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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Finding Reference

Exercise 4

Decade I decided to focus was the 1990's, more specifically, Britain in 1990's.

With a quick refresh of the history, Britain was going through political troubles (as always). Much of the search results showed incredible images from the protest and riots that were sparked due to the Poll Tax that was being introduced. It lead to graffiti sprayed walls in many parts of the country, if not all! This felt like a significant time landmark of the early 90's that I could include in my illustration to help pinpoint that decade.

The photos of the 90's might be one of my favourite decades to look through. Of course 60's 70's and 80's are also great times with actual style that can define an era, more defining than the 90's. As a child of the 90's I do feel a strong sense of nostalgia, and happiness when looking back at the period is a reason I was drawn to making this my focus. I was blessed with great cartoons, great films and great games, both indoors and outdoors.

With the rave scene making waves from Manchester, it was here where I was finding a lot of great references of this period. The 90's youth of England were buzzing in the nightclubs, delivering perfect styling reference of an era where baggy t-shirts and jumpers were all the range. I love it!

I set up a few pages on Illustrator where I would drag the images found on Pinterest before arranging them into the categories. I was looking for a genuine sense of the time, like old photos from a family album. the neighbourhoods, the atmosphere, the architect and the style. I stumbled on some amazing websites, with photographers work that had documented scenes from the 90's. Many of them of the rave scene, others were of council estates, both being the ideal references!


I remembered my parents owning a gold car when I was younger, didn't know what model, but it was gold! My dad, who often reminds me of what car reg I am based on the year I was born, was my number one go too for names of cars that we had during the 90's. This was the base of my references, whilst adding a few others found in articles.


I then wanted to gather images that gave me a nostalgic sense of place. Thinking of shops that were buzzing at this time, market life, streets lined with shops, and of course Blackpool beach which definitely makes me think back to childhood memories.

People and Place:

this board was where I had found many of the amazing images that been documented by photographers, or the general feeling of being straight out of someones family photo album. I love the film photographs and the window in to the lives of a time. There's a grittiness in photos from the 90s that really inspire me, and also just reminds me of the areas I had been in as a child. This selection of images give you a feeling of the interaction between people and place during this period. The streets are wide, empty and quiet, yet they were also the playgrounds for many children. This is why I am happy I was a child of the 90's, and so glad I'm not a child now!


The only downside of being a 90's child is not being old enough to have lived through the fashion, the music scenes and the other factors that stereotypically sums up an era. That said, I did get the jumpers and jeans right!

That's me... You're welcome!

Pop Culture:

Sticking with the theme of Britain in the 90's I only picked out a few things that were made in Britain. Bands, films and TV series that are legendary! Of course, American culture also filtered through, but we really did have some classics that are still watchable today!


Only in this collection did I sway a little outside of Britain, with posters of Jurassic Park and White Men Can't Jump. Why? Well the design of the posters felt very much the same as other posters, what I wanted to show with this selection as a whole was the simplicity of the design. The big bold letters and minimal action, unlike some of the posters that we see today. Jurassic Park also feels iconic in its design!

Now that I had gathered a lot of great images as reference, it was time to put together my illustration. I already felt like I wanted to use much of the images from People & Place to help guide my illustration. I also wanted this to look like a group of young friends getting a photo taken, one for the album! I wanted the street to reflect the emptiness of many areas in England, and include typical landmarks I had come across in my research.

Something that I had seen appear in a few backgrounds of photos, was the big power plants smoking away. It felt somewhat ironic, and bonkers to see so casually polluting populated areas in the background of photos. I also remember the cars games we played as children when on long journeys, collecting points for certain cars you would see, and including power plants in this. the other factor, as mentioned before, was including graffiti that said No Poll Tax, a statement I had seen in the background of several images.

With those two main elements, I just needed to think how I was going to put this together!

First attempt:

This sketch felt as though it was going well, until the more people I added the more wrong everything was looking. Proportions were weird because the perspective was unclear. I was also very focused on using the people in the reference as guidance on the poses I would use. It was a failed attempt, but definitely made me realise I needed to work with perspective for this to feel right. It was straight after this where I decided to introduce the horizon line and perspective grid to keep things looking somewhat correct.

Failed attempts with perspective:

Failed might be a bit strong. They were more like beginning and quitting. I didn't really like the views I was sketching and again I was too focused on taking elements from the photos, rather than basing elements on the photo reference.

I also learned that cars were kind of difficult to draw in the lines!

The sketch that worked:

the final sketch I made became the sketch I went on to develop. It had a structure that I was happy with and a good lineup of people that had variety in their style yet also felt together.

I decided I wasn't going to improve this sketch in the traditional method and feared I would loose the structure I was happy with. So took the photo into Photoshop to continue the sketching.

Here I was able to clean up the perspective. When constructing an original drawing, I sometimes like to use the digital method so I can work in layers and have different colours to separate the elements, making it easier to edit along the way. It makes the work longer, and almost like having to manually copy the work over and over, but it helps get the results I want. Plus jumping from traditional to digital and then finishing with a nice traditional piece is a balance I like! It's also less mess.

Once I was happy with the sketch, I did black outlines of the entire pictures and printed it off to fit A3 size. I traced the drawing in pencil and began with block shading using ProMarker in Warm Grey 2. This would be the only marker I used to colour in some parts of the drawing.

The final shots:

Final Thoughts:

This was a great challenge! I had no idea how I was going to finish this exercise, or where to even begin, but the journey was good fun and it was great to have the nostalgia. I'm pleased with the result of this image as I feel I successfully included all of the elements I wanted to tell in my view of the 90's. I included brands that were typical of this time, I squeezed a couple of cars which honestly could be from any era as they're the least recognisable but they're there! The graffiti is on a few walls and the power plant is puffing in the background. The corner shop felt important, and although a characters head cuts some of the writing out, using booze as a shop sign felt the kind of language that sat well during this period. There's a few different types of housing in the view, with a good old typical England flag hanging in one of the windows.

Maybe it doesn't scream 90's but I kind of feel like it worked from my point of view.


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