01 April 2009

Robert Gamblin and Navigating Color Space

2005.I visited the Gamblin Artist Color website today and got a bit of a lesson in color mixing.

Robert Gamblin has a very impressive resume. He has worked as a colorman for the Smithsonian Institution in recreating paintings and for 25 years he's produced colors for the professional artist (and the artist who aspires to be professional) from Gamblin Artist Colors.

The company specializes in the production of oil paints and associated media. His company doesn't make water colors, but oh, I wish it did!

Mr. Gamblin has his own view of the 3-D view of color relationships, and he calls it "Color Space". This takes the theoretical information encoded by theorists such as Munsell, creating a volume aligned along Hue, Intensity, and Value axes and forges from it a practical way of looking at color which strives for predictablility in mixing and working from known quantities to produce expected results. As still a beginner in my autodidactic color theory activities, I was quite surprised at how doable his approach makes it seem to be.

He has a short video, Navigating Color Space, which tells you all about it. You can buy a copy to keep for yourself at the rather reasonable price of $11.95 from his company's website or via your local Gamblin retailer, but if you want to know what he has to say right now, the video is hosted on his website at the Navigating Color Space page, which you can view for free.

At first, the Hue/Value/Intensity structure seemed familiar, but as I said before, the Gamblin Color Space concept is about practical use. It allows you to, given the paints you have, view the space as something you can traverse on the way to something you can achieve. It also, in relating to various eras of painting, give you an idea of the palette you should start with to get to the colors that you want to use. Particularly instructive was the way Mr. Gamblin related the various eras, represented by the old Masters, the Impressionists, and the modern painters, to volumes in the Color Space, so if you're going for a look of a certain era and a knowledge of the paints you have available (particularly of the Gamblin line) you know where to start with a minimum of guesswork.

Screenshot of Navigating Color Space from
the Gamblin Color website. All rights remain with creator.

It turns out to be a very useful tool, and its logic is quite accessable to those who know the color basics of warm, cool, value, neutral, and such

Essentially the takeaway I got was that to have access to the colors I want, I can use Gamblin's rationale to more aptly choose the basic colors I start with.

Late in the video, the artist himself demonstrates his highly logical palette logic, which he calls "unzipping the color wheel", where the palette itself gains a sort of inherent intelligence.

The video I found enjoyable in the main because it demonstrates rather clearly the bridge from abstract color theory through to practical application and, moreover, presents it in a way that one can actually picture using. It also speaks to the obviously deep simpatico that Robert Gamblin has with color itself.

As a delightful postscript, we became aquainted with the Gamblin range of "Portland Grays", formulated by the artist and inspired by our long cozy gray winters. One thing's for sure; Robert Gamblin knows Portland.

Mr Gamblin? Are you sure we can't talk you into branching into watercolor?

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Martha said...

Hello. I appreciate your comments on “Navigating Color Space,” a DVD program on color mixing. I am glad you saw the system. As I have said to hundreds of artists for over two decades, it’s not about mixing a color, it’s about mixing the same color over and over again.

For a long time, our goal was to help make color mixing more predictable by connecting the Munsell system with images most painters can easily bring to mind: do you want to begin the painting process with colors similar to Old Masters, Impressionists, Modernists?

Ultimately, we found the Munsell failed painters because the system was invented for graphic designers and printers. We needed to make a new communication tool.

When director/editor Jacob Pander suggested animation as a way to build 3D Color Space, oil painting history just started to move with transparency, masstone and tint around an axis of white/black.

The making of “Color Space,” which has been distributed internationally, was a marvelous, collaborative effort of our Portland-based media production team.

Sincerely, Martha Bergman-Gamblin
Founder, Gamblin Artists Colors Co.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...


Thank you very much for your comments. I'm remiss in not responding sooner.

I'm very happy that the system was visualized the way it was. Not only does it make sense, but Robert does a very good job of showing why it works. Also, and more important, I got a historical angle on oil colors that I didn't have before.

My favorite color systems delve into abstruse color concepts but make them simple. It's why I like the Wilcox color system for watercolors and why I'm quite taken with the Gamblin Color Space concept.

The video itself is simply entertianing too!