The Pretender

I feel like I am making a confession…

I have worked for Unison Colour since 2015 and I absolutely love my job. It mainly involves being an Account Manager for our many Associate Artists. However, I do not draw or paint! (the shock/horror as you read that statement)

The reason why I do not draw/paint is because I was informed at school that I was no good at it – I wasn’t the teachers favourite for a start.

As a runner who spends a lot of time in the hills, fells and forests, I am often taking photographs and I would look at the different colours, tones, shades and think to myself ‘that could be a BE6 or a green from our range’. I may be able to think like an artist, but I am not one.

During Lockdown 1 I began to doodle eventually purchased a sketch pad and some Faber Castell pencils. These pictures I created were not for anyone to see, they were for my own eyes.

The months dwindled past and one day I was having a catch up with one of our Associate Artists, Nina Squire. She challenged me to complete one of her seascape demos.  With enthusiasm I bought my desk easel, sample pastel paper pack from Jackson’s Art Supplies (great value for money for when you do not know which surface to use), pastel pencils and the mighty Unison Colour pastels. I was ready or I thought I was!

Work was increasingly busy and with an 8-year-old as well as adding a Cocker Spaniel puppy to the mix, my attention was elsewhere. The art materials were lying in their boxes, waiting for their time to shine (or not!)

Then came Lockdown number 3, back to juggling homeschooling and work! This time my daughter was extremely upset that she couldn’t go back to school so Nina kindly offered to hold a Live Zoom art class for both me and Olivia. She thought it would benefit us both.

One Thursday (my day off) I banished my other half from the kitchen and we set up our makeshift ‘art studio’ I must admit I was incredibly nervous! Olivia was enthusiastic and could not wait to get stuck in.

The Pretender 1

With Nina’s guidance we drew the outline of the image and then it was time to add the pastel to paper. I was scared! I am exposed to so many talented artists and here was me the ‘pretender’ having a go. As the buttery soft pastel was added to the sky, I was starting to feel less nervous. Olivia was in her element and was going full throttle! I was panicking as she was putting the pastels back ‘willy nilly’ into the box and I was becoming slightly frustrated as I couldn’t find the colours I needed.

The Pretender 2

As we progressed, I could see an image beginning to take shape, whilst it wouldn’t win any awards, I had completed my first EVER pastel painting but best of all I had Olivia for company and she completed her first EVER pastel Seascape at the age of 8!

The Pretender 3
The Pretender 4

I must admit that it was one of the most nerve-wracking things I have attempted and I have run ultra-marathons. I do not like the image I created because I am a worrier and too much of a perfectionist. Nonetheless it has not dampened my will to learn more. So, when schools return again and I have some precious time to myself, I will have another go and who knows I could be posting in our Unison Colour Pastelling Community Facebook Group!

The Pretender 5
The Pretender 6

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63 Responses

      1. I loved reading your blog and your story! I love pastels and feel so inadequate against the skills of others but we all have to start somewhere – keep all your pictures and you will see progress over time! Seascapes are not that easy to start with and you’ve done a fab job!

  1. What a great story Helen. You are definitely not a pretender now so keep on going and perhaps take one of your outdoor photos and have a go. The more you practice the more confident you will become. Enjoy Pastelling!

    1. Hi Mo,
      You are right and I already have many photographs that I should use & build up my confidence. Thank you! Helen

  2. Well done for having a go! Your first pastel makes an encouraging start. We all started somewhere near to you, in emotions as well as skill.
    2 years on from first starting to paint aged 69 I’ve only recently tried Unison and I really like them, but I’ve really just started to explore how to use them.
    I’m sure you will be amazed at how ell your paintings develop over the next few months. Keep at it and don’t be discouraged if some of them disappoint. It’s all a step learning curve!

  3. Always hearing your name from Nina, so now lovely to put a face to the name and Well Done ! to you and olinia on your seascapes..

