Robert Gamblin developed his art career and paint manufacturing business by learning how quality paints are made and how they can be used safely and effectively in the studio.
by M. Stephen Doherty
| Evening Makena
2007, oil, 24 x 18.
Collection the artist.
The best art-materials companies are often headed by someone with a deep understanding and appreciation of artists. That is certainly the case with Gamblin Artist’s Colors, of Portland, Oregon, which was founded by Robert Gamblin, a painter who trained at the University of Oregon and the San Francisco Art Institute. Working with his wife and partner, Martha Bergman, Gamblin brought his personal vision to the firm, and even though he is no long involved in the day-to-day activities of the company, it continues to be guided by that vision. That concept, which is based in largely on Gamblin’s own needs as a painter, includes providing products that are superior in quality, reasonably priced, safe to work with, and effective in helping artists create permanent works of art. Moreover, Gamblin’s vision also includes an educational program that helps artists gain a better understanding of the often confusing, arcane, and variable nature of artists’ materials.
Artists responded enthusiastically to Gamblin’s vision when he launched his company in the early 1980s, in large part because he understood their expectations of how paints should perform, their need for a safe working environment, their receptiveness to innovative products, and their frustration that other companies were eliminating products because they didn’t appeal to a mass market. Retailers also appreciated Gamblin’s willingness to spend a significant amount of time traveling to art schools, ateliers, and studios to teach artists and make them aware of his products.
2003, oil, 24 x 18.
Collection Michael Hoeye and Martha Banyas.
According to Gamblin, his vision was formulated just as much while he was working in his kitchen as it did when he was in his art studio. “For 13 years after I graduated from art school, I educated myself about how to make the quality paints, mediums, varnish, and grounds I wanted to use,” he explains. “The process was very similar to my becoming a good cook. It started with research into ingredients and recipes; developed through years of searching for the best materials and testing them; and ended up with me being able to offer healthy, satisfying, and personalized products that others could appreciate and consume.”
Dream in Tangerine 2005, oil, 72 x 48.
Among the special “dishes” Gambin prepared for artists was Gamvar, a water-clear varnish that is superior to the traditional varnishes artists used for centuries. “Rene de la Rie, a conservation scientist at the National Gallery in Washington, spent 10 years trying to come up with a varnish that was safer to use in the studio, didn’t yellow with age, and wouldn’t cause colors to lose their saturation,” Gamblin explains. “I worked with Rene and the staff of the National Gallery to develop Gamvar.”
Among the other products Gamblin developed are Gamsol, an odorless mineral spirits solvent; Galkyd, an alkyd medium available as a gel or a fluid liquid, that speeds up the drying time of oil colors; Artists Sketching Oils, a student grade of paint made with quality extenders; flake white replacement, a safe alternative to lead-white paint; and Radiant Colors, eight tinted colors that facilitate painting in the traditional manner of first applying bright colors and then modulating those by applying thin glazes when the initial layers of paint are dry.
In addition to sharing his knowledge with the students, teachers, and professional artists he visited, Gamblin and Berger produced an animated, three-dimensional program on color mixing titled Navigating Color Space; and they posted a great deal of information for artists on his company’s website (www.gamblincolors.com/colors1). Navigating Color Space is a DVD program the couple created to show painters how to access the universe of color he calls Color Space. “The animated sequences demonstrate how to define a color by its attributes: value, hue, and intensity (chroma),” he explains. “During the program, I demonstrate a few of the secrets of the Old Masters so you, too, will know how to mix green and red into blue. We spent $60,000 producing the DVD and it doesn’t directly sell any of our products, because our intention was strictly educational.”
One of the most useful sections of the Gamblin company website is a description of various color palettes of oils one might use to achieve specific effects. Lists of tube colors are offered to artists who want to work with a basic high-key selection of oils, the modern equivalents of paints used by the Impressionists, a limited number of transparent glaze colors, a basic landscape palette, a more specialized landscape palette, and recommendations for emulating the Old Masters.
|Dovecoat au Crepuscule
2005, oil, 16 x 10.
Collection Forbes magazine.
When asked whether the two recommended landscape palettes matched the colors he uses, Gamblin said his personal selection varies depending on the location where he is working. “No matter where I am, I lay out at least 10 colors so I can use a warm and cool version of pigments that represent a balanced color wheel,” he explains. “There will always be transparent burnt orange, yellow ochre, and a chromatic black; but the rest will depend on the light and atmosphere in the landscape. If, for example, I’m in New Mexico, I’ll have cobalt green and a selection of reds appropriate for the desert.
“Artists often talk about using a limited palette, but the truth is they are all limited because no palette has room for the 100+ tube colors available.” Gamblin explains. “The real question is whether or not artists have selected colors that are balanced around the color wheel. Beyond that, they need to understand the characteristics of pigments in terms of their intensity and temperature.”
| Not Green
2004, oil, 24 x 18.
Collection the artist.
Not surprisingly, one of the issues that concerns Gamblin in terms of his own painting activity is balancing the seemingly conflicting nature of artists’ colors. “I haven’t mounted a major exhibition of my paintings in some time because I’ve been trying to synthesize competing ideas about landscape painting,” he explains. “I’ve wanted to see how approaches to the classical and Impressionist approaches to landscape painting might be forced into the same funnel and result in Expressionism. I think I’ve worked it out privately, and I’m happily coming to the end of that discovery process and I will soon be ready to exhibit my pictures.”
M. Stephen Doherty is the editor-in-chief of American Artist.