Nifty Shades of Grey

Creative expression with Unison Colour black, white and grey toned pastels.

Monochrome pastel painting of Kirkstone Pass, in Winter.
Winter light, Kirkstone Pass, The Lake District
56 x 51 cm (22 x 20 inches)
Mixed media with Unison Colour black, white and grey toned pastels on 300gsm (140lb) ‘Not’ watercolour paper

Colour! That beautiful word that sums up so much in mood and emotive response. However, the wonderful world of shade, tone and line that using black, white and all the subtle shades between have a purity to expression that most certainly equal, if not surpass, paintings created in colour.

There is no hiding with paintings and drawings created with black and white media. The viewer has to be captivated by a composition that works with shade, tone and line to create the drama, mood and ambience and so on, to create an emotive response to a subject that an artist using colour can evoke in a much easier way.

The world of colour, particularly in painting, is an exciting one. But equally so are the drawings and emotive responses to subject by artists who choose to use drawing media.

For the artist like myself who revel in creating atmospheric drawings using a variety of black and white drawing media, graphite and so on to express what I feel and have very much an inner need to paint and draw, my drawing media has to be top notch.

The expressive drawings, monotone and limited palette mixed media drawings I create with carefully selected media, sit alongside colourful paintings on an equal merit as they win awards too. Unison Colour pastels are most certainly a media I frequently use in such mixed media drawings.

Pastel painting of Striding Edge in the Lake District, by Robert Dutton.
Showers, Sun Wind and Sleet – Striding Edge Helvelyn, The lake District
56 x 51cm (22 x 20 inches)
Unison Colour soft pastels black, whit e and select greys with other drawing media on 300gsm (140lb) ’rough’ watercolour paper

Close up of Robert Dutton's pastel painting.
Close up of the layering capabilities using Unison Colour soft pastel shades of black, white and grey to express ideas

The backbone to everything I do as an artist is based on good solid drawing – drawings created with expression. The materials I choose have got to be the best. As such they give me flexibility and freedom with what I can and do create and instil confidence in my work. It’s very true – you pay for what you get.

Nifty Shades of Grey 1
Rocks and trees along the River Wharfe – The Yorkshire Dales
Pastel drawing using Unison Colour black, white and grey pastels on 350gsm sanded surface light blue green pastel board 50 x 56cm

The creative process is ultimately limited when selecting cheap and inferior art materials – especially when it comes to pastels. Cheaper brands may be attractive in price but there are big compromises with what you want to achieve. Pigments are never as bright, most are really dusty because cheep of fillers used alongside the poor quality pigments in assembly. Furthermore stick, pencil and block prove difficult and disappointing to work with being very gritty and break far too easily leading to lots of frustration. Colour choices are often limited too.

Unison Colour pastels are none of the above. The superior hand made pastels come in a really broad range of fabulous colours and use the highest quality pigments in ratio to binders when hand rolled and labelled offering an expert finish.

The pastels are just the right consistency and size in round ‘stick’ format being neither too hard or too soft. It’s no wonder pastelists globally are so switched on to Unison Colour pastels. Personally, I am proud to represent this great British company as an Associate Unison Colour Artist.

Patrons who buy and collect my work instantly recognise the quality in my work. Fundamentally, each and every work of art that I create has been created with confidence based on the superior products chosen. Using Unison Colour pastels in any capacity is always exciting and rewarding in all aspects of my art and reap so many rewards in use.

The front cover of Robert Dutton's book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes.
Drawing Dramatic Landscapes
166 page extensive volume published by Search Press – May ’21 The first in the publishers new ‘Innovative Artist’ series Author – Robert Dutton (ASGFA)

One such accolade (and indeed honour) was when the Editorial Director of ‘Search Press’ publishing company released ‘Drawing Dramatic Landscapes’ – my first book with the publishers which was launched in May 2021. The book is also the first in the publishers ‘Innovative Artist’ series which makes it an extra special publication too.

The 166 page publication is packed with numerous pastel paintings, with step by step guides, my ethos and approach together with an in-depth analysis of chosen media used too.

Sample of page 108 of Robert Dutton's book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes.
Featured spread from ‘Drawing dramatic Landscapes’ describing chosen drawing media which includes Unison Colour soft pastels – black, white and greys
Sample of page 108 of Robert Dutton's book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes.
Featured spread from ‘Drawing dramatic Landscapes’ illustrating one of the expressive mixed media drawing using black, white and grey Unison Colour pastels

The success of the book sales so far and creative content is due in part not just for my enthusiasm for creative exploration with a huge variety of drawing and painting media but also down to the quality of materials used to create the expressive drawings which feature throughout the book.