  4. (Translated)It’s a very interesting story! In fact, in adulthood, somehow it is not usual to go out of the comfort zone and be in the category of beginners, as if you are becoming at the level of an inexperienced child and waiting for the teacher’s assessment. In this case, it helps me to cope with the excitement of the element of the game, I give myself an inner setup that it is just learning, the first step, the first stage of growth. I’m not so embarrassed about missing out. Masterclasses of good experienced artists help a lot

    (Original)Очень интересная история! На самом деле в зрелом возрасте как-то не привычно выходить из зоны комфорта и оказаться в разряде начинающих, как будто ты становишься на уровень неопытного ребёнка и ждёшь оценки учителя. Мне в этом случае помогает справиться с волнением элемент игры, я даю себе внутреннюю установку, что это всего лишь учёба, первый шаг, первая ступень роста.. Мне уже не так неловко за промахи. Очень помогают мастер-классы хороших опытных художников

  5. Loved reading this and to see the results. Great effort from both. Nothing nicer than sharing time with your daughter.
    I so miss going to Higham Hall at least twice a year. I meet up with my artistic daughter where we unpack our wonderful collections of Unison pastels and switch off for 4 days under the guidance of a friend and artist from Fife Eileen Gardner who uses pastels in traditional way with more blending. I am also fortunate to have pastelist Fiona Carvell living locally.
    Having the workshop on line with Nina has been wonderful and loved that I can watch first, paint later. Feed back from Nina is so encouraging and great to see other peoples works and comments. Very much looking forward to the bluebell woods short workshop.
    Thankyou again for sharing your blog.

    1. Hi Julie, thank you for your lovely comments not only about my blog but also about how much you enjoy using our pastels. Enjoy the bluebell workshop – I have seen the image that you are going to be replicating & it is gorgeous! Helen

  6. Congratulations on turning two negatives into a positive, your daughter’s disappointment about not returning to school and your earlier discouragement. I am retired now but as an art teacher I made it my goal to promote the idea that art is for everyone. I made sure that every student had their work displayed somewhere in the school during the term.

    I am glad this experience helped you to see why we love art and pastels in particular and I am happy that I am not the only one that drives down the road, looks out the window and thinks “that looks like a BGE6”.

    1. Thanks Sandra for your comments. It is funny how something that is said to you when you are a child can stay with you until adulthood. You are definitely not the only one who describes colours as Unison Colour pastels! Helen

  7. It was lovely to have you both visit my studio for a virtual session. You’ve made the first arty steps in your pastel journey, you created an artwork that is definitely a seascape, the rest comes with practice and time. Olivia has her Mom’s arty genes, she’s a natural. What gorgeous mark making! I hope you’ll both do more pastelling! You’ve got the best pastels and I think we are all jealous of that apron! xxx Thanks Helen, We all appreciate the time and effort that you put into support both the artists and the Unison Community.

    1. Thank you Nina for your support & helping to guide me into my first foray into pastel work! PS: the aprons will be coming SOON

  8. It was so heartwarming to read this blog and I hope you and your daughter continue to create beautiful images with these wonderful pastels and that Nina and many others continue to help inspire you and to just ‘have a go’ ! Great results ! x

  9. Wow! I bet that was scarey, knowing world class pastels and pastel artists like noone else.
    What a wonderful free work with bold marks and the most important component of all….. That illusive Energy! An inspiration for many I’m sure, although vulnerable we all need to stay brave! ❤️

    1. Jane, it was terrifying!!!!!! I think I am still in shock & even more so it is out there. I will continue…when time allows 🙂 Helen

  10. Well done Helen and Olivia! Lovely to know who you are, saw your name a lot during Nina’s wonderful workshops. I never thought of drawing or painting until my partner introduced me to BBC4 and Bob Ross during the first lockdown! It was amazing to think a masterpiece could be produced in 30 minutes! And the rest is history (I’m laughing hysterically now!). I tried oils and had many unhappy accidents (unlike Bobs happy accidents!). Lots of mess later I tried watercolour, acrylics, oil pastels and soft pastels, but liked soft pastels the least, until Nina’s workshops that is, when I invested in Unison colour pastels. What a difference! No idea what I’m going to do with all my creations, but I can’t wait for my next workshop with Nina, Bluebells, see you there perhaps?!!

