Key Steps in Illustration: Using Reference, pt. 2

I continued with some further research and catalogued different aspects of life in the 1950s:


In the 1950s, the American film and music stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elisabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Humphrey Bogart, Doris Day, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra defined the era (cf. or here).


My impression of 1950s fashion is that is was elegant for both men and women. Evereybody seemed to dress their best, especially on Sundays for the obligatory church visit (Source).  Generally I found that women wore pettycoat dresses (see here), men wore suits (see here), both very much inspired by the American look, similar to the celebrities, film and TV that defined this decade. One explanation for dressing smartly could be that after the war time, and having to rebuild destroyed cities, money was tight the decades before. In the 1950s wealth was built again, and the people wanted to show of the harmony and happiness.


For some inspiration, listed to some of the greatest songs from the 1950s (also here or here), which includes Elvis Presely, Bill Haley & His Comets, Buddy Holly, Ray Charles, Dean Martin, Paul Anka, and others. The music is very groovy; it swings and rock and rolls. Icons like Elvis Presley rose to fame, and got a fan base around the world. People enjoyed Rock’N’Roll, Rockabilly jive, and Boogie Woogie in couple dance (some more examples here).

Books, Films, and TV

Famous books published in the 1950s include: J. D. Salinger “The Catcher in the Rye”,  Arthur Miller “Death of a Salesmen”, “A View From the Bridge”, and Ernest Hemingway “The Old Man and The Sea” (cf. The list of famous films is quite long, so here are just some examples of the greatest films in the 1950s: Vertigo, Rear Window, Singing in the Rain, All about Eve, Some like it hot, Ben Hur, or High Noon, (cf. here or here). TV was mainly sitcoms, and game shows like the Prize is Right (source), as well as westerns.

Arts and Graphic Design

Some great examples of 1950s graphic design can be seen here, here, or here. It was more experimental than before, and there were multiple styles that can be seen in the 1950s. One of the famous graphic designers of the time, Paul Rand, and others adopted concepts from modern Arts, like cubism. One idea also was that simplicity is key (source), which is the result of a great idea and a good layout. I believe that is one of the basic principles that still is valid today. Designers shouldn’t overload their designs with too many things, but concentrate on the most relevant facts or ideas they want to convey, and then come up with a simple layout. In the 1950s, Paul Rand created the the inital version of today’s IBM logo, which he then refined in the 1970s to today’s version.

Also worth mentioning is that the popular font Helvetica was invented in 1957, and continues to be one of the most commonly used fonts today with many companies and designers (source). It is considered timeless because it is without serifs, and easy to read.

In Art, there were several movements that can be considered typical for the 1950s, e.g. Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field Painting, or Early Pop Art. (Source). Famous examples include Jackon Pollock or Mark Rothko.


The 1950s were considered the decade of consumerism, because consumer products, like refrigerators, kitchen supplies, clothes, and whatnot were available for everyone to buy. People were wealthy to actually be able to afford small “luxuries”, and often looked for ways to make life easy. Advertising was what you would today call “retro” or “vintage”. It often featured pop-up girls, housewives, children or families to promote products. A quick overview can be seen on Google picture search here or here. Advertising also reinforced gender roles. Women were often depicted in kitchen or household scenaries, whereas men were seen with the latest cars, DIY items, or similar (source). Today, ads like these are considered sexists (source, e.g. here) and more recently, newly created ads featured men in the same pose, which caused another debate about what is sexist. Also what is important to note that increasingly TV advertising sold products (source), because more and more families could affort their own TV set at home. Some examples can be seen here.

Architecture and Interior Design

Some examples of 1950s architecture can be seen here. The interior design has a new fresh look with bright colours, and new shapes, which can be considered modern. There are often clean lines, with clear designs. Many of these designs are also still modern today, or picked up by today’s interior designers because they are considered a classsic or timeless, e.g.Vitra chairs by Charles and Ray Eames. 1950s architecture can also be considered modern. It’s also known as mid-century modern, and features clean designs, lots of glass facades, rectangular shapes. See some examples here.

Surface Pattern

Patterns in the 1950s were bold, often with bright colours. Some examples can be found on Google picture search here. The are often abstract, geometrical shapes, and floral scenes.
Before then working on an actual piece of a person sitting in a kitchen chair and surrounded by artefacts from the 1950s, I feel that I need to add some other patterns to the scene, like tapestry, sewing patters for pettycoats and some kitchen accessories, and lamps as well as popular women’s hairstyles. I also looked at illustrations of 1950s scenes – which to me most often look like old-fashioned advertisments. See some examples here, here or here. Especially one and two only  show a part of a kitchen scene, but still are able to convey the 1950s atmosphere through the items, style of clothing, etc. So at one brief glance you are taken back in time.