A two year project in the making Drawing Dramatic Landscapes features exciting en plain air landscape drawings, pastels and mixed media work together with lots of studio approaches too.

Sample pages from Robert Dutton's book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes.
Featured spread from ‘Drawing dramatic Landscapes’ explaining the approach to working en plein air with mixed drawing media combined with black, white and grey Unison Colour pastels to evoke a dramatic and sunlit Lake District scene at Buttermere in Borrowdale

The Unison Colour black and white pastels I always use for my beautiful and expressive black and white pastel paintings are Grey 1, 2, 9, 10 ,11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18, Carbon Black 1 and 2, Dark 21, 22, and 23, Grey 34, 35 and 36, Additional A31, A32, A33, A37, A49, A50, A51, A52, A53, A54 together with the lighter whites Light 1 and Grey 28. This selection of top quality Unison Colour pastels cover all of my ‘monotone’ expressive drawing needs.

Nifty Shades of Grey 2
Featured spread from ‘Drawing dramatic Landscapes’ showing a dynamic mixed media painting combining acrylic spray paints, liquid graphite, inks and unison Colour selections of Black, white and grey tones to express this tranquil Winter scene along the lakeshore of Buttermere in Borrowdale – The lake District

Winter solitude – Buttermere, The Lake District
56 x 51cm (22 x 20 inches)
Unison Colour soft pastels black, whit e and select greys with other drawing media on 300gsm (140lb) ’rough’ watercolour paper

You will notice that there are some very subtle blue and purple tones in much of this selection on Unison Colour pastels. The inclusion of these wonderful subtle soft pastels work brilliantly well when working with mixed media – particularly my favourite seasonal subjects which include Autumn and Winter landscapes. I revel in these seasons! The structure of the landscape is revealed in all its glory when the leaves fall. When the first snows appear the sharp contrast between black and white linear forms in the landscape have me up and out as often as I can – Unison Colour pastels with me. They are quick, easy and compelling to use and get the essence of the subject expressed on paper in really exciting ways.

When time allows I’m always looking for further exploration of my subjects where I use Unison Colour pastels in combination with other media which include Acrylic Inks, Gouache, Watercolour, Charcoal and other drawing and painting media. The rich tapestry of layering I create in my paintings when combining such media together creates real depth and exciting expression.

The velvety combinations of Unison Colour pastel used together or with other media are wonderful. the examples as extracts from ‘Drawing Dramatic Landscapes’ show just how perfect they are to use creating positive outcomes each and every time.

Sample pages from Robert Dutton's book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes.
Featured spread from ‘Drawing dramatic Landscapes’ showing how easily Unison Colour soft pastels black, white and grey tones combine with other soft drawing media such as charcoal and conté to create real depth in expressive drawing techniques. Unison Colour pastels enhance the textures of the rough 300gsm (140lb) watercolour paper in such wonderful ways.

Winter light, Newlands Valley, Borrowdale – The Lake District
50 x 56cm (20 x 22 inches)
Mixed drawing media on ‘rough’ 300gsm (140lb) watercolour paper

I particularly like the way Unison Colour pastels create and express textures in landscape so beautifully and easily. The pastels seem to glide across the surface and when worked with more vigour hold together without breaking, inspiring confidence in mark making.

One of the first things I do with my Unison Colour pastels (as with other pastels too) is to remove the wrappers. However, before I do I make a little swatch colour on a separate colour chart I’ve created myself for the full range of Unison Colour pastels, and add the colour in place. It’s a bit like stamp collecting I guess and yes, after 30 years of using Unison Colour pastels I do have the full range!

The actual swatch has the added benefit that I can see at first hand the EXACT colour I need without any concern that a chart I see on the internet (computer calibration etc) would create any doubt with a selection I would make when restocking and buying multiples again of my favourite colours.

With the wrappers now removed, I’m free to use the pastels on their sides and edges to create the maximum amount of mark making with these sumptuous gorgeous pastels. Broad sweeps of Unison Colour pastels on their sides are like working with chisel brushes that are loaded with pigment and thus both painted marks and rich pastel marks are sympathetic to one another.

Sample pages from Robert Dutton's book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes.
Featured spread from ‘Drawing dramatic Landscapes’ showing how combinations of Unison Colour pastels with other media become useful drawing and painting tools for both blended, layered and line strokes.

