I particularly liked this exercise. It was really interesting to research about the 50s and to explore different resources:
1. Watching a documentary (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqVwc6nrHjI);
2. Consulting a book (20th Century Design: The Definitive Illustrated Sourcebook, Judith Miller, 2009);
3. Watching movies filmed in that era (Monkey Business, The Man with the grey flannel suit, Rear window);
4. Browsing magazines and particularly adverts of the era (LIFE magazines on Google Books).
My first step in the research was watching a documentary, which I found very useful to get an overall idea of the 50s period. Particularly useful were the original video adverts of that time, which gave me an idea of what people were using or wishing to have, what kind of furniture, make up and clothes were fashionable.
I widened up this basic information consulting the above mentioned book. The part dedicated to the mid-century era explained very well the mood of the time and its impact on different aspects of design, for example furniture, lighting, pottery, glass and so on.
Although very well-conceived, I felt like the book was still not enough to understand what people were actually using. In fact the volume points the lights on what was art and design…certainly not something everybody could afford.
To have a peek in what a 50s house could have looked like, I thought it was a good idea to watch some movies.
I have to say that a good role was also played by the memory I hold of my grandmother’s house and particularly kitchen, which was definitely typical of the 1950 decade.
To complete my reference research I used internet to browse some old magazines.
Loaded with pictures and adverts, they were precious and crucial to understand people needs and taste in food, fashion, appliances, furniture, make up, beauty products, luxuries and more.
Browsing and studying this material I could understand that 50s were an era of renewal, of economic and demographic boom. The world was basically recovering from the World War II and there was a general need of coming back to normality.
The USA, which recovered faster having not to cope with invasions and bombardment, introduced a huge amount of money in Europe and the industries all over the world started working on new appliances which became affordable for the majority of people. Economy was blooming and as a consequence families become larger.
New materials became available due to new discoveries and experimenting and, as a result, new fresh designs became possible.
Particularly plywood became really fashionable because of its affordability and because they discovered how to bend it. Also very popular were various kind of petroleum plastics which had the fantastic property of being modelled by an injection mould technique. Aluminium and steel made versatile metals and together with the discovery of foam and rubber paddings, set new horizon in the upholstery sector.
The aim of the designers of the mid-century was that furniture had to be smaller, more portable, affordable but at the same time it had to be durable. The lines were simple and the decoration was minimal. Also typical of these years were innovative space-saving solutions.
My final illustration shows in particular this last mentioned aspect. I was really fascinated by one of the adverts I saw in the documentary, which was about a curious telephone cabinet including a seat.
I think that this piece of furniture is totally expressing that aim of space- saving furniture, with modern and simple lines. After sketching some furniture, I chose to represent a woman, busy making a call while seated in a corner of her living room. We can spot on the right a sideboard with typical shapes of that period.
To contextualize the scene, I decided to pick some wallpaper with original 50s patterns which I found and printed off from the web page of the company Sanderson, which launched a collection of wallpaper, textiles and carpets from their 50s patterns archive ( https://www.sanderson-uk.com/shop/wallpaper/50s-wallpapers/mobiles/?code=DFIF210216 ) and also a rug, from the Brintons rug/carpets archive( http://www.brintons.net/europe/en/blog/2013/behind-the-scenes-at-brintons-rugs-photoshoot/ ).
The process that brought me to the final result was quite long. In the first place because of the research and also because of some perspective trouble and the drawing of the main subject.
Trying to understand how to use the perspective was quite difficult and even though the result looks pretty possible to me, I still believe there are mistakes. Also was a problem to give the perspective to the printed rug and wallpaper and not having a good photo -manipulation software I left them flat.
About the woman sitting, I tried to draw her without any reference in the first place, but realised that was quite unreal and decided to get help by drawing an actual person. My girlfriend has modelled for me and I quickly realised how much I was wrong.
I added a couple of lamps trying to imitate typical 50s shapes and I added a radio on the sideboard, helped by the many references I found in the magazines adverts.
I used watercolours to complete the lower part of the image and then I cut that off and placed it on my printed wallpaper. The rug is also cut out from a print and placed on top of the image.
It was fun to build this piece as a collage, to watch it slowly taking shape and despite all the mistakes, I think that the overall image gives a good idea of the main 50s characteristics.
In conclusion, I believe the 1950s still have a big influence on us, for example in the rockabilly style culture, which is totally inspired by the mid-century years. We can also still find some 1950s revival in the modern furniture, for example in some kitchens: my parents bought a 50s style fridge just few years ago!