Landscape expression with Unison Colour pastels

As a professional artist my work now focuses primarily on the landscape and in a very loose, free and expressive way with mixed media and pastel and is always evolving. Right now, through years of creative experience and personal development, my work is following a more mature and semi abstract path and I like it! This wasn’t always the case.

I’ve had successes with my more figurative work – pastels mainly which were labelled as ‘impressionistic’. Work was accepted at ‘The Pastel Society’ exhibitions which were near sell outs and I won the coveted award of  ‘The Artists Purchasing Prize’ with ‘The Artist’ magazine  at ‘Patchings Open Arts Competition’ near Nottingham in 2005 which resulted in my winning entry of  ‘Evening light on the Grand Canal -Venice’ receiving the top award and being featured on the front cover of ‘The Artist’ magazine.

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Front cover of ‘The Artist’ magazine featuring the award winning painting October 2005.
Pastel Painting of the Grand Canal, Venice.
‘Evening light on the Grand Canal -Venice’. Artists Purchasing Prize at The Artist and Leisure painter Patchings. Open Art Competition 2005. Unison Colour pastel on Sait P500 pastel paper. 18 x 18 inches (46 x 46cm).
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‘Majorelle Garden reflections – Marrakech, Morocco’. Unison Colour pastel painting on Sait P500 pastel paper 18 x 22 inches (46 x 56cm) Federation of British Artists Pastel Society Open Arts Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London
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Autumn shadows – Elterwater, The Lake District. 18 x 20 inches (46 x 51cm). Illustrated painting in Artists Drawing Techniques published by DK Life 2017.

However, despite all of these different commercial successes and awards I felt there was something missing, something quite unfulfilled about it all – I wasn’t really being true to myself, just the money and not my art. It had to change.

Weaning myself from a style that was successful didn’t sit well with many galleries consistently selling my work. I was constantly asked ‘Why fix something that isn’t broken? However, everything was beginning to feel so ‘commercial’ at the time and pretty formulaic. It was not what I wanted – to be exchanging one commercial job for another did not seem right.

So I stopped the treadmill exhibitions and began to focus on my own work as a very personal response to a subject, not a mere rendition of a place following a set brief, a gallery led promise of sale, and instead decided to create new work that had more meaning to it, integrity and depth.

The change in direction wasn’t an easy decision to make. We had a mortgage at the time and it felt like I was giving up a good income stream and putting extra financial burden on our incomes. Working as a full time designer my job always came first. Pursuing my growing fine art career always had to take second stage. What little time I had left to creatively develop the successes had to come in leaps and bounds to secure my place with expectant gallery owners I still wanted to work with. Unison Colour pastels were always my ‘go to’ media to explore fresh new creative ideas. Thanks to the quality and versatility of the pastels the new studio work happened quite quickly and the outcomes really encouraging and exciting. 

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‘Hoar frost, Borrowdale, The Lake District’. Unison Colour pastel and mixed media painting on Canson Moulin du Roy 300gsm (140lb) ‘not’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm). Federation of British Artists Pastel Society Open Arts Exhibition, Mall Galleries, London.

Painting by painting, idea upon idea, soon I had a brand new collection of innovative and expressive work to send to my patient galleries. My new style of work was embraced and soon success after success came with sales, awards and commissions too.

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What the sea leaves behind. Unison Colour pastel and mixed media painting on Canson Moulin du Roy 300gsm (140lb) ‘not’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm).
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Spring light through Grange, Borrrowdale, The Lake District. Unison Colour pastel and acrylic ink on Canson Mi- Tientes ‘Touch 350gsm pastel paper. 20 x 25.5 inches (50 x 65cm)

As my expressive style has matured and continued to develop, further awards and prizes came. One recent accolade that I’ve been very pleased to share is my acceptance into the Society of Graphic Fine Arts as an Associate Artist. I was encouraged to submit several of my most recent expressive landscape mixed media drawings to the society based on the strength of the work I’m currently creating. This most esteemed art society uphold the highest excellence in drawing and painting so it took a little while to have the confidence to ‘go for it’. I’m delighted I did as there are many fellow artists within the SGFA who’s work I really admire so its great to be exhibiting with them in future society exhibitions nationally.

In 2019 I was awarded ‘Best Monotone’ with the SGFA in an open competition at the Menier Gallery in London. I was very proud of that award – what I’m creating now is seen as worthy of merit and gives me the confidence to keep pushing creative boundaries  – especially in my Unison Colour mixed media and contemporary pastel paintings.

