Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: collage of all nine pieces

Using The Unison Colour 36-Set Of Pastels – My Experience

I’ve just finished the HowToPastel’s 31-pastels-in-31-days Challenge. This year I decided to use only my Unison Colour 36-set of pastels. In the end, I created 29 pieces with this set. Only two pieces weren’t: the first day’s pastel which I did prior to making this decision to use the Unison Colour 36-set; and one created when I only had a few minutes and for some reason I picked up Holbein pastels instead (which I find too hard for my usual work).

I’m a huge fan of Unison Colour pastels. Having used them, and only them over the past month, I’m now a committed user! 

Unlike some other brands, the texture of Unison Colour pastels is consistent across all colours. The pastels are soft but not crumbly soft (again unlike some other brands). They are created from natural pigments and because of this choice, you won’t find some of the intense colours – like bright pink for instance – that I love and crave. Many of the colours have a greyed look which makes sense considering their Northumbrian (grey skies) origin. All in all, the company produces a wide range of colours and tones.

In this post, I’m going to show you the variety of work I did from this single box of Unison Colour 36-set. You’ll see which colours I rarely used (though I tried!) and those I put to use often. And through this experiment, I’ve begun to get a better sense of the pastels I’ll be including in my own Unison Colour set which I hope will be developed in 2019. (I’ll keep you posted!)

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels  showing which pastels I didn't use much
Unison Colour 36-set of pastels showing which pastels I didn’t use much

Right. Let’s crack on.

The first few pastel paintings I did in the 31-in-31 challenge were of a single subject. You can see the pieces and read about the experience and value of painting one subject by clicking here.

One morning I was wondering what to paint and there, hanging in the bathroom after his swim, were Cam’s goggles. I loved the way the light glowed through them – I’d found my subject! This was an easy one regarding colour availavility as the Unison Colour 36-set has a plethora of yellow and blues.

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "His Goggles," Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 9 x 6 in.
Gail Sibley, “His Goggles,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 9 x 6 in.

Next, I’ll show you a piece I did while visiting my parents on Salt Spring Island. And yes – this set is easy to travel with! I wanted to do something metal as I prepare for a workshop I’m teaching on that topic in Florida. The Unison Colour 36-set only has four darks – a red, a blue, a green and an almost black (Grey 36). Whenever I can, I always try to reach for a colour rather than black. And as you’ll see, this is what I did in this piece.

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "Almost Stewed," Unison Colour pastels UART 500, 6 x 8 1/2 in. SOLD
Gail Sibley, “Almost Stewed,” Unison Colour pastels UART 500, 6 x 8 1/2 in. SOLD

The next piece I have to show you is a piece of Venetian glass that’s backlit. This is a vase that my parents brought home from Venice in the 1960s so it’s pretty special! The glass itself has a cloudy appearance of whites and pale blues. It was tricky to create this creamy opacity without using only light colours. Instead, I applied full on colour and then began layering in complements and lighter colours.

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "Venetian Glass," Unison Colour pastels on UART 320, 11 x 6 in. Available.
Gail Sibley, “Venetian Glass,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 320, 11 x 6 in.

I then started a scissors series (say that three times fast!). Here’s one that frustrated me colourwise. In life, the scissors sat on a warm mauve coloured paper but there are no cool reds in the 36-set. There’s only one purple (BV 16) which is lovely but just wouldn’t work – alone or layered with red. So I had to let go of capturing that beautiful colour. Instead I created a warm pinkish colour. And in the end, I was happy with that.

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 6 - Green On Pink," Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 5 1/4 x 10 in.
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 6 – Green On Pink,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 800, 5 1/4 x 10 in.

After working on six scissor paintings, I needed a break! And so, painting over a small piece I’d done on location at the Albuquerque Hotel at IAPS in 2017 that hadn’t worked out that well, I made some random marks using a colour selection that I liked (blues, greens, and yellow). And then, because I love figurative work, I looked for signs of people within the piece. And there they were!  I made sure I had colours that spread through the three main value areas of light, middle, and dark. The colours in the Unison Colour 36-set worked fabulously!

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "One Plus Three," Unison Colour pastels on recycled UART 400 paper, 6 x 9 in.
Gail Sibley, “One Plus Three,” Unison Colour pastels on recycled UART 400 paper, 6 x 9 in.

Even though, during the Challenge, I spent a couple days with family in Bowser celebrating my Dad’s 89th birthday, that didn’t mean I could stop pastelling daily! So in the quiet part of evenings, I did a couple of small images from photos I’d taken on our celebratory afternoon outing. Since I hadn’t done any landscapes so far, I was happy to do something in that genre. For the “Walk in the Forest,” I played with value and instead of trying to recreate the colour of tree trunks, I made these natural pillars red. They’re still a dark value but red!

The second one is more of a realistic landscape though dominated by the figures of my brother and sister-in-law with their dog Peri.

Both of these are small pieces! Again, I loved the constraint of using only the pastels from the Unison Colour 36-set!

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "Impression of an Afternoon - Walk in the Woods," Unison Colour pastels on recycled UART 500 paper, 4 1/2 x 5 in.
Gail Sibley, “Impression of an Afternoon – Walk in the Woods,” Unison Colour pastels on recycled UART 500 paper, 4 1/2 x 5 in.
Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "Impression of an Afternoon - Leading the Way," Unison Colour pastels on recycled Wallis paper, 6 x 4 1/4 in.
Gail Sibley, “Impression of an Afternoon – Leading the Way,” Unison Colour pastels on recycled Wallis paper, 6 x 4 1/4 in.

