The contemporary pastel artist Michelle Lucking lives by the coast in North Somerset, where she spends many hours photographing the sea and sky in order to provide compositions for her paintings. Earlier this year, Michelle was approached by Unison, who had seen her work on social media and were keen to produce a set of pastels specifically for seaside use. We spoke to Michelle about her art, and how the new Unison Michelle Lucking Beach Set reflects her working practice.
Duncan: Hi Michelle, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. I wonder first if you would be able to provide us with a brief artistic résumé for those who may not be familiar with your work.
Michelle Lucking: I picked up my first pastel, a Unison Colour pastel, in June last year. In fact, this is when I picked up painting and art in general. I studied art until I was 18, but I’ve had an ‘art career break’ for the last 20 years. Everything I create with pastels is self-taught and completely instinctive. I painted my first pastel painting in the summer of 2015, ‘Passing Storm’, and I’ve been totally addicted to it ever since. I wake up early and work late into the night on my paintings to fit it around my day job and my family. I specifically specialise in painting seascapes and underwater portraits. I have an intense passion for capturing water on paper in all its different guises.
DM: What is your preferred paper when working with Unison pastels? Do you often work on coloured paper?
ML: When working on my large scale paintings, I only use Canson Mi-Teintes Pastel paper in rolls, because this is the best pastel paper I can source in a size large enough for my big paintings. The paper hasn’t got much tooth compared to other brands, but as long as you layer carefully, you can still create a fantastic depth of colour for blending, and because the tooth is so fine, it’s perfect for creating fine detail. The other paper I favour for smaller pieces and plein air is Clairefontaine Pastelmat. The surface is luxuriously soft and allows lots of layering and blending. I always favour the neutrality of white paper.
DM: Are your needs (in terms of materials) very different when you’re painting en plein air?
ML: When I’m painting en plein air, it’s very much a flexible, travel-friendly version of the materials I use in my studio. I use A3 Pastelmat and take my own 36 set of Unison pastels I pulled together from the existing stock of pastels I have. The Unison Beach Set is very much inspired by these plein air pastels that I use.
DM: How did the set come about? What were your first thoughts when Unison suggested the project?
ML: The set came about after Unison posted some blue and brown pastels, with a suggestion of creating a possible beach set. Unison had already been following my art for a while, and asked if I would be interested in created a new pastel set with them, specifically aimed at artists wanting to paint plein air at the beach. Initially we discussed creating an 18 set. I travelled up to the Unison colour factory to work on creating the set, already with a clear idea in my head of the arrangement and colour I wanted based on my own experiences of painting plein air. I wanted a set flexible enough that would allow you to paint all moods; blue days, stormy days, grey seas, turquoise water, sunsets and early mornings, pebbles and varying types of sand. It became clear very quickly that an 18 set would not allow this range of palette, and Unison agreed to allow the set to become 36 strong.
DM: What I particularly like about the box itself is that it is arranged like a landscape: the top line contains a colour selection which is great for skies; the middle line contains deep blues, greys and greens for depicting the sea; and the bottom line has the colours for sand, pebbles and shingle. Was this your idea?
ML: I deliberately arranged the box so that the colours were lined up for sky, sea and sand. Not only does it look visually beautiful to align the colours in this way, it made logical sense to arrange them like this. Of course, the colours can be used across the three different zones, as the sky reflects off the sea and the wet sand etc.
Jackson’s stock the Unison Michelle Lucking Beach Set of 36 Soft Pastels, as well as a wide range of Canson and Clairefontaine pastel papers. The photo featured at the top of this article is ‘Breaking Wave’ by Michelle Lucking (soft pastel).