For this exercise, we are asked to gather visual reference for the 1950s period under a variety of topics and categories such as transport, architecture and interiors and advertising.
Here are the mixture of images I’ve gathered using Pinterest:
We are also asked to write a short review of the 1950s from a visual perspective. Here is my review:
In the 1950s there was prosperity and feelings of peace and optimism after World War II ended. People were having lots of babies, often referred to as ‘The Baby Boom’ and the era also saw the birth of consumerism.
There were low levels of inflation and unemployment and people, especially the middle class, were receiving higher wages. The range and availability of consumer goods increased so they bought more than ever before.
Image from www.thecoca-colacompany.com
After the war, women were encouraged to leave work to go back to the home and have babies, look after the house and their husbands. Many magazine, newspaper articles and adverts were targeted at these women to further encourage them down this path. Many of these adverts were very sexist and would more than likely cause an uproar in this day and age.
Image from www.dailymail.co.uk
Radical social changes marked the 1950s and illustrators often used their work to make a commentary about what was going on. A lot of illustrators wanted to express themselves and produce work that was outside of the constraints of their commercial work.
Many designers felt that they now had the creative freedom to change things and come up with new types of designs. They were strongly influenced by artists such as Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein and Alexander Calder. Architecture, sculpture, abstract art and nature were also used for inspiration and these influences can be seen in the work of designers such as Ruth Adler, Lucienne Day and Barbara Brown.
Calyx Furnishings Fabric by Lucienne Day, 1951, image from http://www.robinandluciennedayfoundation.org/
Some of the visual characteristics that typify the 1950s are pastel colours and shiny home appliances. There was a lot of yellow, red, orange, green & blue colours used in advertising, and illustrations and adverts often showcas a lot of smiling faces of housewives, families, friends & children.
Other visual characteristics of the era include wide angles in architecture, angular, sweeping, sprawling, open plan living spaces and glass wall fronts. Images also show a lot of land around houses, big gardens and front lawns. In contrast, the furniture inside homes featured a lot of curves and smooth edges which were more often a feature of chairs, tables, cabinets & counters.
General online searches about the 1950s mainly depict pictures of daily life in America and the UK and not many showing typical lifestyles in other countries. You have to do specific searches to find those types of images and to also find images of ethnic minorities in the 1950s.
Whilst researching for this exercise, I understand much more the importance and value of using a variety of sources and not relying solely on the internet. Some of the information I found in books was very interesting and relevant.
Are there reflections of the 1950s in any areas of contemporary art, design or culture? If so what– give examples?
Yes, I’ve noticed that some modern pattern designers and illustrators have been influenced by the 1950s. Rachael Taylor is one designer whose quirky work I really like and she has stated that she is strongly influenced by Lucienne Day, who produced much of her work in the 1950s.
Image of Rachael Taylor’s 50s Inspired design from www.denydesigns.com
Another contemporary designer I’ve noticed is Rachel Cave whose pattern design work seems to be strongly influenced by the 1950s too, in terms of her strong graphic elements/shapes and the colour palettes she uses.
Image from Rachel Cave’s Online Portfolio
Some furniture design that is popular today is also taking inspiration from the 1950s plus fashion eras definitely come around again and again. Some elements of 1950s fashion influences can be seen in todays fashion:
Image from www.vintagevandalizm.com
Finally, we are also asked to make an illustration of someone sitting in a chair surrounded by typical artefacts to give a teenager an idea of the 1950s.
I focused on the the fact that the illustration was geared towards a teenage audience which helped me to narrow down the content of the illustration. I decided to make the setting a teenager’s bedroom since I thought that would be a good place to show the items that might interest a teenager and give them an idea of the 1950s era.
I worried a lot about perspective of the room and the items in it and so practised a bit before drawing the final illustration. Here are some pages from my sketchbook:
Below is the drawing I decided on with the inked version beneath it:
Below is my first attempt at digitizing and colouring the illustration using Adobe Illustrator:
I realised at one point that I didn’t research the era properly after noticing a couple of errors. The first was the poster/picture on the wall about Bob King and Teenarama Dance Party which actually aired in the 1960s not the 50s so I had to change that to be historically accurate. Another thing I had to change were the colours since they weren’t true to the popular colours at the time but I’m not sure how well I achieved this authenticity in my final illustration.
Below are some re-colouring attempts where I tried to include more pastels:
And below is my final illustration:
There is more yellow, red and more pastel colours, plus I’ve updated the poster on the wall. I’m still not totally happy with the colours and I think this is something I need to pay more attention to in the future, possibly by carefully choosing a colour palette in the beginning so that I’m not going all over the place choosing colour after colour in the final stages.
I’m pleased that during my research I found the theme of dance parties television shows to base my illustration on. I chose to focus on the part of the era when rock and roll was emerging and these Saturday night dance shows were very popular with teenagers. Some of the most popular shows were the all black shows because of the revolutionary dance moves which teenagers at home loved to practise to as they watched the show. Once such popular show was The Mitch Thomas Show as shown in the poster in the girl’s bedroom.
I used Live Trace in Illustrator to digitise my ink drawing and colour it in. The next time I use this method I will make sure to work on a white paper instead of that cream colour and I will also use a thicker pen to ink my drawing as the Live Trace function found it difficult to pick up the thinner lines accurately. For one of the illustrations I will do in the future for this course, I will try a completely vectorized drawing in Illustrator using the pen tool to see how that turns out and whether I enjoy that way of working more. In a way using live trace was quicker because I wasn’t re-drawing my illustration.
I added subtle texture to the patterned wallpaper, the rug, the bedsheets and the carpet to give them some extra interest and be more like 1950s decor. Apparently in the 1950s it was common to have a wall which was the feature wall with a bold colour and the other walls were complementary or contrasting so I tried to convey this in my illustration. I could have made the pictures on the wall look more like authentic 1950s posters.
Some things I would improve are the perspective, maybe have more clothes showing and more clothes that successfully depict the fashion of the times since teenagers are usually quite into clothes and fashion. I would make more of an effort with the colour palette as mentioned previously.
The final illustration looks a bit cluttered to me and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious focal point. However, I like how lively and colourful my illustration is and I think overall I have successfully answered the brief.
Fifty Years of Illustration, Lawrence Zeegan, Caroline Roberts, Laurence King Publishing, 2014, London
Thinking Visually for Illustrators, 2nd Edition, Mark Wigan, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2014
Dancing Around the “Glaring Light of Television”: Black Teen Dance Shows in the South by Matthew F. Delmont, Arizona State University, article published September 29, 2015