Behind the Brand

UNISON COLOUR

COLOURS IN UNISON WITH ONE ANOTHER

Unison Colour are renowned for their handmade soft pastels with a loyal following of artists around the world. The company was founded in Northumberland, England, by artist John Hersey in 1987. The project began life many years before when John, disappointed with industrially made pastels, decided to make his own. He found the manufactured pastels available on the market broke too easily, were not uniform in texture and consistency, and did not live up to his desire for pure, richly pigmented colours.

For several years he worked on methods of production, colour sequences, and the texture of his pigment mixtures. When John, his wife Kate, and their children moved to Northumberland in 1980, the clarity of light and subtlety of colour found in the rugged moorland and rolling hills of the Tarset Valley became a source of inspiration. John’s guiding principle was to create colour harmony by making pastels grouped into related tones. Rather than simply adding black or white to produce tints and shades, each pastel is a stand-alone colour. This idea is where the company name comes from: the colours are in unison with one another.

Today, the company, now run by John’s wife Kate and their son Dan Hersey, employs a small team from the local community. They roll, label, and pack nearly half a million soft pastels each year. Despite this growth, Unison Colour still make their pastels according to John’s original approach to colour relationships and harmony using a handmade process that results in a range of intensely coloured pastels that have a rich, creamy consistency.  

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ON LOCATION AT UNISON COLOUR

Soft pastel is one of the most direct approaches an artist can take to colour. Unison Colour pastels contain very little binder, making them the closest to painting with pure pigment an artist can get. We visited Unison Colour to watch the soft pastel-making process from beginning to end. Each pastel is made by hand in the beautiful workshops and coach house at Thorneyburn, in the heart of Northumberland National Park.

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THE PROCESS OF MAKING SOFT PASTELS

The pastels are made according to the original recipes created by John. Each recipe takes into account the individual properties of the pigments used, and each colour pastel needs to be made slightly differently to account for these characteristics.

The essential ingredients of Unison Colour soft pastels are pigment and kaolin clay. Remarkably, a food processor is used to mix these ingredients with water to make a paste, whereas previously this process used to be done by hand using a pestle and mortar.

The mixture is divided and placed onto blotting paper to wick out the moisture.

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The mixture can’t be rolled into pastels if it is too moist, so they are given a squeeze to remove any excess water, and then they are ready to be prepared by hand. It takes a number of months to master rolling pastels, which involves gently rolling with the fingers and the palm of the hand. Each pastel maker finds their own technique.

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Once the pastels are rolled, they need to dry out fully. In many artists’ colours, the pigments affect the drying time of the paint, and the same goes for soft pastels. The drying time ranges between one and four days, and different colour pastels need to dry in different conditions, depending on the nature of the pigment – some can be left overnight on the table, while others need to be placed in a heated cupboard. Once the pastels have dried out, the labels are applied by hand.

IN CONVERSATION WITH UNISON COLOUR

‘‘The countryside of Northumberland, where Unison Colour is based, has a huge impact on the company. It's the inspiration for all the colours - so that's very much at the core of it.’’   DAN HERSEY

Dan Hersey, Chairman and son of Unison Colour founder John Hersey, and Jim Longman, one of their team of makers, visited the Jackson’s Studio to talk about the history of the company and share the reasons why their pastels are regarded as some of the finest in the world.

In part one, Dan Hersey shares his memories of how the Northumberland landscape inspired the colours that his father began to make and talks about how their continued success is founded upon a value of tradition and a passion for colour.

IN CONVERSATION WITH JIM LONGMAN

In this second part, Michael explains his thinking behind formulating his paints, the importance of bringing out the character of each colour, what oil content means for oil painters, and how it relates to the fat over lean principle.

IN CONVERSATION WITH NINA SQUIRE

In this film, artist and teacher Nina Squire goes into detail about the qualities of Unison Colour soft pastels that make them unique. She shares technical tips about how to get the best results when using soft pastels, and also the tools and materials you may need to get started and develop your practice.

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THE UNISON COLOUR RANGE

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SOFT PASTELS

Michael Harding’s oil paints are made by hand, using techniques which date back to the days of the Old Masters. The result is a range of highly pigmented, beautiful paints that provide the greatest possible coverage with brilliant, vivid, and true colour.

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SOFT PASTEL SETS

Unison Colour offer a comprehensive range of sets. These include starter sets, compact half stick sets, special edition collections, and curated sets selected by renowned pastel artists in a broad range of inspiring themes including landscape, botanical, and portrait colours.

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SOFT PASTEL EMPTY BOXES

Based on recipes developed since the Renaissance, Michael Harding's oil painting mediums are designed to alter the viscosity, surface finish, or drying time of oil paint. They include resin-based glaze mediums and beeswax paste for increasing the body of oil colour.

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PASTEL FIXING SPRAY

A colourless, non-yellowing fixative for pastels that helps protect work from smudging, airborne moisture and UV damage. It can also be used to fix work in progress and prevent smudging as layers are built up. A high quality fixative that dries to a matt, clear finish.


Customer Reviews

“I love these pastels! Their palette is rich and vibrant, and the tonal range offered by the brand is really wide.” A. Lerma

“These paints are of very high quality. The paint glides on the paper like silk.” N. Ali

“Perfect soft pastel, beautiful colour, smooth like butter.” A. Svatoš


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