Gamblin Colors

The following information came from little pamphlets that we received from Gamblin years ago.  Our customers have found them very useful so we wanted to share them with you.


Black, first among the alchemical principals, is the action of fire.  Charcoal was probably the first drawing tool. With white chalk and red earth colors, black formed the palette of prehistoric painters.  Before the 20th century, various organic material, including animal bones, were calcined (roasted) together to form different colors of blacks.  Neither the warm, slightly purplish "vine black" made from vines, wine lees and grape skins, nor a bluish fruit stone black, made from burning pits, were completely lightfast.

Essentially bone and ivory blacks are the same compounds of carbon and calcium, and pigment color and quality compare so favorably that artists' oil color made today from bone black is called Ivory Black.

Ivory Black is a good, all purpose black that has a weak tinting strength and is slightly warm in its tint and transparency.  This is a good choice for mixing greys, tinting, and mixing with other colors.

Mars Black is a mineral pigment made from iron metal.  It is well named for the god of war.  Mars Black has approximately three times the tinting strength of Ivory Black and is very opaque.  Cool in its masstone and strong, Mars Black is often the choice of the Neo-Expressionists and others who want to make black opaque marks in thick wet paintings.  It is also a lean black that dries more quickly than Ivory.  It is slightly warm in its tint.  Mars Black is not as black a black as Ivory Black.

Van Dyke Brown is a warm black and a beautiful match to the 16th century original.  Often used as a transparent earth glazing color, Gamblin Van Dyke Brown is completely lightfast.

Payne's Grey is now the coolest black on the Gamblin palette.  A more complex color than Blue Black, its essential ingredients are Ivory Black and Ultramarine Blue.

Black Spinel is a mixed metal oxide, made from the calcination of copper oxide and chromium oxide.  This Copper Chromite Black is truly unique.  Without the addition of painting mediums, this black dries to a matte finish and looks like slate.  A truly neutral tint may be its most appealing characteristic.

An interesting alternative to mixing with white, the Portland Greys can mute the high key tints of the modern colors to make more natural-looking mixtures.  Named for the city where they arm ade, the Portland Greys are formulated using the Munsell® System at Value 7 for painters who work with color values.


White is the heart of any line of artists' colors.  Gamblin artists' grade white oil colors are formulated to last for hundreds of years.  Between half and three quarters of the paint on most oil paintings is white, so it is the white that holds most paintings together.  Therefore, artists should consider using only the best artists' grade white.

Titanium White is made from titanium dioxide that was first discovered in the late 18th century but not used to make artists' color until the early 20th century.  High quality, pure titanium dioxide reflects 97.2% of incident light.  It is the most brilliant of the white pigments, and also the most opaque.  Using Titanium White to make tints yields the brightest paintings, so it is an excellent choice for direct painting techniques.  Titanium White is non toxic and less prone to yellowing and cracking than Lead White (especially when a small amount of zinc oxide is added to the formula).

Titanium-Zinc White is a 50/50 mixture that makes an excellent white oil paint, especially for color mixing.  The covering power of Titanium White is useful for creating opaque layers but pure Titanium White can overpower many color and reduce their tints too much.  T-Z White combines Titanium's opacity with Zinc's creamy texture so it has wonderful working properties.  Research has shown that when ground together in  equal parts, these two pigments make a most permanent white paint film.

For health reasons, white made from titanium and zinc replaced Lead White on the palettes of most American painters by the mid-twentieth century.  But some painters still prefer the working properties of Lead White (Flake White) including its dense, long "ropy" stroke.  So Robert Gamblin formulate Flake White Replacement from titanium and zinc pigments.  It has moderate tinting strength and, like Flake White, it is warmer than Titanium.  However, unlike traditional Flake White, Gamblin Flake White Replacement will not crack over time and is non-toxic.

Quick Dry White is another innovative white.  Quick Dry White is for painters who want their paintings to set up more quickly.  Made from Titanium and Zinc pigments, Robert Gamblin added alkyd resin into the binder of this paint that he uses regularly for landscape painting.  Quick Dry White is the glossiest of the Gamblin artists' whites.

Zinc White is made from zinc oxide.  As early as 1785, painters were using Zinc White instead of Lead White.  Compared with all other whites, Zinc White has less hiding power.  It dries more slowly, so painters who want to paint wet into wet over a long time will find it useful.  Zinc White is the coolest white, with a slightly bluish cast.  Being more transparent than other whites, Zinc is good for glazing and scumbling.  Its creamy texture makes it a great choice when using impasto techniques or for making paintings in one sitting (all prima).


Green is a primary of light, but not of pigments.

Artists traditional made greens by glazing Egyptian Blue (a glass frit called smalt) over an Earth Yellow or a color like Naples Yellow (a naturally occurring lead antimoniate).  Few green pigments are found naturally.  Terra Verte, green earth, is made from volcanic celadonite and/or a mineral of sedimentary origin.  Green earth was used as a bole for gilding and as underpainting for flesh tones in Medieval painting (verdaccio).

Gamblin Terra Verte is a mixed green because naturally occurring green earth is not easily available and its color is unpredictable.

Verdigris ("green of Greece") is a bluish green pigment used by artists of Greece and Rome and found on the walls of Pompeii.  Cennini preferred Verdigris to green earth.  Verdigris was a common color for draperies in Italian and Dutch easel painting from the 15th through the 17th centuries.  To make Verdigris, copper plates were covered with grape skins.  Their fermentation caused a green crust to form on the copper.  Verdigris is reactive and unstable, requiring painters to use isolating varnishes to protect its color.  While searching for a warmer, more permanent color, some painters experimented with Emerald Green (Schweinfurt).  This is a poisonous copper aceto-arsenite that was most successfully used as a rat poison in the sewers of Paris.

