classed as contemporary now.


Poster created by saul bass for hitchcock’s 1958 film vertigo

“From the 1950s and increasing number of graphic designers were drawn to the medium of the picture book. Designers were trained in drawing and typography (and in drawing type). Suddenly, books that showed a unified approach to concept, image and typography were appearing.”Salisbury.M and Styles.M(2012)Children’s Picture Books: The Art of Visual Storytelling. London.LaurenceKing.p.29 . This was a time when the relationship between words and pictures was becoming more thoroughly understood and conveyed. The image below from Antonio Frasconi’s See and Say shows that the trend in design for advertising crossed over into picture book making, as did designers such as Paul Rand.

Miroslav Sasek was an authorial artist originally from Czechoslovakia who, inspired on a trip to Paris, created travel guides for children in the late 1950s and 1960s. The photos below are from This is Paris (1958) and This is London (1959). Note the sans serif font used for the text.


The major movement in the 1950s was abstract expressionism with artists such as Peggy Guggenheim, Mondrian and Jackson Pollock being leading lights. Two areas formed within abstract expressionism, action painting and colour field painting. Action painting was all about the ‘feel’ when creating an artwork, Pollock and Franz Kline were two artists considered to be action painters. Artists such as Mark Rothko and Robert Motherwell were big names in colour field painting which, as its name suggests, was centred on colour.

The 1950s also paved the way for the pop art movement. “The main impetus of English pop came out of discussions, from 1952 onwards between writers like Alloway, John McHale, and the architectural critic Reyner Banham, and such artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton. This group put on a pioneering exhibition at the London Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in 1956, called “This Is Tomorrow”- a quasi- anthropological, semi ironic, but wholly enthusiastic look at the mass imagery of the early electronic age.”Hughes.R The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change (1980)London.BBC


By the 1950s, television was more than a method of delivering information, with a major boom in its use coming with the live screening of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Popular shows were swashbuckling period drama series such as Robin Hood and The Count of Monte Cristo, trivia shows and entertainment shows like Sunday Night at the London Palladium. Comedy such as Hancock’s Half Hour was also popular. The latter part of the decade was heavily influenced by America with a rush of prize winning game shows and imported cop shows.


In British cinema, the most popular genre of film was the British war film with two of the blockbusters of the decade being Bridge on the River Kwai and Dambusters. Comedy was also popular with Ealing Studios making films such as The Ladykillers and Lavender Hill Mob. Alec Guiness was a big star in the 1950s appearing in both war and comedy films. Rising comedy stars such as Peter Sellers and Norman Wisdom also appeared in the 1950s. Towards the end of the decade, Ealing comedies gave way to the rather less genteel and rather more absurd, early Carry On films. Hammer studios were making their lurid horror films with stars Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee starring in titles such as Dracula and The Curse of Frankenstein.

Across the Atlantic, 1950s film saw the rise of the anti hero with actors such as Paul Newman, Ava Gardner, Kim Novak and Marilyn Monroe. As anti heroes James Dean and Marlon Brando led the way in rebellion and juvenile delinquency in their respective films, Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and The Wild One (1954). Cinema was gearing itself more to a youth orientated market with rock and roll films such as the Glenn Millar Story in 1954 and Elvis’ Rock Around the Clock and Love me Tender in 1956. Hoards of cheap teen movies were also made.



For women, the 1950s were all about a return to femininity with the hourglass figure being celebrated by British designers such as Christian Dior. Waists were cinched with girdles being a must have item. Petticoats were worn to create bouffant skirts. In contrast to the wide skirts were wiggle dresses and pencil skirts, although the waists were similarly tight. Waists became looser towards the end of the decade. Fabric was plain, or patterned with florals, spots, plaid and stripes. Colours were quite bright. Accessories such as gloves and bags were a must for a lady, as was a spiked umbrella. Hats weren’t worn as much as in previous years for fear of ruining hairstyles. The beret and headscarves were popular though. At the beginning of the decade shoes had round toes with peephole toes. During the decade these gave way to the stiletto.