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Winter Light, Kirkstone Pass, Lake District. Best Monotone – 2019 Award at Society of Graphic Fine Arts Open Arts Competition, Menier Gallery, London.
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Landscape expression with Unison Colour pastels 9
Winter Light, Kirkstone Pass, Lake District. Unison Colour pastel and mixed drawing media on Canson Moulin du Roy 300gsm (140lb) ‘not’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm)

I’ve been working recently on a 2.5 year project with publishers ‘Search Press’ to create my very first book with them – ‘Drawing Dramatic Landscapes’. This 166 page book which is to be published on 15 February 2021. This fully illustrated professionally printed soft back book includes many different types of drawings which include Unison Colour pastels – especially the black, white and lovely soft grey ranges of colours. Within the book are step by step guides, advice and focus on traditional and contemporary drawing materials too.  Location and studio drawings sit side by side throughout the book with Unison Colour pastels playing their part.

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Front cover – Drawing Dramatic Landscapes. The Innovative Artist Series, Published by Search Press February 2021.
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The unique properties and high pigmentation within the whole Unison Colour pastels range gives me the continued confidence to keep pushing creative boundaries in my work. Used either as a solo medium (purely pastel) to both draw, and ‘paint’ or by including them in my mixed media work, what they most certainly help me to create are really exciting paintings filled with personal connection to my subject which visually demonstrate a real creative expression.

I often use Unison Colour pastels in a very painterly way by mixing them directly into one another on my heavy weight watercolour paper (my preferred support) into pools of liquid fixative that is either splashed, poured or applied with a brush to the surface used as a base on which to work or applied in rich layers with other media too. I also heavily fix my pastels to push the media into the paper support to reveal the tooth of the paper again. By doing so, broken and ‘scumbled’ pastel layering creates exciting optical colour mixing and textured effects – very exciting to do.

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‘The energy of Spring’. Unison Colour pastel, watercolour and Gouache on Canson Heritage 640gsm (300 lb) ‘hot pressed’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm)
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‘Spring fields and distant moors’. Unison Colour pastel, watercolour and Gouache on Canson Heritage 640gsm (300 lb) ‘not’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm)

Masking techniques with Unison Colour aerosol fixative are another creative way in which I use fixative in my work to deliberately create areas of light and dark contrast and tome in my pastel and mixed media work. Protected areas under the masks are free from fixative and therefore will be lighter, areas exposed wont be so when the masks are removed there is a noted difference in tone.

This can be subtle or dramatic depending on colour choices. Masking techniques with fixative can be used in so many different ways to create exciting paintings. I never see the use of fixative with pastels as a negative. As a regular contributor to ‘The Artist’ magazine it was great to have these innovative contemporary techniques and more feature in the October ‘20 issue of the magazine showing what’s possible to create with Unison Colour pastels as a versatile painting and drawing media in my work.

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‘The Artist’ magazine Unison Colour pastel article October 2020

In many of my mixed media paintings I use aerosol acrylic spray paints. Different spray effects are created by applying different nozzles. Replicating what one media does with another adds to the versatility of your creative vocabulary. With Unison Colour pastels I use a craft knife to shave pastel pigments from different heights and angles into pools of liquid or sprayed fixative to give a spattered paint effect which contrast to blended and drawn marks.  Instead of using fixative clean water can be used. The results are a softer more subdued effect applicable to different subjects I have in mind.

Unison Colour pastels can be worked into either type of dampened surface, which gives a very painterly effect. In areas that are not dampened that still remain dry contrasting dry to blended effects occur in contrast to one another. Once the fixative or water has evaporated pastel still retains the quality of a rich velvety finish with strong colours and subtle yet dynamic with lighter tones and tints. This layering process can continue over and over again until I’m happy that the finished effect is one that is both visually exciting to look at yet at the same time an expression of what the subject is whilst retaining its sense of place – a harmonious balance as it were.

'Tidal Rush' pastel painting by Robert Dutton.
‘Tidal rush’. Unison Colour pastel and acrylic spray paints on Canson Moulin du Roy 640gsm (300 lb) ‘not’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm).

Without doubt there are favourite colours I have in the Unison colour range. These I put together in my Unison Colour ‘Moorland Set’ of 36 colours of lights, darks, earths and brighter colours that together as a set are very much my go to colours, if you like. From these I can create so much! The darks are important too – they add so much depth to your paintings! It was great to work with Unison Colour lab to create the new ‘Dark 24’ which is both in the Unison colour Moorland set and in the 8 colour ‘Midnight set’ which I use all the time.  For seascapes I use plenty of blues and in particular Blue Green 3, 7, 9 15 and 16, Ocean blue 11,  and my favourite blues Blue Violets 4, 19, 11, 12  and light blue violet 9 and 14 and more grey ones Blue Violet 15, and 16 which work really well with colours in the Moorland Set when mixed together or optically layered to make them extend even further in a colour range.

