A Colorful Past

It was over 25 years ago that the painter became the paintmaker. Interested in the composition of his materials, Robert Gamblin decided to make his own oil colors. For one year, he made only white. Only when he was completely satisfied with the result did he move on to colors.

For the next five years, he made oil colors for West Coast painters. The colors Robert developed would have made the Old Masters proud—and probably jealous. Not only were Gamblin's versions lightfast but also nonreactive and nontoxic. New production machinery—designed specifically by Robert—further increased the pigment load and improved the paints' rich texture. Artists quickly embraced Robert's oils: luscious colors that are buttery under the brush and stiff enough under the knife to make a thick impasto on a warm summer day.

With encouragement from those familiar with his products, Robert took his colors to New York City, where he met his partner Martha Bergman. Together they set up the first Gamblin factory, on the third floor of a NW Portland warehouse. On the day the elevator broke, Robert knew it was time to find ground-floor space.

Making History

Robert's skills were put to the test when he was commissioned by the Smithsonian to recreate 150 antique paints from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. He formulated safer, more stable, reversible colors for scientists and conservators at the National Gallery and the Getty, among others; after extensive testing, they went into production as "Gamblin Conservation Colors." Today, these popular paints are used by over 250 museums around the world.

After making colors from fragile, dangerously toxic pigments, Robert was more committed than ever to giving artists safer, more permanent materials and turned his attention from colors to mediums. Oil painting studios are immediately safer when artists remove strong solvents from their painting processes. Gamblin's line of painting mediums, therefore, is made with alkyd resin. Alkyds have been formulated for use in artists' materials, most successfully as an oil painting medium due to their ability to create strong, flexible paint films. By using alkyd-based mediums, such as Galkyd, painters are able to rid their studios of turpentine and can instead use the mildest form of solvent, odorless mineral spirits.

Another Gamblin innovation resulted from the sample of Megilp that Robert received from a conservation scientist at Tate Gallery. Aware of the artistic appeal and value of Megilp, a highly toxic soft gel medium favored by 18th and 19th century painters such as J.M.W. Turner, Robert formulated a less damaging version. Gamblin's Neo Megilp, made without turpentine, lead or natural resins, is a contemporary version of one of the Old Masters' true secrets.

Robert's collaboration with the National Gallery also proved invaluable, resulting in the formulation of Gamvar, a revolutionary varnish that goes on water-clear, stays water-clear, and can be easily and safely removed at any time. It is not only less toxic but also more luminous than traditional varnishes.

The Future Looks Radiant

When the NW industrial area of Portland turned trendy, it was time to move again. The eastside factory that's still home to Gamblin Artist Colors is spacious and bright, even during the grey, wet winters for which Portland is famous. Robert can often be found in his test lab/studio, wrist-deep in his conservation work. He also continues to help painters understand and build palettes, learn new techniques, and choose their materials—and he continues to innovate. After 25 years at the factory, Martha Gamblin retired to her studio where she now makes paintings instead of paint.

Expanding the palette and possibilities for painters, Robert introduced the Radiant Colors: eight tints—mixtures of pure color and white—at Value 7 on the Munsell System. Artists can use Radiant tints to build under paintings in the traditional manner and then glaze to achieve the optical effects of light and shade. With these contemporary colors, painters of today can explore a technique of the past.

To demystify color mixing, Robert developed an innovative approach to color mixing that takes artists from a 2D color wheel into 3D "color space." His "Navigating Colorspace" demystifies color-mixing and helps painters easily and readily mix any color in colorspace.

Out of Robert's passion for painting and paintmaking has grown a responsible, progressive company that honors the past while continually breaking new ground. Because Gamblin materials promise permanence, the future resides in the artists who use Gamblin products. Five hundred years from now, some part of what is made today in our factory will still be in the world—perhaps on one of your paintings.
Robert Gamblin

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