The mass market, ready to wear, clothing industry really took off with brands like Marks and Spencer especially popular. The small dressmaker virtually disappeared and middle class women made their own clothes from patterns. My illustrations (below right) show two different styles of dress and are created in the style of dressmaking patterns (below left). I used gouache because I wanted bright block colour and oil pastel for shadow.

Fashion was heavily influenced by film. Audrey Hepburn inspired capri pants, knitwear and flat ballet pumps were very popular and were great everyday items.


This illustration by M. Sasek from his 1959 children’s book, This is London perfectly sums up male clothing in the 1950s.

Men’s dress didn’t change much from work to leisure. Mostly they wore suits, although wearing a tie with a jumper or cardigan instead of jacket was common casual wear. Shoes were very important, often expensive and kept super shiny. Hats were also a must have accessory, as were pipes.


Before the 1950s, the term ‘teenagers’ didn’t exist, there were children and youths. But in the fifties, these ‘youths’ were working and earning more money than ever before. They had their own places to hang out, their own music and could buy their own clothes. For the first time, they had their own fashion rather than wearing mini versions of adult wear. Influenced by stars such as Marlon Brando and James Dean, teenagers were adopting a ‘rebel’ look consisting of denim jeans, t shirts and leather jackets. Rock and Roll music inspired the Teddy Boy look. The sketches below show some of the teen fashion.

Sources: Legrand. J (1988) Chronicle of the 20th Century. Paris. SA International,, Pinterest,, www.thevintage

Architecture and Housing

475,000 houses were destroyed or made inhabitable during the war which created a huge housing shortage. At the beginning of the decade many people were still living in slum conditions with no running water. To solve the problem, there were mass council house building projects with 2.5 millions homes built between 1946 and 1957. The trend in 1950s housing were flat roofs without chimneys, blocks of flats, inside bathrooms and plain brickwork. Due to the plain exterior, 1950s housing is widely regarded as being boring.

interior design

Open plan living was on trend in the 1950s, often with a minimalist style. Furniture was all about ‘built in’ and space saving innovations. Cabinets opened into writing desks, tables had extenders and televisions were often built in to the furniture. It was influenced by Scandinavian design which is defined by clean lines and working with a material’s properties. The sketches below of 1950s furniture and lighting were made from photos in 50’s Decorative Art by Charlotte and Peter Fiell.

Kitchens were built in with cabinets made from steel which was still in war production mode and therefore cheap. A ‘space age’ modern look with clean lines was popular. Functionality left little room for decoration. Kitchens were brightly coloured with laminate counter tops and linoleum floors.

Colour trends in 1950s interiors tended to fall into three categories:

Pastel - pink, blue, yellow

Scandi - brown, cream, grey

Modern - vibrant brights

Below I have explored 1950s fabrics and textile trends using paint and printing techniques. At the beginning of the decade, detailed pictorial designs were common followed by geometric and more graphic style images in the latter half. Hand printing and screen printing were the most common techniques for creating textiles.

Sources: 50’s Decorative Art by Charlotte and Peter Fiell,,

Fashion and interior design are the areas that bear the most similarity to today. Capri pants, ballet pumps, stilettos, pencil skirts, duster coats and knitwear are still on trend. Mid century interiors are currently very fashionable, being revived as Mid Century Modern. I have a sideboard and sofa that would not have looked out of place in the 1950s. Scandinavian design is still hugely popular as are clean lines and built in kitchens. Lighting hardly seems to have changed either.


Exercise: Making a Moodboard

From the list of words we were given, I chose ‘destruction’ on which to create my moodboard and started my making a mind map of words and ideas associated with it. I also made more thorough notes on some of the ideas I particularly wanted to include.

While researching destruction of nature, I came across CG images illustrating the slogan ‘Destroying Nature is Destroying Life’ created by Illusion in collaboration with environmental activists Robin Wood. This artwork is hard hitting and really struck a chord with me. Below shows their work and my process to creating my own version that I have included on my moodboard.