I decided to try a similar approach to this advertisment, i.e. not cover the whole kitchen, but only a part of it, adding more kitchen equipment than in the previous scene I created, some typical 50s tapestry, and draw a person with a 50s dress. I decided to use this particular angle to add some dynamics to the piece – basically the kitchen counter and the floor divide the picture – and also cut things like the window for a more interesting view. My idea was to show a housewive in the kitchen, having a cup of coffee, after making a cake (that is now getting ready in the oven). Hence the kitchen appliances are still on the kitchen top. It is her time to take a breath, and relax briefly before the kids come back from school, and the husband returns home.

To convey the “modern times” I used bright colours because I think they are iconic for the time, and added typcial patterns like on the tapestry and curtain. The woman has a 1950s dress and hairstyle. I like this style a lot, also because I am a lindy hop dancer (something I do in my leisure time and where I take a lot of inspiration from – more details to follow). Lindy hop is danced to swing music starting in the 1920s, but also from later decades, 30s, 40s, and 50s, etc. (e.g. Ray Charles) so the music from the 1950s is very powerful and bouncy, and in a way similar to the colourful kitchen I tried to create here.

1950s kitchen illustration
1950s kitchen illustration

Looking back, also at the first scene that I did, I feel that this illustration and composition works better. The diagonal lines add some dynamic to the picture that lead the viewer into the scene from the top left. They can then observe the various kitchen items and make note of the typcial patterns, and take in the key idea of the image (housewives enjoying a cup of coffee in her kitchen), which is in focus. However, I feel that it might be somewhat to bright, and the person appears to be a bit lost in the  overall picture. I consider creating another piece that has a larger focus on the person – similar to the adverts I looked at, and that uses elements of this second piece like the tapestry, some kitchen items etc.


References: 1950 Famous People. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “1950s Sewing Patterns | Swing and Wiggle Dresses, Skirts”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “1950s Petticoat History”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “1950s Menswear Clothing”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL

Womenlivingwell. “What Sundays were like in the 1950s” by Courtney. Published on Sept 22, 2010. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL

YouTube videos with 1950s music [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017] URL, URL, URL, URL, URL

Google searches for several items, see text above. “Cars we loved in the 1950s”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017] URL “1950s Transport”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL

Smallbusiness.cron. “What Caused the Advertising Industry Boom in the 1950s?” by Valerie Bolden-Barrett. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL

Roundpeg. “Reminder: Advertising in the 1950s Had No Chill” by Jenna. Published on Mar 6, 2017. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “History: 1950s”. Published on Sept 15, 2003. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “Advertising in the 1950s”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “10 Most Sexist Print Ads from the 1950s” by Julian Crowley. Published on Dec 10, 2010. URL

Architectural Digest. “1950s Midcentury-Modern Design and Architecture”. Published on Nov 30, 2007. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “Period styles: 1950s”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “Charles & Ray Eames”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “A Pocket Guide to Mid-Century Modern Style” by lindacee. Published on July 27, 2017. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “Helvetica at 50” by Finlo Rohrer. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL

Visualartsdepartment. “Graphic Design History” [Accesssed on Oct 3, 2017] URL “”. [Accesssed on Oct 3, 2017] URL “Graphic Design Through The Decades Series: The ’50s”. Published on April 21, 2010. [Accesssed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “4 principles by Paul Rand that may surprise you” by Alex Bigman. Published in 2013.  [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “Paul Rand”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “The Story of 1950s Art”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “34 Famous Movie Stars of the 1950s”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL

Listchallenges. “100 Greatest Movies of the 1950s”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL

Pastemagazine “The 100 Best Movies of the 1950s” by Amy Glynn and Paste staff. Published on June 3, 2017. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “1950s TV Shows: What Did People Watch?”. [Accessed on Oct 3, 2017]. URL “If the tables were turned! Photographer recreates outrageously sexist vintage adverts – with the MEN on the receiving end” by Hana Carter. Published on Jan 18, 2018. [Accessed on Jan 28, 2017]  URL


One thought on “Key Steps in Illustration: Using Reference, pt. 2

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.