What If? Part II

“What if?” can lead to a stronger painting.

We hear it all the time… “Just because it is in the photo doesn’t mean we have to paint it that way.” And our common response may be “but that’s how it looks in the photo.” It can take a while before we feel confident enough in our skills to give ourselves permission to re-interpret a scene. I would like to share with you such a journey that led to a 2nd place award that I received in the 21st Annual Pastel Journal’s Pastel 100 Competition.

As I shared in the April 2020 edition of the Pastel Journal, during a walk in the woods 10 years ago, a young raccoon came toward me along the footpath, unaware of my presence. As it stopped to take a drink from a stream, I quickly and quietly took some photos. The painting that I created soon after this interaction diligently copied the scene, including the brown of Autumn. I was very pleased with that initial painting because it looked like the photo, well, pretty much.

A pastel painting of a raccoon taking a drink from a river, during autumn
Autumn Dip

Ten years later, I decided to revisit the moment. Over those years, not only have my skills with pastels improved, but I’m more comfortable with asking “what if?” and giving myself permission to step away from photograph.

The “what if?” phase happens for me when developing thumbnail sketches, considering various compositions. Once I select a composition that I feel is strong, then I’ll ask myself “what if” I change the direction of the lighting or the overall color scheme? These all went into creating “Cool Drink.”

Wanting to bring more focus on the moment, cropping in closely to the raccoon edits out many of the potential distractions and essentially unimportant elements in the scene.

Sketches of the raccoon paintings

Changing the color scheme to the greens of summer allowed for a more vibrant complementary palette and prevented the raccoon from becoming lost in the Autumn reflections.  And lastly, shifting the light source to backlighting gave me an opportunity to punch up the glints on the water and lead the viewer’s eyes into the scene.

A raccoon takes a sip from a stream
Cool Drink

By stepping away from copying the reference photo literally, it can result in a stronger painting and a more compelling story. If we only give ourselves permission to ask, “what if?”

Part I of Tracey’s What If? blogs can be found here.

A Kitchen Tool and Pastels?

Over the years, I have learned that there are infinite ways in which pastels can be manipulated as a drawing and painting medium.  Examples range

The Plan is Subject to Change

I am a planner (and not ashamed to admit it).  While I may spend time sketching for fun, when beginning a new painting, I always have a plan.

Announcing More New Associate Artists

We can now announce our second group of new Associate Artists to Unison Colour. Our Associate Artists perform a fantastic role for Unison Colour and we are proud to welcome the following people…

A pastel painting of a bison on a dusty plain

Exploratory Sketches

Do you work from photos or from life? This is not an either/or question. There are pros and cons to either approach and I prefer the best of both worlds.

What if?

Isn’t it exciting when you stumble onto something that is totally new?  That is what happened when a colleague and I were developing a series of workshops on creative underpaintings for pastel.  While experimenting and asking “what if?” the technique of “Floating Pastel” was created.

If you enjoyed reading this…

Please consider subscribing to our mailing list to receive updates about our Associate Artists, and any other Unison Colour news, and exclusive offers.

Use the buttons below to help spread the word.

5 Responses

  1. Love the Blog, Tracey! Kudos & Congrats! A very rewarding, substantive story, which taught an interesting lesson of “taking a leap” – “what if…,” says quite a lot, in my estimation. And your Result was one of my Favorites of your paintings. Thanks for sharing and inspiring…!!!!! “What a lesson…!”

  2. A great blog – stunning painting too. Really good advices I always think it is better to add intuitive details as you feel them. x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest Blog Posts

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.

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.

Customer Enquiries

Got a question?

Please don’t hesitate to send us any questions, and we’ll get back to you ASAP.
If you’d rather send us an email, please get in touch at:

Or give us a call on +44 (0)1434 240203 and choose option 1, for Liz.

Trade Enquiries

For trade enquiries, please contact us as below:


liz@unisoncolour.com or call Liz on +44 (0)1434 240203 Option 1

China and Russia
North America
ROW (Exc. China and Russia)