I sourced the photos on the internet and used photoshop to see how best the photos should be laid on top of each other to try and create a scene. This was partially successful, particularly on the left and in the middle, however the right side doesn’t seamlessly flow. If I was to create the image again, I would also try to make the blend of the collaged part on the hedgehog’s head into the drawing smoother.

The next part of the mind map I wanted to focus on was sea life and coral bleaching. Below shows my exploration of this idea. I explored the idea using different media, trying to create the look and texture of coral, then I remembered a suggestion from my tutor that I try to use digital techniques. So the coral on the right is my first attempt at scanning in a drawing to colour using photoshop! I was quite pleased with it but didn’t find the process nearly as enjoyable as creating art traditionally, and looking at the screen for so long made my eyes hurt!

My finished ‘destruction’ moodboard. While I was exploring ideas, the hierarchy for the board became clear to me. I wanted to have the main focus on destruction of nature which is the theme for half the board. I’ve included one of the CG images mentioned earlier and my hedgehog and coral art work. In addition to that I included a picture and quote from a children’s book about the destruction of nature called ‘Varmints’.

From here I chose to focus on destruction of our way of life and the threat of terrorism. I’ve visited the 9/11 museum in New York and was struck by the sense of unity and coming together such destruction can bring. The photo at the bottom right is a photo I took of a displayed photo of New Yorkers coming together at Ground Zero one year on. This unity after destruction took my thinking to the fall of Communism and destruction of the Berlin wall which also led to unity. The photos of the Berlin Wall are two I took while visiting a few years ago. Finally I wanted to include self destruction. The phrase pictured here is a common one among people experiencing low self worth and a torrent of negative thoughts. Basquait’s artwork is a perfect visual representation of it.

The only colours that really entered my mind when thinking about destruction are the ones I have included on the board. Shades of orange, black and grey for burning, flames and ash. I covered the board in wall paper that has the look and feel of burning wood. I explored burning a little further in my sketchbook before putting the board together. (Shown below)

I explored ways to create a burning tree look, including using charcoal from my fire which worked very well. I used the charcoal/pastel pencil method shown at the bottom on my final moodboard to depict a forest in various stages of burning.

While completing this exercise I realised that it takes a lot of curation. I had to filter out some of my original ideas in order to visually communicate a particular theme within the theme of destruction. Many of the ideas on my original mind map weren’t included.

Words to Pictures

Exercise: Turning words into pictures

I chose ‘kitchen’ as my word to turn into pictures. I think I chose it because I quickly formed lots of mind pictures connected with it. I drew without reference as many things as I could think of connected to the kitchen. The colour yellow featured because it does in my kitchen.

When finished, I noticed that the pictures of the objects are in a similar style creating an organised and uniform feel, much like kitchens have. I think I have created a catalogue of images associated with the word, but I haven’t used a variety of materials, perhaps because kitchens usually have that uniform look about them. I also found adding textures difficult. The main properties of materials coming to mind were hard, smooth and reflective, the tin foil represents two of these.

By choosing the word kitchen, I felt I had limited myself creatively. It conjured immediate images meaning I didn’t need to think more deeply. So I decided to do the exercise again and chose the adjective ‘wild’.

In contrast to the kitchen pictures, these have a much looser, wilder look about them. I was much more carefree in the way I created the images. What I noticed most was the variety of strokes I used, curly, wavy, zigzag, compared with the straight and curved lines used in kitchen. I also used a range of materials and created the look of different textures.

Generating Ideas

Exercise: Spider diagrams

I was tasked with creating spider diagrams for the following words: Seaside, childhood, angry, festival.

I started with angry and asked someone else to complete a separate one at the same time.

In mine (on the left) I wrote down anything that came into my mind connected to the word including things with angry in the title, visual effects of anger, consequences and reasons. The diagram on the right focused much more on reasons for anger and was quite in depth in this area. We only had two words the same which I have circled on my version.