And if you know me, you know I love pears both to paint and eat. So I had to do some of those! I woke one morning to a mental vision of pears lined up against a blue background. I liked the idea of a tall format, and, this colour combination would give me a chance to get into the brownish pastels of the set to complement the blues. Well, that mostly didn’t happen because I still couldn’t get excited about using the browns. Sigh. Instead, I tended to use reds and yellows to create an orange-y feel.

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "Visionary Pears," Unison Colour pastels on UART 240 paper, 11 x 6 in.
Gail Sibley, “Visionary Pears,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 240 paper, 11 x 6 in.

Notice the pink strip? You can see that it doesn’t have any relevance to the pears. Well, that was part of my vision too! It’s there to remind us that the painting is only an illusion of reality and is, in reality, pastel on paper (which, as it turns out, was the group mantra for the Challenge!).

Back I went to scissors after having taken a bit of a break. This time I added another object – glass! It was fun to work with the reflective nature of the metallic scissors and the transparency of the glass. The more you look, the more you see, the more you avoid formulaic assumptions and expression!

Unison Colour 36-set of pastels: Gail Sibley, "Scissors 7 - Refreshed," Unison Colour pastels on UART 500 paper, 9 x 9 in.
Gail Sibley, “Scissors 7 – Refreshed,” Unison Colour pastels on UART 500 paper, 9 x 9 in.

So there you have a few of the pieces I did for the 31-pastels-in-31-days Challenge and all done with the Unison Colour 36-set of pastels.

What I want to know is, has this inspired you to try a set of paintings using ONLY one set of a limited number of pastels? You can make up your own set of 30 or so pastels if you don’t have bought set. I encourage you to try this! It will push you to think in terms of values. It will also develop your sense of colour and layering to achieve what you see as closely as possible.  Please leave me a comment!! Have you tried this? Will you try this??

You can see all 31 paintings by clicking here. Remember, all my 31-in-31 pastel paintings are half price in November! Email me if you’re interested – gail@howtopastel.com

And that’s all for now!

Until next time,


PS. I’m thinking of releasing videos of me painting many of my 31-in-31 paintings for a very reasonable price. Is this something you would be interested in?

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16 thoughts on “Using The Unison Colour 36-Set Of Pastels – My Experience”

  1. Gail, thank you once again for this wonderful post! You put so much work into your blog, I appreciate this so much! It is hard to choose a favourite painting, but when I first looked at them, it was the pears that caught my eyes with the unfamiliar perspective and that amazing pink strip! Something so little can have a great impact! And also that light blue in the foreground is just beautiful…
    Somehow I always tend to think that I must start a painting with harder pastels and use the really soft ones like the Unisons only later. I will have to be more reckless…
    Kind regards, Gabriela

    1. Thanks for your lovely comment Gabriela. And thank you too for choosing a favourite. It’s interesting about that pink strip, isn’t it? It and the setup of pears did actually come from a waking vision. So I say, pay attention to those ideas and visions that you have as an artist and take care to create them in your medium.
      I gave up building from hard pastels to soft a long time ago. I realized what I loved was using the soft pastels and so that’s why I changed. It’s important though to use a light touch when creating a whole painting with soft pastels so that you are able to build up layers AND still have tooth left in the paper for thick applications of pastel near the end.

  2. Hi Gail! Somehow I missed this blog and I am happy to have a second chance to enjoy it. My favorite is the one with the dog leading the way–wonderful composition and colors! I found it interesting to watch you develop these pictures with a limited palette. My own pastels are all grouped by color, not brand, so they’re all mixed in together…but I like them that way. Many thanks for all you do the keep enlightening us on the many aspects of pastelling! It is much appreciated.

    1. Thanks Wendy! And you are so welcome 🙂

      Yes, that painting is definitely a favourite of mine too. I was pleased with the composition as well as the looseness with some detail especially working so small!

      Regarding the pastels, the main reason I work with brands separately is for blogging and making videos…so I can be sure of which pastels I am using! Of course, I also work with a mixture of pastel brands. Mine are arranged by value primarily.

  3. Gail, I love how you “found” the figures in “One Plus Three.” It looks like a great loosening up exercise! And makes me want to try something along those lines in my own Palette. My Unisons are all mixed in with my other pastels so I’m never quite sure what I’m using. Your choice of colors is wonderfully intense. How will your own set differ? Your pears are practically edible!
    I’m getting ready for a Makers Fair next weekend on Cannery Row in Monterey, my hometown. So—i’ve been doing a lot of small originals in little frames this past week. Mostly apples and pears. Today, starting a series of six 6×6” cypress trees. This will be my first opportunity to sell to the public.
    Thank you for your wonderful blog posts. I always read them and learn so much. Your blog about painting with your parents really touched my heart. If my parents were still with us, they would have been game for painting outings. —-MaryLee

  4. Thank you Gail for yet another great post. I was just awarded a beautiful set of Unison pastels (Michelle Lucking set) at the annual Pastel Society of New Hampshire (PSNH) national show and can’t wait to use them. So far, I have just been admiring the gorgeous colors and pondering what to paint with them. I am partial to your figures, a subject I have been increasingly interested in. You are inspiring me to try something new and use my new set exclusively for a future (possibly figure) painting.

  5. I hope you voted last week. Many of us were paying attention to the world and national events especially in Florida and Georgia where there has been willful voter suppression and election tampering by withholding voter applications and voting machines as well as closing polling places.

    You put a lot of work into your post but the fewer comments were not about you. Your post is excellent and I appreciate your lessons very much.

    1. Sue thank you so much for your reassurance and your complimentary words!!

      I did not vote, at least not in the US as I live in Canada. BUT I always vote when the time comes. It is a privilege, and for women, hard-won. Let us not forget the efforts and suffering that had to take place for us to win the right to vote! (And there endeth my political statement!)

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Gail Sibley

Artist. Blogger. Teacher.

My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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