An Artist’s Experience: 5 Day Pastel Challenge with Nina Squire, by Sara Lawrence

Home schooling is tough, so having an opportunity to take my 16 year-old daughter away from her screen to do something creative wasn’t a hard sell!  Maddy’s a creative soul and I’ve just taken a break from teaching, so this seemed like a great opportunity to try something new.  I was a bit cheeky and had a sneak peak of Nina’s video whilst Maddy was in lessons.  Nina is so wonderous of the medium that you get caught up in her spell.  As she talks, this delightful smile comes over her and her eyes sparkle with the joy she evidently gets from it, so I was practically dragging Maddy away from lessons to get started!

Day One: Nina’s video gave us some handy hints about proportioning the paper and we were both happy with our first sketches.  Laying down the pastels on the grained paper was very liberating!  The Unison pastels glide on like hot butter and the pigment is beautiful.  Nina recommended not being shy about laying down plenty of colour, so we went to town!  Sharing a vodka with your daughter at 4pm on a Monday was a great anecdote for the grandparents that night!  Of course, the vodka was actually the technique used to blend the pastels by sweeping it over the top.  Maddy managed to sweep away half her colour and I ended up without any colour variation!  The Q&A session at 7pm helped us out as clearly a few of us had the same issue.  I think that’s when this pastel community group comes into its own!  Nina addressed all kinds of concerns, we all picked up hints and tips and most importantly, the emphasis was ‘you can’t go wrong’.

Day Two:  Re-did our skies!  More vodka, more pastel!  Then it got dark, with the beautiful A49 which we used as the base layer for the sea.  I love how Nina raves about this colour!  I would totally overlook that in a palette but it’s now a staple!  We got a bit carried away and started putting detail all over the shop, but it was too tempting not to give it a go now we were in the swing!  Nina’s love for pastel lights up her whole face and makes you want to play with the colour and keep tinkering.

Day Three: “As the week progresses, so does the challenge.”  So says the worksheet for day 3 and she’s not joking!  Nina became a resident of our household for most of the evening!  As the rest of the family were evicted to eat dinner elsewhere we played and replayed and over-vodka’d and reworked our seas and our cliffs.  We tuned into the Q&A and turned to the online community and felt the love and the frustration of others and read all the handy hints Nina was posting to individuals.  Then took the best bit of advice: take a break!

Day Four: This is where Maddy came into her own, with her instinct for colour and carefree use of laying down pastels.  For me, this was totally the hardest day.  Nina gave us a few hints for overlaying colours and not being scared to experiment using the pastels with different pressure, using pencils like a blending tool and so on.  We both felt a little disheartened about our drawings that day, so we left it and decided to come back to it fresh the next day.  What a difference a day makes!  A bit of perspective, a bit of tweaking and I think we both felt a lot happier.  We’re also both very good at seeing the best in each other’s work.

Day 5: I was so excited about trying this part of the painting but I thought the Unison pastels might be a bit too bulky for the detail required.  Actually, that gorgeous smudging effect, with the bold colours meant I could be really bold with the colours and I was developing more confidence with my strokes and combining the pencil strokes over the top for the finer detail.  I also chipped off some of the pastel stick to create a sharp-edged chip.  I loved the freedom of being able to design your own flowers here. 

I think the key thing is that we have both ended up with pieces of work that are far better than we could ever have achieved on our own – certainly beyond the level either of us had expected to be able to achieve in such a short time.  Definitely frame-worthy!

We had a big birthday in the house mid-week so we weren’t joining live from Thursday, but the beauty of this course was that it really didn’t matter.  Whilst most were doing the classes as they happened, plenty of us were working in our own timeframe and there was so much information and support online that we didn’t lose out doing it that way.  The Unison pastel online community was so supportive and encouraging at every step.  Both novices and more experienced artists were there and sharing their tips and experiences and the positivity was truly inspiring.

The only down side is that Unison pastels have ruined me for ever using anything else!  The colours are beautiful and I’m gradually learning how to use different pressures to blend them.  I loved learning how to mix them with vodka and Nina’s infectious enthusiasm and tireless responses to online questions means I’m already signed up for her next workshop at the end of the month.

#thepastel8 Visit to Thorneyburn

A fabulous day was spent at Thorneyburn last Friday in the company of Fiona Carvell, Michelle Lucking, Nina Squire, Cathy Pierce, Lynn Howarth, Meral Altilar, Lucy Brangwin and Rebecca de Mendonça.

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1 response

  1. (Translated) Yes, Nina’s charm, her kind smart eyes have produced some magnetism, every lesson you are looking forward to, because learning something new from the drawing means a lot to beginners. Nina’s calmness and benevolence in each lesson is very well placed, there is no constraint, no fear of making mistakes, spoiling the picture. I learned about the high quality pastels of Unison. Unfortunately I only had one milk color. Your blue color is just gorgeous, I can’t find another word. A dark blue is simply essential for every pastel artist. Dark green is also excellent. You can only dream of them. I am grateful to Nina and Unison for such an interesting adventure, acquaintance with artists from other countries., for the warmth of the warmth that was felt even after many kilometers. Thank you! (Original)Да, очарование Нины, её добрые умные глаза произвели какой-то магнетизм, каждый урок ждёшь с нетерпением, ведь узнать что-то новое из рисунка много значит для начинающих. Спокойствие и доброжелательность Нины на каждом уроке очень располагают, уже нет скованности, боязни сделать ошибки, испортить рисунок. Я узнала о высоком качестве пастели Юнисон. К сожалению у меня был только один цвет молочный. Ваш голубой цвет просто великолепный, другого слова не подберу. А темно синий просто необходим для каждого художника пастелиста. Темно-зелёный также превосходно. О них можно только мечтать. Я благодарна Нине и Юнисон за столь интересное приключение, знакомство с художниками из других стран., за то душевное тепло, что ощущалось даже через многие километры. Спасибо!

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