Using these blues with the Midnight set, dark moody paintings are created. A flash of a bright colour now and then from the Moorland set creates a real focus and depth in the painting with those final strokes of luscious colour – they make all the difference!

Currently I am working on a series of paintings called ‘mystic moorland’ taking my work with Unison Colour pastels and other media to new and exciting places – especially on a large scale. Using lots of different past and present printed and montage photographs in a layering process combined with texture mediums such as slate dust, marble dust, gesso and pumice, Sandfix and so on, these unique and exciting surfaces add another dimension to my expressive mixed media and pastel work.

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‘First snows in the South Pennines’. Unison Colour pastel and mixed media on Canson Heritage 640gsm (300 lb) ‘not’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm).
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‘Mizzle on the moors’. Unison Colour pastel and mixed media on Canson Heritage 640gsm (300 lb) ‘not’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm).

Each painting is very unique with its own visual narrative. Mixing past (historically archived) and present modern digitally captured images with paint and other dry and soft drawing media layered with Unison Colour pastels are compelling as well as exciting to create. It takes time and a lot of thought process to build such paintings having to wait at least 24 hours between each transfer process to ensure the photographic image adheres correctly.

I distress many of my own digitally captured location photographs prior to transfer with computer software to create the right type of effect prior to output. Half tones are discarded and line only is enhanced. There’s a fine margin act to leaving behind and accentuating the right amount of detail and information as well as discarding the unwanted. I don’t montage the images in the computer, instead I do that physically within each painting as it has a more organic feel to the creative process than a heavily digitally layered ‘mechanical looking’ image.

On location I always sketch to work out the architecture and construction of the landscape. These are invaluable in the studio and are often referred back to if I feel I’m getting lost in the creative process. Often on location I will sample what’s actually there physically in the landscape in the form of physical and tactile surface rubbings bringing back a real sense of the discovered to include in my work.

I will go to extremes to get what I need or what I sense is the missing important element in a painting. For example, one particular south Peninne moorland ruin was the main focus of a piece of work. I’d used numerous elements in the composition to construct the painting from sketches, photographs and so on but there was something missing.  A key graphical element to tie the whole thing together – the historical and skilfully carved date stone above the main entrance door. It was so high up I had to pay a return visit to the ruin with a step ladder which I carried up the moor to get to the right height to gain access to it to take a sample textured rubbing of it which I later incorporated in the work.

Such physical engagement with the subject has resonance with the viewer. All the surprising and intriguing elements create a visual narrative and have meaning were interconnected elements all play their part.

There’s quite a balance between getting it right were traditional creative skills and modern technology are in balance. If you over do it you have to start again – there’s no going back so a lot of thought goes into them. However, during the painting and pastel processes and layering everything is instinctive so control and expression are in equilibrium.

Unison Colour pastels will always be part of my creative scene. Used either as a solo medium for quick field sketches, pastel paintings in their own right or combined with other media as part of my creative process they have and always will be a valuable contributor to the work I do and the successful outcomes they help create.

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‘Peninne Mists’. Unison Colour pastel on Canson Heritage 300gsm (140lb) ‘hot pressed’ watercolour paper. 20 x 22 inches (51 x 56cm).

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20 Responses

  1. Thank you for this interesting blog. It is fascinating to read about your physical and mental processes when creating a piece. Your latest work is stunning and thought provoking.

    1. Thank you Mary, I’m delighted and your comments are encouraging. I shall be doing some more and will host ASAP on the UnisonColour Facebook page. Don’t forget to follow on my Instagram. They will be appearing there first too! There is in fact a couple of Artyclasses and painting Masterclasses with Unison Colour pastels happening pretty soon with online tuition. For more info visit http://www.shopkeeparty.com Thanks again!

    2. Hi Mary,

      Thank you for your comments. When thinking about new painting is. different to your norm and your next stage of development, it’s important you do your research, experiment and really focus and bring it all together rather than fall at the first hurdled level. I’m glad you can see I’m galloping on!
      More at http://www.rdcreative.co.uk
      Thanks again.

  2. (Translated)The highest professionalism!!! Wonderful work! Virtuoso technique! All this has been achieved and joined at such a high level that I have never met before. The book will be a valuable helper for students and experienced artists. Thank you for publishing and opening a new name for me

    (Original)Высочайший профессионализм!!! Прекрасные работы! Виртуозная техника! Всё это достигнуто и соединилось на столь высоком уровне, какого я ещё не встречала. Книга будет ценным помощником для студентов и опытных художников. Спасибо за публикацию и открытие нового для меня имени

    1. Белянская,

      Thank you for your comments. I’m so glad you liked the blog, the insight and above all, the inspiration for you. The book is indeed another inspiration for artists – those who have bought it have been thrilled with it. Many working through the step by steps and following guidance and insight with other drawing media. Look forward to seeing what you do too. Don’t forget to post on the UnisonColour Facebook page!

