An Artist’s Experience: 5 Day Pastel Challenge with Nina Squire, by Mary Waterfall

Three months ago, I was trying and failing to describe an imaginary scene with words. I had almost two pages of writing and still didn’t feel I had created a sense of place. Frustrated I pulled out my long forgotten pastels and scraps of paper, deciding to paint the scene and then describe the painting. Unfortunately, years of inactivity meant my fingers struggled to produce the visions in my head, and my old dusty supplies couldn’t give me the colours and textures I wanted.

I turned to the internet, not wanting to give up on what was becoming a rekindled passion. Wow what a revelation I found there, new techniques, ways of painting with mixed media, exciting artists. Luckily, I stumbled across the unison colour site and joined the pastelling community. After lurking for a while, soaking it all in, I hovered over the post button with my first piece of work for ages before having the courage to press it. What an amazing bunch of inspiring people I found there, both the people at Unison running the site and the members. All of them, supportive and offering help and advice.

When I saw the 5 Day Pastel Challenge with Nina Squire advertised, I really had to push myself to sign up. It felt too soon to be putting my fledging return to pastelling under pressure. I really couldn’t imagine that I would be able to reproduce the picture Nina was going to use in the challenge, but another part of me, longed to join in. I decided that even if I couldn’t reproduce the picture, I could still use the techniques taught, so, I signed up, and I am so glad I did.

I received an email from Dan at Unison with colour charts, materials guide, the photograph we would be working with and a copy of Nina’s painting of the scene. I didn’t have all the necessary colours and equipment, but I had some of the unison pastels and similar colours in other makes. For the most part this was fine, but I wish I had bought two particular colours. They really did make a difference to other people’s work. In future challenges I will try harder to match colours before beginning.

The night before the challenge, I signed up to the dedicated Facebook page, and was amazed, to realise hundreds of other people had joined up. I’m not sure what I expected, but it made me feel more relaxed about the whole thing as I imagined I would get lost in the numbers.

On the first day of the challenge, I woke up feeling really excited and any nerves gone. Already I could feel this was a supportive community and Nina’s video demonstration and worksheets were easy to follow. Today we achieved drawing out the image and painting the sky. I loved the effect created by adding liquid to the pastels in terms of both depth, and the amazing marks achieved by working in wet pastel. The Q+A with Nina that evening confirmed to me what a warm and encouraging person she is. Any concerns people had, were addressed in a no fuss and useful way, with the underlying feel that whatever happened we could all do this (given the number of people who had joined, running to over 900, with over 400 active painters this was impressive). Other participants soon joined into the online conversation giving support, tips, and encouragement to fellow painters.

An Artist's Experience: 5 Day Pastel Challenge with Nina Squire, by Mary Waterfall 1
Day 1

On the second day, we filled in the sea. This is where I realised I should have bought A49. Nina advised using your darkest blue and some touches of black if we didn’t have it, and it did work, but I felt those who had the colour achieved extra zinginess to their sea. Another excellent and encouraging Q+A in the evening kept us all motivated, and actually my sea did look ok.

An Artist's Experience: 5 Day Pastel Challenge with Nina Squire, by Mary Waterfall 2
Day 2

On day three, we began adding marks to the sea in order to achieve the distant headland and the rippling waves. This was a really fun day where imagination could be let loose. I was amazed by the many different versions artists had created, from the same instructions and materials. It was fascinating to scroll through the paintings and see that each person had a unique creativity.

Day four and I felt thoroughly frustrated, finding it difficult to achieve the beautiful swirls and curls others were achieving. This is when I realised I hadn’t watched the video that went with the worksheet, and it reinforced to me, what a truly excellent tutor Nina is. Without her demonstration guiding me through the new technique, I had reverted to my way of painting, (not necessarily a bad thing, but the challenge I had given myself was to draw literally outside my own particular box.) Nina supportive as ever told me I had created a beautiful sea, but I still felt it wasn’t brave enough. With Nina advising, I paired back the work I had done on the sea and started again. I am glad I did as I really did learn new methods in terms of creating movement and direction in my painting. It was a sad Q+A that evening. People were thoroughly enjoying themselves and already feeling a sense of endings.

An Artist's Experience: 5 Day Pastel Challenge with Nina Squire, by Mary Waterfall 3
Day 4

Day five, the last day, how far I think we have all come since day one, in terms of confidence and at least for myself, ability. After messing about with my sea so much, I found it difficult to make precise marks on my paper for the flowers. I think the paper I used would have been ok if I hadn’t worked it so hard yesterday. I did like my abstract smeary flowers and they did add a real pop of colour to the painting, but I may fix this little section at a later date and try to do more detailed shrubbery. The Q+A that evening was good fun and celebratory, I got a real sense of people’s achievements.

An Artist's Experience: 5 Day Pastel Challenge with Nina Squire, by Mary Waterfall 4
Day 5 – finished!

I am so glad I did this challenge, and I would urge anyone, however nervous to sign up to any future ones, I certainly will. Talking to others in the group, it became clear, that however new or experienced to pastelling we are, we each learned so much, both in terms of techniques, but also in terms of how important it is, to paint, paint, paint, have fun and not care about the outcome.

Thank you Nina for your brilliant teaching style, and talent, Dan for your early morning e-mails and Helen for your motivational posts, but most of all for a great experience.

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5 Responses

  1. Encouraging to read this very honest account of the author’s pastel journey. I’ve just recently joined the Unison Community and have some of their pastels, along with other makes. I look forward to learning more about this great painting medium.

  2. I was fascinated by the story of Mary’s reawakening of her love of pastels. Like her, my pastels have been languishing in my pastel box waiting for my reawakening. Well they are out, dusted down and ready, l am looking forward to your next lessons. Please could you email me when your next Challenge will be, l cannot wait. In fact l have already had a dabble!

  3. Да, мне тоже понравилось это неизведанное путешествие с таким чутким и терпеливым педагогов как Нина. Особенно тронули её улыбка, деликатность, умные добрые глаза. Наглядный пример использования новой для меня техники рисования пастелью очень важен для начинающих художников. Дружеская атмосфера занятий очень нужна в наше время. Спасибо вам всем!!!

  4. Mary’s ‘story’ almost made me feel quite emotional as she described each day if the challenge. I joined up in advance but started a few days into the challenge as I had other family things to attend to! I did feel a little like ‘Johnny come lately’ but loved looking at everyone’s progress from photos on FB. I started round Day Three and was surprised at how much I was enjoying the experience and seeing other’s final pieces appearing on Day Six onwards. I was amazed at how everyone had produced similar but totally unique paintings – it was so inspirational! I’d definitely recommend having a go, regardless of what you might perceive as your own ‘standard’! Looking forward to future events!

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