Chunky, and a bit crumbly

First things first. I don’t consider myself an artist. I’m a hack and a fraud and probably an insult to all those people who have spent years learning their craft.

As a kid I drew all the time until that passion was killed by a school assessment that this boy was just average at art. Thankfully, a textiles teacher when I was 15 told me that I had a spark of potential and although it would be another 25 years before I would start drawing and painting again, that comment stayed with me.

Fast forward to 40 years of age, a career in public health and 3 kids. I was suffering from extreme panic attacks through the stress of life and from losing both of my parents to cancer. I found doodling helped manage the anxiety, in meetings, at home, at my desk, it didn’t matter. Fast forward again to 47 and my eldest daughter now studying art at college told me I should use some of my doodles for something. So, we put Theo, one of my characters on a T shirt. My mate put them in his shop, Disorder in Birmingham and unbelievably they sold. So we added another design, some prints and Hope & Mania was born.

Nigel wearing one of the t-shirts he has designed

Ok so fast forward yet again to a year later and it was time to try something other than doodling. Popping into my local Cass art, I was pointed in the direction of pastels. Having tried a few brands before I told them that I hadn’t been impressed. They told me to try Unison. I fell in love.

Chunky and a bit crumbly (like me), these sticks of amazing colours and textures have changed my life.

In the hands of a proper artist, Unison pastels produce the most amazing results. But they are also great for beginners, intermediates and numpties like me.

Click to enlarge

I love them because you can draw with them, they crack and crumble at will and you can blend and smush them and throw bits at your canvas, whatever you want to do, whatever takes the mood. I use a variety of methods often starting with using a bit of water and a brush to create a wash. I might then make an outline of something and smush the pastel with my finger and use the moisture on my fingertip to paint with. A smudge of linseed oil to help with shadows and such like and there you go. Finger painting ain’t just for kids you know!

Pastel artwork by Nigel Smith
Cyborg Death Mask

My favourites are the vibrant yellows and reds especially, but I also love love love the BV18 blue which as one art shop employee exclaimed to me recently, ‘that’s a lot of pigment’.

It's a gas, by Nigel Smith
It’s a gas

Unison pastels have given me the confidence to experiment and now my experimentations have led to sales which whilst not my primary objective has been nice especially as 20% of all profits go to Papyrus the young person suicide prevention charity. I’ve also had a couple of my works using Unison pastels, Slick and a mixed media piece called ‘What are you afraid of’, featured in Outsider Art magazine which was quite an achievement for me.

Pastel artwork by Nigel Smith
Pastel artwork by Nigel Smith
Fat Lip

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10 Responses

  1. This is amazing Nige. I love your doodlings and I am glad you are opening them up to the wider world. What a lovely piece about the therapy of art. You are a very talented man with a great inner depth that I hope comes through your art.

  2. This is brilliant, loved reading it, beautifully written and the comment where the passion was killed by a school assessment definitely resonates with me. You are certainly not a fraud, art is a powerful tool for mental health. Great title too 🙂

    1. Ahh thank you loads Estelle that’s really made my birthday. Sorry if you’ve had your passion killed at any point. I get teaching is hard and curriculums tend to be narrow thinking but no one should have their creativity or enthusiasm stomped on. Hope you’re having an awesome day. Nigel

  3. I understand about having confidence squashed at school as not being any good at Art was told “give up” and attention focused on people who could draw.

    So it was years later that l had the confidence to scribble and splash paint around but just for my enjoyment. But when l tried pastels l found it so exciting that my “drawing” sometimes looked passable. I now attempt animals and various other subjects. No l am not good but enjoy (just for me) getting a recognisable/passable picture which gives me encouragement and enjoyment to keep on trying.

    Loving your story

    1. Ahhh thank you loads Jean that means a lot. I bet your drawings and paintings look ace, it would be great to see your stuff sometime.

      You’ve totally hit the nail on the head, it is all about enjoyment, plain and simple and feeling and experience of making something. It is hard not to compare your own art with others and I still even amongst us amateurs hear people being critical or arrogant about their art and its all rubbish. My eldest is at art school at the moment and its brutal!

      What we create is ours and ours alone and means something to us and others can go take a running jump in my opinion. After a 35 year break what also helped me was discovering genres like outside art and art brut where the art is all about the feeling and not some photo realistic painting that 99.99% of us could ever achieve. (Sorry Ive gone on a bit here 🙂

      Keep doing what you’re doing Jean

      All the best


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