Viridian (hydrated chromium oxide) was available as an oil color by 1838 and immediately replaced Verdigris and Emerald Green.  It is pure green, completely lightfast and opaque, with low tinting strength.  Cobalt Green makes valuable greys and is especially useful for painting the American Southwest.

Phthalo Green Blue Shade, first made in 1927, most closely resembles Verdigris.  Because the blue shade of this modern organic color was the first on introduced, it is simply called "Phthalo Green."  Unlike most greens of the natural world, Phthalo Green Blue Shade is a cool color.  Like all modern organic color, Phthalo Green has a distinct temperature bias.  Phthalo Green Yellow Shade is a warm and much more natural looking than the cool version.

Gamblin Sap Green is a dark, earthy green with a beautiful yellow undertone made from lightfast pigments.


Red earth, blood, chalk and soot were the primary colorants of prehistorical painters.

Venetian Red (Iron Red Light) is a deep earthy red that is more scarlet than purple.  Originally an earth pigment containing hematite, Venetian Red has been made from a synthetic iron oxide since the late 1700s.  Indian Red, a red earth color with a distinctive purple cast, was named for the natural earth color from the island of Ormus in the Persian Gulf, which was mined out by the 18th century.  Transparent Earth Red is a contemporary red earth color that makes an excellent Renaissance style glazing color.

Reds made from organic matter, such as the madder root, dried bodies of insects or pomegranate peel, fade. Alizarin Crimson was synthesized from the madder root in 1868.  A "lake color," Alizarin Crimson is a dye bonded onto alumina hydrate then ground into a pigment.  Alizarin Crimson is the least permanent red color commonly found on artists' palettes today.  Painters who want transparency may want to look at Alizarin Permanent, formulated by Robert Gamblin from lightfast pigments.  This is an excellent match in masstone and transparency, slightly brighter in tint.

Cadmium Red, bright red in shades from orange/red to maroon, was made at the turn of the century.  By the 1930's, lightfast Cadmium Reds replaced Vermillion on artists' palettes.  Cadmium Reds are opaque - light will not penetrate their surfaces.  Once considered toxic pigments, chemically pure Cadmium Reds from which we make Gamblin colors, contain so little bio-available cadmium metal that they do not require heath warning labels.

From the color revolution of the 20th century come red artists' oil color of great clarity and transparency.  What Turner could have done with these new reds!  Instead of making glazes by thinning down an opaque color (which does not increase transparency, it merely puts more space between the particles of pigments), painters can reach for the cool red to make glazes:  Quinacridone Magenta, Quinacridone Red or Perylene Red which has a warm yellow undertone.  Perinone Red is an elegant semi-transparent cool red, which does grey down when mixed with white.

Napthol Red and Napthol Scarlet are also semi-transparent.  Unfortunately, these colors were introduced to painters as Cadmium Red Hues so these may have disappointed those of you who wanted colors that would grey down when mixed with white.  Napthol Red is the cool (blue) shade and Napthol Scarlet replaces warm Vermilion.  Both these modern organic colors remain high key in tints.


Yellow appears to advance.  It has the highest reflectivity of any color.  In synthesia, the sound of the oboe is clear yellow.

Today hearing "yellow," most painters see Cadmium Yellow - brilliant and opaque.  Cadmium is a silvery metal that occurs in nature, but cadmium pigments are manufactured.  Oil colors were first made from cadmium yellow pigments in 1819.  Cadmium Yellow replaced toxic chrome (lead) yellows.  Although more expensive than chrome yellow, Cadmium Yellow was used by landscape painters, including Claude Monet, because of its higher chroma and its greater purity of color.  Now Gamblin Cadmium colors have replaced those brands made with pigment that contain high levels of bio-available cadmium metal.  This is why Gamblin Cadmium colors do not require health warning labels.

Before the Industrial Revolution, painters used Yellow Ochres, natural iron oxides, or orpiment, a sulfide of arsenic.  Opaque Naples Yellow is made from lead antimoniate, a manufactured pigment.  The pigment was used in Babylonia but not much by the Old Masters.  Rubens used the color in portraiture.  In fact, the color seems to be more important than its chemical composition so Robert Gamblin formulated an artists' quality, non-toxic version, Naples Yellow Hue.

A tree secretion, Gamboge, was used for glazing before Indian Yellow became available in the middle of the 19th century.  To make Indian Yellow, cows were force-fed mango leaves and given no water.  Their urine was collected in dirt balls and sold as "pigment."  The resulting artists' color was a warm glazing yellow.  Genuine Indian Yellow was fugitive and finally abandoned somewhere between the decline of cruelty to animals and the rise of manufactured pigments.

Indian Yellow is a diarylide yellow, lightfastness I and equal in brilliance and transparency to genuine Indian Yellow.  In its transparency, it makes a glowing warm yellow, as if a painting were suddenly lit with summer sunshine.

Transparent Earth Yellow is made for painters searching for glazing colors they can use to create effects like chiaroscuro or sfumato.  The pigment (PY 42) is made by hydrating a synthetic iron oxide pigment.  The resulting Transparent Earth Yellow is completely lightfast and is a beautifully transparent earth glazing, like those used by the Old Masters.

Hansa Yellow pigments were first made in Germany just before World War I.  They are organic pigments that are semi-transparent.  In their masstones, Hansa Yellows resemble Cadmium Yellows.  Hansa Yellows make more intense tints and cleaner secondaries, especially when mixed with other organic colors like Phthalo Blue and Green.  Because they are semi-transparent, Hansa Yellows are great glazing colors.  Hansa Yellow Deep is a golden semi-transparent yellow.