Exercise: Using reference


“Collect as much reference as you can find for the1950s period. Catalogue the information you find according to these categories”:

  • People and costume
  • Architecture and interiors
  • Art – painting, drawing sculpture
  • Graphic design – posters, books, typography
  • Advertising
  • Transport
  • Film and TV
  • Surface pattern and decoration

I focussed on 1950’s America for this exercise.  Below I have made a mood board compiled of images from the above categories:

1950s America was an exciting yet conflicted time. Less than a decade after recovering from WWII, the country experienced enormous economic growth, and as a result, consumerism was on the rise. There was a considerable boom in advertising, which seemed to be the real drive behind this change in history. TV shows and films produced at the time all carried with them the idea of the American dream and were advertisements in themselves for the lifestyle they portrayed. It was still a mans world, though, and woman’s rights in employment and equal pay were still a long way off.

In 1953 the first colour TV’s were sold in America opening the door to colourful TV shows and advertising. The bright saturated colours from the 50’s advertising blended into the everyday home, with an array of brilliant coloured furniture and feature walls. To look at a 50’s home interior is to think of someone who had only just experienced colour for the first time, and has gone to the extreme to make each object stand out. Not always matching and with strong, vibrant colours mixed with geometric tiles and wallpaper, the 50’s American homes can look muddled and experimental in comparison to today’s standards.

Fashion overall was given a broader palette of colour. Looking back at previous generations, you can see an explosion of colour spread through every aspect of life.


“Are there reflections of the 1950s in any areas of contemporary art, design or culture? If so what– give examples? It may be useful to look both at what preceded and followed the 1950s to gain a sense of the broader context of this era”.

American 50’s design changed dramatically from the ’40s, progressing from thick padded, bolster armchairs to introducing thinner foam with exposed wooden armrests and a more stylish sleek look. This was continued into the ’60s only to be stripped down even more and creating almost singe piece furniture with stylistic curves and metal bases.

Fashion overall did not change too much from previous years, but there was a considerable change towards the late ’50s early ’60s. This shows the major change in culture from the ’50s with unique hairstyles and the introduction of bright colours and patterns.

For music and men’s fashion, the changes from the ’40s to ’50s were slow. It’s only until the late’50s early ’60s that the change in style is more noticeable. The innocence of the ’40s is transformed by the rock n roll of the late ’50s, followed by the rebellious era of the ’60s.

In today’s market, there has been an almost full circle of design. Interior design has seen a resurgence of “retro” furniture resembling that of the ’50s-’60s.

Classic designs from the ’50s are still sorted after. The famous chair by Charles and Ray Eames from 1956 were reproduced in 2006 and still sell to this day.

Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman
2019 Eames Lounge Chair


“Now make an illustration of someone sitting in a chair surrounded by typical artefacts to give a teenager an idea of the 1950s”.

Final Illustration


I was happy with the final illustration. I feel that it relates to the period well, and I was happy with the textures and decor. Looking back at this drawing, I think I could have added a few more details for depth. I would have also liked to try a different perspective.