  3. Hello Robert, What a fascinating insight as to how your style has evolved. Im often intrigued by retrospective exhibitions of some of our great artists , Piccaso, Paul Klee, Munch etc to see how in their earlier youthful stages their work is often figurative before altering and transforming radically into another style if not subject matter. Your article is so comprehensive. I do understand the dilemma between producing art as commodity to pay the bills and being true to the spirit of art that lies within. Its wonderful that you could be so brave and take that move out of your comfort zone. The worst part I think is at the point of transition when you cant be sure if what you are doing works or not.
    What is particularly notible is how you have gone on to capturing mood and energy, although your early work is undoubtedly skilled it lacks that energy necessary to bring a work of art to life. Thank you for so generously sharing such detail in the application of various media

    1. Hi Jane, Thank you for sharing your lovely comments and engaging as you have. Artists evolve as you say. There is a marked sense of maturity in later works – it’s all down to a deeper level of experience through continual practice. The early works of the great masters were wonderful and for their time but the later works are on another level altogether. Like the blog, important to see my work so far in context too as you point out. I hope to share some more ASAP on the Unison Colour Facebook page. Wishing you all the very best with your own artistic advancements.

  4. I thoroughly enjoyed this blog. It is easy to tell that you really enjoy your creative process Robert. Your descriptions make it seem like so much fun!!! Love the strong mark making and use of vibrant colour. An great read.

    1. Hi Lynda,
      You’re right, I do enjoy the new work and the process. That is because I now feel I’m ‘allowed’ to be so having spent so many years working on the treadmill to get me to this good place and I’m determined to make the most of it.
      Watch this space!

  5. Fantastic art! Your work is stunning and it was so interesting to read about your process. Best blog ever! I now want to buy your book and find the paper you use too. Thank you for sharing!.

    1. Hi Artdreamer,
      Let’s make this a reality for you. If you visit my website http://www.rdcreative.co.uk and click on ‘shop’ you’ll find the link to my new book in there.
      Canson paper can be found at Jackson’s Art Supplies – type that into your browser and the online art supplies retailer we come up.
      Really glad you like my work and how the blog was written. Tell it as it is as they say!

  6. Thank you Robert for your beautiful insight! Looking at all the beautiful paintings, and reading your article, you have further inspired me to make a greater effort to paint more with Unison Colour pastels. As a very young artist and no background with any form of art, your article is really motivating me to continue my self exploration colour art journey, learning from you and so many other professional artists on Unison’s platform. 🙂 Thank you!

    1. Hi Selena, how lovely for you to share this and I’m delighted you found the blog and info within inspirational and useful to you. I look forward to seeing what you share on the Unison Colour Facebook page too. Thanks again and don’t forget to follow my Instagram page. Link on my website👍

  7. Great blog Robert. As a long term student and follower of yours I’ve had the privilege of seeing your work develop in ‘real time’ as you have described. It has been a wonderful creative process to have been able to witness and it has spoken so much to my own development as an artist. Many thanks.

    1. Hi Andy,
      Thanks for your comments, and support. Your own art now has reached a great level of maturity from your own years of effort.
      Your in a ‘happy place’ too right now with your art free of the trappings and strappings of the corporate world. Necessary though to get us both to be were we are so I’m sure, like me, you appreciate those years but….NOW is our time!
      Look forward to what you too create next fellow Unison Colour Associate!👍

    1. Hi Dragana,
      So glad my work inspires you – great to hear.
      You’ll be pleased to know that there will be some online workshops happening soon with me using Unison Colour pastels and also with mixed media with http://www.shopkeeparty.com
      If you register your interest with them they will let you know when hosted so you can book.
      In the meantime don’t forget to visit my website and see the films I’ve created. Plenty of techniques to pick up and further insights there!
      Thanks again.

  8. Great article, beautifully energetic work and so true about needing to follow what inspires you to keep on making work that pushes you in new directions and is a journey of discovery!

    1. Hi Liz,
      Glad you like the article and the work too. Influences from many sources help to keep the creative process moving in exciting new directions. The important thing is not to be too overwhelmed, want it all as it were and filter, take time, keep and discard what is and not important and then…go for it!

  9. The 18 colours everyone used were actually part of a bigger set – my 36 Unisoncolour Moorland Colours box set (created earlier in the year with Unisoncolour to include a brand new and popular dark pastel) proving to be equally as popular with artists internationally as a great addition to their existing range of colours from this world class brand.

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