Interview: Alison Berrett

Following our sponsorship of a number of awards at this year’s Pastel Society Exhibition, we have the second in our series of interviews with our winners.  This time it’s Non-Member Award winner, Alison Berrett, who has kindly given up some of her time to answer some questions.

To start with, take a look at Alison’s work, beginning with her winning piece: ‘Seascapes of the Soul – Unleashed’. A pastel drawing on paper completed after an inspiring trip to St. Ives in February 2019. The drawing captures the energy and emotion felt as Alison watched the spring tides crash on the sand over a period of days.

On to the questions…

1. When did you discover your love of art?

This is an interesting one, lots of different discoveries. As a child I was fascinated by paintings. My first awareness would be from the Impressionists such as Monet and Renoir.

My Dad was kind of into art and had prints by Lowry, Turner and Breughal around the house. As a child I had the urge to draw and record lots of movement but I didn’t think myself as an artist.

2. What were your earliest influences?

I remember having a fascination with Turner’s work as it was so abstract and his influence is deeply embedded in the work that I do.

At Art College I discovered the ‘long wide format’ and felt a kinship with Ivon Hitchens.

Joan Eardley is another influence, especially her sea paintings.

I had a pivotal painting experience in 1989 during the storms down on Exmouth beach with a fellow art student. We jammed our paint brushes in the sand and painted for 20-30mins. Our paintings were encrusted with sand. It was an exciting experience. I felt free with the marks that I was making and this had a huge effect on the gestures in my paintings and drawings.

I attended a workshop with Dennis Creffield at Art College too and was so happy when he picked up one of my drawings and said it was very organic and spontaneous/expressive.

3. What led you to using pastels?

I always remember just having a set of pastels, they have always been around from when I was a child and I definitely remember using them in A-level art.

I first came across Unison in 2005 when I was at my local art store – Broad Canvas. When you open the drawers and see all of the pastels laid out you just think wow! I’m like a child in a sweet shop.

I have never used anything like Unison before. They are pigment rich and have a huge range of colours. You can sweep the pastel across the page and then work it in.

I love how they are so transportable as well. As a mark-maker and colourist – pastels are perfect. I also love the randomness of them being handmade, they invite you to make a mess and you have more freedom when using them.

4. What is your favourite subject to paint?

The sea and sky. The effects of light and movement. The best times of the day to paint are morning and night as that’s where there are the quickest changes in light.

5. Who inspires you?

I’m especially drawn to abstract painters and particularly people like Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron, Sandra Blow. I love dramatic abstract landscape works.

I love looking at other artists’ work and Instagram is good for this. It’s great to connect with and meet my contemporaries and there is so much great art around.

6. What was the first painting that you were happy to complete?

Back to being on the beach – the sea painting that I did in 20 mins. That was a pivotal moment for me.

Another pivotal time was my painting 20 squares. The concept represents how life is stitched together and sometimes it doesn’t match.

Also, the painting that won at The PS exhibition.

7. Do you have a routine when you begin a painting?

I do like to have everything ready. I make sure all my colours are there so I can get to them easily, my brushes are all laid out. I hate being interrupted when I’m in the flow.

I also make sure my headphones are charged and listen to everything from Rage Against the Machine to Radiohead! Having headphones on means I can shut things out.

8. What time of day do you like to paint?

My optimum time is 2.30pm to 7.30pm. When I am away on holiday, I will get up early and try to get out for the sunrise.

9. What plans do you have in the pipeline?

I have entered Oxfordshire Artweeks which is the biggest open studio in the UK. This will be the first-time entering solo.

I’m also exhibiting at the Oxford Lent Concerts which is an annual event at Queens College Chapel.

I am going to launch a newsletter, I have a new website and I want to engage more with people through my art.

I have just been back to St.Ives in Cornwall so there will be more sea pastel drawings and paintings coming soon!

10. How did you feel when you won the Unison Colour prize?

In a nutshell I was ecstatic! I was initially just going for the opening and just as I heard that my train was cancelled, I received a phone call to say that I had had won!

I was shocked and pleased but also anxious as I didn’t think I would get there in time to receive my prize. I managed to get there just in time!

This was a huge affirmation about my work and I am excited about what is to come in the future.

11. Do you have any hints and tips for anyone who is beginning with pastels?

Be prepared to get your hands dirty, don’t listen to the rules, just experiment, crumble the pastels, blend and rub them in and play with them!

12. Anything else that you would like to add?

Winning the Unison Award has been lovely recognition for the work that I have been doing! I’m over the moon!

Big thanks to Alison for taking the time to answer our questions.  You can find more of her work on her on her website –

You can find our first interview in this series, with Member Award winner Jill Jeffrey, here.

The third and final interview with Toni Frostick will appear in our blog tomorrow: Friday 28th Feb.

Announcing New Associate Artists!

In May we held a recruitment exercise for new Associate Artists and we were overwhelmed with the number of applications. So much so we will have 2 groups of new artists. Our 2nd group will be announced in August 2020.

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One Response

  1. I’ve loved reading the interviews above. I’ve drawn since childhood and both my parents were “hands on” – my Dad as Decorator and my Mum loved to make dresses and do embroidery. I graduated from St. Mary’s University College Belfast with a BEd and taught Early years all my life. Since retirement l took up my pastels and Watercolour with renewed interest doing ten solo exhibitions for local Northern Ireland Charities and was invited to have my own show in Phoenix Park Visitors Centre Dublin 2009.
    I have won the coveted Duchess of Abercorn Award and Joan Ross- Venning Award from Ulster Society Of Women Artists and the Landscape prize from Pastel Society Of Ireland.

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