Using Reference – Pt 2

Aiming for a simple “classic” British family in the 1950s result!

My main ideas

One of my first ideas sketched in my “thinking” out phase, was to have the image within a cutout of an 1950s television. I had a hard time letting go of this idea however I think it is for the best that I do. Reason for this is that while it would be creative and different, I would easily lose the objective of this exercise, the television would dominate the image, I would lose the purpose of this illustration very quickly. Another reason I would also lose the chance to explore the full exploration of a more retro style. I’m aiming for more mid 1950s as the turn of each century means a chance could feel more 40s/60s as the periods cross over, early 1950s is still very much post war and rationing, while from mid 50s the era started to become more defined.

Each idea will include artifacts and decor of the 1950s

  • The man sat in a chair with wife and children behind him. Fake smiles and deadpan eyes from the rest of the family.
  • women on her hands and knees dusting the chair while trying to maintain the perfect wife look.
  • Family around the T.V
  • Man in the chair reading a newspaper and son on the floor playing cars.
  • Children reading a magazine on the chair, the magazine is titled what would the future be like?
  • The man sat in the chair looking smug and prideful, women behind him with a fake smile, while looks like she is a supportive wife, in her hands she looks like she is about to hit him with the dusting brush.
  • Freaky keeping up with the Jones’ style family portrait.
  • Women looking outside the window awaiting her husband to come home.

Of all my ideas, I love the one of having the wife behind the man with a fake smile about to kill him with a pan or dusting brush. If this piece brief was an older audience or a bit of humour I would go down this route. But I would think from the exercise brief that the target audience piece being teenagers that this would need to be more educational for school, it could also be a piece in an educational magazine for teenagers.
Such as The Week junior, i-D Magazine and teen breathe.
Teen breathe, which is classed as the younger sibling to breathe, “promotes mindfulness for a happier, healthier, more fulfilled teenage life” encouraged looking at the positive message of TEEN Breathe, I felt I could add a little women empowerment and hope for that the future is better in the form of a subtle message, giving hope for all the “submissive” women and girls of that era!

With this in mind, explored an idea that centers around a father trying to get his son to read and engage in reading the newspaper with him, but while the son is smiling his eyes are looking elsewhere and very disinterested.
All the while there is a daughter on the floor, younger than her sibling reading and being really interested, while ignored by her father, the girl isn’t looking for her father approval, many ways she is the future even while being completely overlooked due to her gender in the 1950s.
This message will be hidden in the scene of the family in the living room that showcases what the 1950s is to a teenager in the year 2020!

I need to bring my research from PT.1 together, I have key ideas to look into

  • Fashion for the father, son and daughter.
  • Wallpaper / paint / possible curtain fabric in the living room, or to keep plain in order not to allow the image to get too busy.
  • T.V – what family can afford – middle class – keeping up with the Jones style father so would also be a bit of a show-off.
  • The armchair design
  • Clock from my own fathers
  • Books from the era
  • coffee table with mug and holiday leaflet (Butlins syle)
  • Maybe add some painting
  • Music

I looked into techniques, wanting the image to have a feel of John Bull Magazine or Butlins posters. I’m thinking a fusion of these styles and a bit of my own.
Turns out this style is very poplar in advertising illustrations of the 1950s, I’m not a photo realistic artist so I know my result is going to be more cartoonist but that’s okay as I feel my own input will be within the finished artwork.

John Bull – Fine Art America

While I thought I had what I needed but I found myself stuck in terms of technique really, I knew I needed something a little more before starting the final piece.
I needed an illustrator to research, while I knew my style it was actually hard to pinpoint an illustrator in that period even though known as the golden age of magazine illustrations.
I found a collection after in depth research and a book titled “Life style Illustration of the 50s” I found the works of Eric Earnshaw, Aubrey Rix and Clixby Watson along the lines of what I’m looking for in terms of technique and set about trying to find more background information on these. It took me a while as information sources were few and fair between but I started to get an idea of how it worked behind the scenes in the 1950 for the advertising illustrations and I wasn’t impressed by the finding how deeply male dominated it was and the only real involvement was having female nudes for poses.
The other thing I found is that sometimes an artist would also paint over the top of a photograph, even set things up as stages to get the photo realistic aspect. This style also continued and evolved though out the 1960s

Going forward from my additional research I will start to explore watercolour in my sketchbook.

Drawing items found in 1950s living room
Fashion, basic layout/colours of Butlins poster, layout / angle thumbnails
pulling together the composition and girl, little lettering and quick sketch of more update version of the poster.

In my sketchbook I evolved my composition quite quickly and didn’t explore as much as I should have, this is mainly due I had planned almost like a movie director to get the items in and the angle to showcase the young girl reading. While I was going down the route of including pattern / textiles design I think it’s getting heavy on the eyes and at serious danger of looking to crowded, so will be keeping large areas simple coloured based on a colour palette of that era, such as I saw in the Rupert bear 1950s annuals.


I did the final piece in watercolour, I do use watercolour, just mainly portraits or the human figure and adding a splash of colour to my sketchbooks.
So in terms of a challenge I really gave myself one, a background and watercolour!

I think I held back while painting, scared of overworking and making the colours muddy.
To try and create a softer look I avoided lines pretty much, this is another thing out of my element.


I feel mostly I should have pushed this image a little more, I held back on a few elements and I wonder if the results means the artifacts are clear. By picking the British 1950s the era does not scream as strong as American 1950s. The era is subtle and soft like the effects I created. You need to look at the image to “see” and maybe know your history to pinpoint the date.
There are elements I love in the watercolour and some I feel I needed to push more. The fear of losing the parts I like, over working and muddy colours stopped me.

I asked for feedback on this painting and many told me to to “leave it as it is”.
I’m in two mind to finish digitally to gain that retro vibe I desire, I think it is best I think on this piece for now.

References, research, and notes


2 thoughts on “Using Reference – Pt 2

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