John at work in the studio.


The Beginning

Unison Colour was founded by artist John Hersey who, after many years of not finding a pastel he was happy with, decided to make his own. After years of experimenting, the Unison Colour soft pastel that you know and love today, was created.

But before we go any further...

Why not make yourself a cuppa, and watch our beautiful 8 minute film, which will take you on an intimate tour of Unison Colour HQ, while hearing from Kate Hersey, who tells us about the humble beginnings of Unison Colour, and son Dan, on moving onwards into the future. 

About Us 1
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John Hersey in his studio experimenting with colours.

John Hersey

John Hersey was born in 1925. He was a student at the Byam Shaw School of art in London where he won a Rome Scholarship and lived in Italy for several years. On returning to the UK he ran his own business ‘Fine Art Photography’ while continuing with his own work. Over the years he became more and more interested in and passionate about colour.

John had always found inspiration in the clarity of light and subtlety of colour in Northumberland, and in 1980 he moved with Kate and their 4 children to an Old Rectory in the Northumberland National Park.

Multiple heaps of different coloured pigments.

Colour Vision

The project began when John decided that the manufactured pastels available on the market broke easily, were not consistent in texture and did not mirror his colour vision. For several years he worked on methods of production, colour sequences and the texture of his pigment mixtures.

In 1987 he decided to offer the results to fellow pastellists. He and Kate took the original range of colour sets (then just 117 pastels!), and the kitchen dresser, to an art materials show in London. To their surprise there was an immediate interest.

Signs of Growth

To start with, the pastels were all made in the coach house and the top spare bedroom in the house was used for packing and storage. Eventually, as sales expanded in the USA, things became easier and they were able to construct another workshop and a packing room.

For John, it was a mission to create a world of colour.

About Us 2
About Us 3

In the Heart of Northumberland

Unison Colour is still based in the beautiful Tarset Valley in the Northumberland National Park, and the newly unveiled Northumberland International Dark Sky Park.

Each year nearly half a million handmade soft pastels are made in the workshops and Coach House at Thorneyburn Old Rectory. From here the pastels are sent out to artists all over the world.

Colourful Chronicles

About Us 4

The Pause Before the Start

For many of us, our lives are filled with hurry. Creativity is something that we know we value and want to prioritise, and if we are lucky enough to have time for it, we often carry our hurry into our times of creating.

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Best Behaviour

In the past much of my work was provocative, unsettling, edgy as subjects related to human rights and confrontational issues. In fact I had avoided pastels with the erroneous belief that pastels were a gentle medium for artists (with a few exceptions) who produced exquisite drawings or paintings.


Please note that during this period, we can’t allow visits to our premises.

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