Winter solitude in the South Pennines
50 x 56cm (20 x 22 inches)
Mixed drawing media on ‘not’ 300gsm (140lb) watercolour paper

Layering one media over the other has other advantages too. The interchange between thin glazes of watercolour, opaque layers of pastel and other dry media such as charcoal and gouache paints add amazing depth to mixed media paintings. There is a continuous push and pull with spontaneous mark making and then careful consideration periods during the creative process with each and every expressive painting. Unison Colour pastels inspire quick changes to be made with loose and broken stumbled marks of areas of rich and heavy saturation with vigorous applications of pastel media in different areas of the painting.

Unison Colour fixative holds the pastel in place and also helps create further layering with textures of scumbled and open mark making. Again, for most of these I use the Unison Colour pastels on their sides. Unison Colour fixative when heavily applied (as with any brand of fixative) makes the pastel marks darker. I have leant to use this to my advantage to deliberate use it in this way to increase the tonality of Unison Colour pastels even further.

Dramatic landscape pastel painting of Kirkstone Pass in the Lake District.
Sun after Winter snow – Kirkstone Pass, The Lake District
Unison Colour black, white and grey pastels with charcoal fixed in layers on steel grey 350gsm sanded surface pastel board
50 x 56cm (20 x 22 inches)
Note how deep and velvety the darks have become adding real drama with the use of Unison Colour fixative spraying enhancing the pastel painting
Pastel painting of Pillar, by Robert Dutton
Bowfell to Pillar – deep mid Winter. Newlands valley, Borrowdale, the Lake District
50 x 56cm (20 x 22 inches)
Unison colour pastels with ink, and compressed charcoal on Hot pressed 300gsm (140lb) watercolour paper. Note ow clean, sharp and continuous both blends and lines are when using the different media together on such a responsive surface

This technique is particularly effective with masking techniques and to create a lighter and darker area juxtaposed to one another and indeed blends of rich saturated darks in shadow areas for example. Later in the year we will be adding a video to the Unison Colour Pastel Academy featuring all of these expressive drawing techniques together with careful masking so you will be able to watch and learn how paintings combining these techniques are created in that exciting video.

Pastel painting of the North York Moors, by Robert Dutton.
Sun and Shadow over the North York Moors
Unison Colour black, white and grey soft pastels combined with charcoal and Quick Ink
56 x 51cm (22 x 20 inches) on 300gsm (140lb) hot pressed watercolour paper

Unison Colour black, white and grey pastels are really amazingly versatile – not only as media used together but when used with other media too. What’s been featured is only really the start! There is no doubt that once you start to use the full range of Unison Colour black white and grey pastels as I have you too will discover their amazing quality, dexterity and exciting visual mark making capabilities.

Sample pages from Robert Dutton's book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes.
Autumn mists and snow – Kirkstone Pass, The Lake District
Mixed media painting with Unison colour Black and White pastels on 300gsm (140lb) rough watercolour paper
Note how both the black and the white Unison Colour pastels create the extremes of necessary contrasts in tone to bring this painting together. the soft velvet marks enhance the textures in a really unique way. Heavy fixing with unison Colour pastel held the pastel in place on this very rough gesso and pumice textured drawing surface

By working with such a top quality pastel range that Unison Colour offer you will have the confidence to let the pastels take you on a wonderful journey of creative discovery with rewarding outcomes. They most certainly do for me regularly both in the studio and outdoors as featured for you in my Search Press publication ‘Drawing dramatic Landscapes’.

Drawing Dramatic Landscapes Author Robert Dutton Recently published by
Search Press ISBN 13/EAN: 9781782217589
Available here on the Unison Colour website, in all good leading book retailers and online at Amazon.

Robert Dutton at Buttermere in the Lake District.
Robert Dutton on drawing location at Buttermere in The Lake District (Photograph by Richard Littlewood)

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Whether we are born with an innate artistic talent, or, whether it is learned, is an age-old multifaceted debate that is fascinating, complex and compelling. I am sure most artists have considered it at some point or have an opinion on this theory.

NEW Contrast 8 Soft Pastel Set

A handy set of 8 Unison Colour Soft pastels that enables you never to be without those key light and darks such as Grey 28 and CB1.

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

Natural Earths

I liked the idea of the natural earth pigments because they are made of earth. I imagine that humans have been using these same colours for thousands of years.

Robert Dutton Soft Pastel and Book Giveaway

Following the recent launch of Associate Artist Robert Dutton’s book, Drawing Dramatic Landscapes, we’re giving away 3 of Robert’s Moorland 36 Soft Pastel Sets, and 5 copies of his book.

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Latest Blog Posts

Artistic Talent – Nurture vs Nature?

Whether we are born with an innate artistic talent, or, whether it is learned, is an age-old multifaceted debate that is fascinating, complex and compelling. I am sure most artists have considered it at some point or have an opinion on this theory.

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

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