Gamblin Artists Colors, I've the impression, is a company in the tradition of the colormen of the 16th and 17th centuries–utterly committed to providing artists with the best-concoted oil paints. Oil paints in and of themselves are a fascinating medium, whether or not it's your medium of choice (what painting I do I do in watercolor), and are, as far as I am aware, a very simple thing; you mix powdered pigments (some of them quite nasty and made from heavy-metals) and linseed oil.
Gamblin brings their "A" game by committing utterly to not only quality but also by a committment to being kind to the environment–very wise considering the qualities of some of the pigments, and very appropriate, being an Oregon company. In their studio, an efficient filtration system removes any particulate matter using products from a company called Donaldson Torit. Throughout the manufacturing and sample process, doubtlessly samples and bits of paint are discarded. Add all this waste together, colorwise, and what do you get?
Gray. In the ideal paint world, when you mix a great many colors together, the colors do not necessarily sum up to black; what they do is neutralize each other (an ideal red mixed with an ideal violet, for instance, being complementary (note they are 180 degress away from each other on the color wheel) cancel each other out to the degree they are ideal, resulting in, not black but gray).
If you mix together all the paint-leavings from around the studio and the particulate strained out of the air in the Torit filters, the result is, apparently, a luminous, somewhat pearly gray, with a green note. John Foyston of The Big O tells the story:
Each February, cardboard drums of pigment powder trapped by the factory's Donaldson Torit air filter are added to an oil base and buckets of waste paint, then run through the roller mill that gives Gamblin paints their trademark silky texture. Torrit Grey (with an extra "r" to avoid any trademark infringement) is the result, and it's packed into date-coded 37-milliliter tubes marked "always complimentary, not for sale" and then given away -- 11,000 of them last year -- to artists, students and teachers starting every Earth Day.
Torrit Grey is always free and it's always gray, because that's what happens when you mix together pigments from the dozens of different paints that Gamblin makes and sells to artists around the world. But don't think that gray is a synonym for boring: Any artist worth her palette knife knows that gray is a many-splendored thing. Far from being simply black and white, gray has a range of hues and shades -- they are the mid-tones that make up much of our visual world.
So it should be available in your local gentlemany art supply emporium pretty soon now. Locally I trust Art Media and Utrecht for new art supplies. You will, likely, not find this at your local Michael's, but I might be wrong about that.
Something else that occurred to me was that the Gamblin company (and, by extension, Mr Gamblin himself) are very canny marketers. Each Torrit Gray tube is as individual as what sold that year, and each are valuable in and of itself as subtly distinctive and individual.
It's a quirkiness that lends itself to amazing self-expression. The Gamblin concern even runs a contest each year for the most creative work produced by an artist using Gamblin Torrit Gray, White, and Black oils. Using these three colors is a bit of a challenge, because instead of using color, which, even when inexpertly-mixed, can tell a very subjective story with relative ease, using just black, white, and gray means you work only with value–the relative whiteness or blackness of a thing. As it happens (and this I've found true when you reduce your canon or your working tools to minimum) limiting your range to simply values seems to infuse even more creativity, resulting in works that are even more moving and compelling than you'd think. Gamblin's current gallery of Torrit Gray competition works can be found here; if they change it, just go to the Gamblin page and look up Torrit Gray.
Gamblin has a reputation of care and committment I find admirable. Torrit Gray is a brilliant stroke of genius. If Robert Gamblin only did what he did for oil paints to watercolors, I just shudder to think what would result.
View the Oregonian article here, complete with a nifty video about how they do it.
(illustrations were taken from the Gamblin site for purposes of illustration only. All copyrights and rights obtain to them)