Maybe it was a ‘Sliding Doors’ moment of walking past a Spanish art shop that had a box of pretty pastel sticks in their window display in the centre of Palma. Something about them just made me stop in my tracks. I knew nothing about the medium of soft pastels whatsoever, and had not drawn since infant school, but without thinking I walked into the shop and said “I love the look of the box in the display, please set me up with whatever I need to use them….”
I went back home with a box of just 45 colours, an easel and a packet of textured pastel paper.
I had asked excitedly in the shop how they should be used, or if they had a book to show techniques etc and the Spanish owner said “Do not look at any books, do not watch any videos, do not google it, just play, feel them and paint from your heart”. I have always worked with his words etched in my mind and that is what I have done ever since.
After taking home that life changing box from the art store I played around on a sheet of paper, totally unaware of technique. Yet somehow my second ever painting was of a sunset over my favourite spot in Mallorca, and is still one of my favourites. I still use that as my profile picture across my art social media.
Over the next couple of years, I grew from painting at the dining table and constantly hoovering up pastel dust, to being lucky enough to have a large and light space under our house where I now have a purpose built studio. It is my sanctuary and I love spending hours and hours in there. I also went on to experiment with various brands of soft pastels from around the world. Some good, others not so good for my style. But I most definitely remember when I first tried Unison Colour soft pastels. It was an epiphany to find such soft sticks which had such deep pigmentation yet had incredible buttery blendability. Using them was a joy and I loved the range and scope of colours they offer.
I started my Unison Colour addiction by selecting a small collection of tones which suited my favourite beach and sunrise or sunset tones. The beauty of this brand is you can select colours individually, or buy pre-selected boxed sets to suit your tastes. As my collection has grown I have then gone on to invest in a much wider range of tones and colours, slowly building my perfect collection tailored to my art which is often in quite warm mediterranean tones and scenes. The quality of these pastels mean you can blend them so effortlessly on your chosen surface and build up a picture using a fairly limited palette initially. The simple beach exercise below shows how working with 7 or 8 colours you can still create a rich effect.
One huge additional unique benefit to the wide range of tones offered by Unison Colour is the jumbo size sticks. I love these for creating my expansive skies and seascapes. They feel so indulgent yet are worth every penny.
If I was to suggest one thing to a keen soft pastel artist it would be to invest in the hand drawn Unison Colour swatch charts (available here https://
www.unisoncolour.com/shop/hand-drawn-colour-chart/ ). As a new and untrained artist, these really helped me understand colours, hues and tonal range, and are well worth buying as they have the added security of being laminated so they will stay absolutely true to colour. Seeing colour choices on a computer screen is not really accurate enough for me, as it depends heavily on the settings of each machine and can vary greatly, as can printed colour charts or catalogue photos. I refer to these hand drawn charts time and time again.
I love the feel of soft pastel sticks to this day. I love the anticipation of choosing which to use on any given day, along with a fresh new piece of paper. I love how a painting can be a subconscious extension of how I actually feel that day too. Calm and pensive, deep and conflicted or just light and playful. Pastels are so expressive to me, it is a direct connection between me and the paper, no middle man of a brush.
More recently I have found a beautiful combination of pigment pay off and drama of strokes when combining Unison Pastels with pastel mat card. I have many other surfaces to try but this was a huge departure in vibrancy from my still loved textured paper. I thrive on constantly learning more and developing my skills and now with the dependable superior effects of Unison Pastels I feel equipped and excited to try new styles.
I love the connection and direct touch between my fingers and the paper, feeling it grow and evolve in the moment. I love the immediacy, the freedom and the freshness of soft pastels. I love to paint feelings of light, calm and of peace. Places or scenes I want to get lost in. I am drawn to water, probably as a result of always having lived in coastal areas in England, Wales and now Spain. For me it can be mystical and magical, it can have calm and drama, and it can have all that in just one day!
From working on a small piece, to the large scale of working on a triptych, to a more specific commission for clients, I still get a huge buzz of excitement when asked to paint a memory or recreate a specific scene for people, capturing a moment, a place, a feeling. Through the reaches of social media I have been lucky enough to ship work to many parts of Europe, Australia, America and more… Working in soft pastels allows me the unique combination of relaxation, concentration, and reflection with just the right amount of tension, knowing that any single stroke of the pastel can make the perfect difference in transforming it, or changing the direction of a piece completely. Always working with fluidity. Now I know my trusty and ever expanding collection of gorgeous Unison pastels will inspire me to paint more, learn more and enjoy more.
I do go back to the advice given that day I stumbled across soft pastels for the first time, and know I have developed my own style without the burden of following an expectation of learning from other peoples styles. Now I have a foundation laid down I feel I can go and learn and adapt from others, and evolve my art.
But I will always remember to just ‘feel them and paint from my heart’.