  11. This is wonderful first time pastel work -well done Helen and Olivia! Addiction now follows…….

  12. Oh Helen! This makes happy! You both did a great job and you did it together. Don’t stop and don’t think you are a pretender. Say these words, “I am an artist!” Neva

  13. Fantastic read, I love that you did this with your daughter, and produced art full of movement. Time to silence the voice from years ago telling you can’t, shouldn’t, not good enough 😂 you obvously are xx

  14. How wonderful.
    I started pastel painting in my 60’s after losing my husband. It has taken me somewhere I did not realize I could go. I paint almost every day and have become surprisingly good. I am still my own biggest critic but that is not unusual I guess. Pastel paintining has sustained me through this long year of isolation. Paint on, Helen, paint on!!

  15. Wonderful that you did this Helen. Kudos to you. We should all explore art, as so many of us have it in us, but we don’t know until someone brings it out in us. Well done and thanks for sharing.

  16. What a great experience for you and Olivia to share – and with great results! Nina is the perfect teacher for you both, with her lively and captivating style, patience and enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing more of your work as it develops.

  17. Great start. Here’s hoping it’s just a start and not a finish. Nothing wrong with trawling through all those photos you’ve taken over the years nd you’ll find loads of images that can be converted into lovely pictures. Well done.

    1. I hope so too Stuart, I think I may take your advice of having a small notebook & pencil & work when I have those spare moments & see where that takes me. Helen

  18. Oh Helen,
    This is such a great read. Descriptive, emotive and honest. You are no longer a pretender – you have all the main qualities artists need: inquisitiveness, micro defining of colours and the essential self doubting and self criticism hahaha. You are an artist starting on your journey. As is Olivia, although she probably wasn’t as self critical as you ! Love the finished pieces too. Nina is a wonderful tutor, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and encouraging. Look forward to seeing more of yours and Olivias masterpieces 💖💖.
    Lucy xxxx
    PS Can I please order a Unison apron – the finishing touch !

    1. Thanks Lucy, your feedback is very kind xx and I agree, they are both naturals! I’m on the waiting list for the Unison Apron. Can’t wait! xx

    2. Aww Lucy! Thank you for your lovely words 🙂 I will definitely have a another try!

      PS: Aprons aren’t available at the moment but watch this space!

  19. Absolutely loved reading this blog. I was right there with you in my mind and the pictures were great. Love Olivia’s enthusiasm for everything she comes across and that’s down to having a wonderful Mam like you.

    Keep up the good work. Much love to you both xxx

  20. I was also told at school (it’s written on my report) “Ideas good but lacks artistic talent”! Guess I wasn’t into art then… County standard racquet sports were my thing, until I got to the age of 65 when I retired from the squash court with a bad knee. Since then I’ve been learning art! Now I’m hooked and can’t believe what I’m churning out, but I do have time to practise now, unlike you… the joys of retiring!

  21. I love this! I worked in a watersports resort for years and I could talk the talk but I’d never been on the water. It became a bit of a joke that I’d never do it – kind of like you with pastels. So glad you enjoyed it – Nina’s basically a ‘Pastel Pusher’ and she’s very good at luring us all into her web of colours! She wants us all addicted 😊. Look forward to seeing more of your work soon!

  22. Great stuff from both of you Helen! If you can’t beat them, join them!! Welcome to the ‘practical’ pastel community! Great to have you both on board!

