Velour, Emma Colbert and the Beast from the East!

I can tell you the exact day that I picked up my first Unison pastel: it was Tuesday February 27th 2018 – the day that the Beast from the East arrived in Suffolk and gave me the day that every secondary school teacher hopes and prays for – a Snow Day!

After taking A Level art back in the eighties, I had rarely picked up a pencil (or pastel!) since. I’d been a soft fruit farmer, a PA, and now an English teacher… all jobs that had filled every minute of every day. Other than painting giant Pick-Your-Own Strawberry signs, my artistic side had fallen deeply asleep!

However, I’d recently woken up some creative confidence by attending weekly life-drawing classes at my school. The previous week, in my dentist’s waiting room, I had read an interesting article in an Artists and Illustrators magazine; it was about Emma Colbert and what was possible with pastels. I felt an inspired desire to have a go myself. I ordered Unisons, I ordered velour paper, I found a photo of my much-missed bearded collie Scruff. Now I just needed opportunity.

It came with the snow; the Beast blew in four whole days of unexpectedly free time.

I opened up my just-delivered box of Unison’s Emma Colbert Animal half-stick collection. There they were: clean, pristine and gloriously rich in colour… it was like opening a box of treasure!

Gazing at dear old Scruff’s outline, meticulously sketched on the paper, I picked up my GREY 36 and, even now, I distinctly remember the soft rasp of that first black pastel stroke across the fuzzy-felt surface. Having only experienced school sugar ‘pastel’ paper, the way the pastel clung to the velour and allowed me to build layers of pigment blew me away… I could create depth and not worry about filling the tooth!

When the thaw came, Scruff was complete… my fingers were filthy, my nose was smudged and I was in love with pastel!

A pastel painting of a black and white shaggy dog, called Scruff.
Scruff

Since Scruff’s portrait, which went to my mother for Mothers’ Day that March (Scruff was the beloved grandchild she never had!), I have built up a much bigger collection of Unisons and completed lots of commissions including people portraits and landscapes.

A pastel painting of a young girl in blue dress, and face paint, kneeling next to an alpaca, which is lying in the grass.
Girl and Alpaca

I have been talked into trying Pastelmat but I have to say that velour is still my first choice. I particularly love the way that, as I rub the pastel layers into each part of my subject, I seem to stroke the animal into life! The three-dimensional quality of velour seems to lend itself to the texture of fur, feathers, hair, fabric…well, just about any subject…even wet sand!

A pastel painting of a beach, with wet sand reflecting the bright sunlight to reveal patterns in the sand.
Seascape

I have become a part-time English teacher and my days spent marking Hamlet essays are now being swapped for days of browsing my Unisons – opening my collection and pondering…which is just the right Brown Earth colour to create that shadow down the side of the horse?…which Blue Violet will add the highlight of reflected sky in that tabby cat?…how amazing is this new range of Lights! I definitely have some favourites!

Unisons pastels, Hahnemuhle velour and Emma Colbert (her tutorials on Patreon have been invaluable) have all helped to reawaken my love of art… with just a little help from the weather gods!

I now have an Instagram and Facebook page in place, I just need to find time to sort out a website… anyone seen the weather forecast?

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