Unison Soft Pastels are beautiful hand-made professional soft pastels that are just great to use. Unison proudly states that their pastels are ‘made by artists for artists’. They were introduced to the market in 1987 by artist John Hersey and were an immediate success. Since then Unison Soft Pastels have gone from strength to strength.


Despite manufacturing over half a million individual sticks a year the pastels are still completely hand -made and retain all the qualities of the originals – their unique texture is due to the fact that they are hand rolled.

Unison Soft Pastels are mixed to meticulous recipes and are based on traditional pigments – all 436 colours deliver a consistent response and produce very little dust, which means more of the pigment remains on your chosen support. They also work well with other manufacturers’ pastels, too, whether soft or hard.

Labels on pastels can be quite an irritation especially when they are difficult to remove when you want to use your pastels full length. Unison’s labels can be removed without fuss, and each is printed with its colour code. The pastels hold together without breaking when the labels are removed or packed into a travelling case – Unison has even developed smart presentation boxes for you to store your pastels in. These have 8, 18, 36, or 72 slots in cushioned foam in heavy-duty black cardboard boxes.


There are many colour sets available, with starter sets that are particularly useful for artists who are new to pastels, and themed sets of 8, 18, 36 or 70 pastels. Half-stick sets are also available with 30, 63 or 120 pastels; the latter are particularly useful as a good en plein air box of pastels, as well for in the studio. Themed sets include animals, various landscape sets, portrait and ocean blues. You can, of course, mix and match your own set from all 436 colours.

Above is just a small selection of the 436 Unison colours available. The colour chart is carefully printed and the colours are pretty much spot on

Unison Soft Pastels have excellent lightfast qualities too, which means that pastel paintings created today will be visually stunning in years to come, which is great news.


Unison Soft Pastels have a low binder to pigment ratio, which means the highly saturated colours are suitable for both subtle and bold mark making.

They have a lovely soft buttery feel to them when used and just glide onto the surface. I tried many different supports and even in mixed-media work the results each time were really quite superb.

Scumbling the pastels one over the other between fixed layers was an absolute joy. Not only did the pastels create some wonderful colour combinations, but their soft quality meant that I could also use the surface textures of my supports as an integral part of the painting process. This is important to me, since texture forms a big part of my painting process.

Unison Soft Pastels are an exceptional pastel of the highest quality. All artists will immediately see the difference when using them in their work. I highly recommend them.

Buttermere Reflections, Cumbria, Unison Soft Pastels on Sepia Canson Mi-Teintes Touch pastel paper 350gsm, (52x47cm).

Lots of lovely free-flowing mark making is possible with Unison pastels, from the most delicate touch to more robust, deeper saturated tones and colours driven into the pastel surface – without breaking (unless you want them to).

Pastels that really measure up!

For artists who like to work big, as I do, ‘giant size’ Unison Soft Pastels are available in all 436 colours. They are made to order only.

(a) Small standard size pastel

(b) Large size pastel

(c) Giant size pastel

Here I applied Unison Soft Pastels to several different pastel supports and a top-quality watercolour paper to illustrate their versatility – it was a magical experience working with them on all the supports.

(a) Black P500 Sait pastel paper

(b) Canson Mi-Teintes Touch 350gsm, 425 Black

(c) Clarefontaine grey Pastelmat

(d) Canson Moulin du Roy (Not) 300gsm, 100per cent cellulose watercolour paper

Three of a Kind, Unison Soft Pastels on Tobacco Canson Mi-Teintes Touch pastel paper, 350gsm,(42x45.5cm).

Many energetic and expressive marks can be achieved. Here full-length side strokes were particularly useful for the foreground big shapes, especially in the rocks and the crashing waves.

Unison Soft Pastels with other media

Here two works in progress demonstrate how Unison Soft Pastels can be used in mixed-media paintings.

Summer Meadows, Upper Wharfedale, Yorkshire Dales, gouache, watercolour and Unison Soft Pastel on Arches Aquarelle Not watercolour paper 400lb (850gsm), (43x51cm).

As I worked I switched back and forth between water media and Unison Soft Pastels. I particularly liked the way colours BV3 and BV6 gave texture to the stone walls using tip and sidestrokes over watercolour washes.

Where Land meets the Atlantic Ocean, gouache, watercolour and Unison Soft Pastel on Canson Moulin du Roy Rough watercolour paper, 140lb (300gsm), (57x57cm).

The responsive handmade Unison Soft Pastels skipped beautifully over this paper surface, emphasising textures and creating very little dust, without crumbling and allowing lovely contrasts between all my water-media techniques, especially for the rocks.

Unison Soft Pastels are available from leading art suppliers. For further information visit www.unisoncolour.com

Robert Dutton is a professional artist and tutor. For details about his workshops and holidays, and to see more of his work, visit www.rdcreative.co.uk.

This product report is taken from the November 2015 issue of The Artist - click here to purchase