  23. Just brilliant that you both dove in and created something beautiful! I loved reading this and your pieces turned out beautifully, keep going Helen and Olivia and keep creating! Can’t wait to see more. Well done!

  24. How wonderful Helen.
    Our childhood schemas shape our choices and being told we are not good enough would have shaped your decisions without ever updating that script.
    You are good enough , more than. There are no benchmarks , only your authentic self and letting that free again.

  25. Great story Helen and great result for you both. Keep it up. Nice also to put your face to your name.
    Unison is doing wonderful work with all these challenges, blogs and Facebook community. It has put a new lease of life into the world of pastel.

  26. When it comes to art, there are no pretenders. If you find enjoyment in the process, that is the truth and the reality for which we all strive.

  27. I so enjoyed reading your blog Helen and love yours and Olivia’s paintings. I am also very much a beginner and am in awe of the amazing art that is posted by professionals and amateurs on the Community site. I agree with the comment that there is energy in both your paintings. Keep going with it and enjoy. Valerie

  28. Wow Helen, both you and your daughter produced amazing paintings. You already have a head start on a lot of artists with your inside knowledge of colour from working in the most amazing colour factory. I think you should keep going now…and your daughter too! And I did not know you ran ultra marathons…that puts you in the super human with determination by the bucket load category for me!

  29. Well done both of you they were really good . I really enjoyed reading your blog. You’ve given me the incentive to keep going. I enrolled with the unison five day challenge with Nina Squires in Feb but became ill on the first day. I did try but just couldn’t, so I record all her vidio’s and watched them later. Kept looking at all the lovely entries and thought there’s no way I can do that as I’m a beginner. Well as you did it having never done it before I’m going to give it a go.

    1. Just take it slowly, there’s no rush. Work through the videos. Watch them first and then play again and see if you can create whilst watching. If you get stuck, just press rewind and watch again. Nina x

  30. Please could you do something about the slider device on the right as it is very difficult to use. I have to place my curser over to the right of the channel and then it jumps instead of unrolling slowly and letting you look at the contents in your own time. Sometimes it jumps two or three frames at a time making looking at your website an off putting experience. Such a shame as the content is so good.

    1. Hi Penelope. I think you’re talking about the scrollbar on the right? The part with the gold coloured bar that slides up and down? That’s actually part of your browser rather than the website, and if you click on it, it will tend to jump you around the page a bit. For a much smoother and more predictable experience, you could try dragging the gold portion up and down by clicking and holding on it, then moving it up and down as required. If I’ve not understood you correctly, do let me know a bit more detail on the device you are using, as there’s so many ways of browsing the web it’s difficult to give you more accurate info without a few more details, so please do let me know if there’s more I can help you with. All the best.

  31. Well done, Helen! Thank you for sharing your story (those teachers… GRRRRR!) and your painting. I hope it’s the first one of many.

  32. Oh Helen, this was a joy to read! Well done, we all feel we are Pretenders at some point and can be intimidated looking at other artists work. It’s not a competition, we draw and paint primarily for ourselves, it’s something that is “in us” to do. I’m delighted you have dipped your toe in, your painting is fabulous and I can’t wait to see more xxxx

  33. What an enjoyable read! Well done Helen (and Olivia!) – as someone who has been selling her artwork for 3 years and only now feels able to say the words “I am an Artist!” with any confidence, I understand feeling like a ‘pretender’! Your work is super and I hope you feel even more part of the wonderful Unison family! 🙂

  34. Well done both of you such a great achievement and glad ypu enjoyed it. Like you l was yseless at Art at echool and the teacher was just not interested unless you showed tallent. But once l found pastels l surprised myself at being able to create somethi g l was mildly pleased with and since joining Unison group have gained more confidence and enjoy the 5 day challenges, wish l could afford some of the other lessons but on a pension have to budget. However the free challenges are great as l can still complete them even if something stops me during the 5 days and am so grateful for all the blogs and time these great artist give us. Keep on painting x

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