We then took the word ‘childhood’ but this time created a spider diagram together rather than separately. We both took a very subjective approach, basing it on our own childhoods. I later decided I wanted to create another, more objective diagram which is shown underneath. My associations are in pencil, then I googled childhood and added those ideas in pink. Initially the search only resulted in information about stages of development so I had to change the search to childhood fun.

The word ‘seaside’ was easier because it immediately conjures lots of mind pictures and visual associations. Living near the coast all my life also helped here. It was interesting to see how associations about something as universally well known as the seaside differ from person to person. My immediate thoughts went to Victorian holidaying, promenades and piers, while someone else thought about crabs, jellyfish and breakwaters. My ideas are in green below, the other person’s are circled in pink. The common ideas are underlined.

The final spider digram was completed in tandem with my 18 year old daughter, her contribution is circled in pink. As you can see, we had totally different initial associations with the word totally influenced by our age! This exercise has really made me realise how differently people think and has helped me see the value and importance of primary and secondary research to help open up a subject and thoroughly explore ideas.

Part 2 Ideas: The Brief

Exercise: Writing a brief

For this exercise I was tasked with writing a brief that will have led to the creation of a chosen image. I have become interested in the work of Felicita Sala, initially in her illustration of children’s books and then in her food illustration. I also have real love for illustrated non fiction, cooking and cookery programmes I so thought one of her illustrated recipes would work well for this exercise. This recipe is from her website. The photograph below this shows some initial notes about what the brief could have been that I made in my learning log. However I felt like I missed a step. I felt like I needed to create a spider diagram about what the illustration shows before jumping straight in to write the brief. I also wanted to do some research into illustrated recipes to help identify a role for the image.

The photo above shows my spider diagram. I researched food illustration in order to find a role. The research led me to a website called “They Draw and Cook’ which are cookery books featuring illustrated recipes. To begin with I thought this was perfect but the recipes are submitted by the artist, rather than there being a brief as such. I looked into food magazines and in particular contemporary and independent ones. I came across ‘The Gourmand’ but this wasn’t right because the images in that are either photos or hyper real. Eventually I found a New York based publication called ‘Diner Journal’ which features, “art, literature and recipes providing a thematic exploration into food, inspiration and creativity. This seemed a perfect fit for Felicita Sala’s contemporary style. My research also enabled me to pinpoint an audience more effectively.

The Brief

To illustrate a recipe for Thai Barracuda Soup to be featured in independent food magazine ‘Diner Journal’ which features art, literature and recipes. Diner Journal has a readership of design conscious cooks who enjoy trying new cuisines and being experimental and creative with food. The magazine is 13 x 18 cm in size so the artwork will need to fit those dimensions.

The illustration will consist of a method to make the dish, together with images of the ingredients needed to make it. You will need to create an illustration of each ingredient separately: barracuda, coconut milk, Thai rice, green chilli, red curry paste, palm sugar, lime juice, yam or potato, coriander and salt and pepper. These should be positioned around the method which will read as follows: Heat coconut milk and some water in a wok. Add salt, pepper, sugar, chilli, curry paste and vegetables. Cook 5 minutes. Add fish chunks, cook 5 more minutes. Sprinkle with lime and coriander.

This method should be handwritten and should form less than a quarter of the overall page. It should be placed amongst the ingredients, centrally positioned at the bottom. Each ingredient must be labelled, also by hand. Labels that vary from just the name of the ingredient are as follows: lime juice, a drizzle; 1 tbsp fresh coriander; yam or potato, cut into strips; barracuda chunks. The title of the dish should also be hand lettered and be positioned at the top of the artwork.

The images will need to look true to life but there is scope for some stylisation. Distortion or surrealism are not appropriate because the ingredients need to be recognisable. Colours should be as they appear in real life, however there may be variation in tone. Any materials or media can be used with the exceptions of photography, printing or collage.