Art Calendar Magazine Q&A with Gamblin Artists Colors Co. The Importance of Sustainable Practices, Health and Safety in Art

By Steve Yahn, Art Calendar Magazine, July/August 2008.

Art Calendar: What does “going green” mean to Gamblin?

Cole: Gamblin was founded to make oil painting materials that are safer for painters, their paintings and the environment. We also try to run our company as sustainably as possible.

Safety means liberating painters from traditional mediums that require harsh solvents, that crack and yellow over time, and eventually make their way into our watersheds.

Our employees lead the way on sustainability. Rather than drive, last year they biked or walked over 20,000 miles to and from our factory. We reuse packaging materials we receive, use wind-power for our factory, and painstakingly avoid waste throughout the paint-making process.

Art Calendar: What is the chief advantage to an artist who chooses “greener” oil painting materials?

Cole: Fundamentally, we are talking about artists’ health. We constantly hear from painters who have had health problems from the harsh solvents used in many painting mediums and are now working with Gamblin oil painting materials – Gamsol and Galkyd in particular. The artists we work with are not only safer for it, but are also able to paint with complete confidence in the permanence of their work.

Art Calendar: Can you give me an example or two of a product that has “gone green” but is still true to its historic working properties?

Cole: Sure. Neo Megilp is a terrific example. (William) Turner was a master of light. One of his secrets was a medium called megilph, also known as maroger.

There were different formulations, but in general, it was a mixture of lead and mastic varnish (often thinned with turpentine) dissolved into boiling linseed oil. It’s wonderful to paint with. But it’s also very hard on painters, and with time it cracks and yellows. Our contemporary version – Neo Megilp – is a far more permanent formulation that is much, much safer to work with.

Another example is our solvent: Gamsol. Switching to Gamsol immediately makes a painter’s studio a safer place to work. Unlike turpentine, it cannot be absorbed thru one’s skin. It is odor free and has a much lower evaporation rate as well as a higher flashpoint.

Art Calendar: Why do you think the greening of art is such a strong trend these days?

Cole: The underlying issues – health, environment, sustainability – are ones painters are wrestling with in their own lives and care passionately about. Artists have always held up a mirror to society, challenged us and ultimately led us forward. This is as true today as ever. The best part of what we do is helping artists match materials and techniques to their artistic intent. These are exciting times for us.

Art Calendar: What do you see on the horizon?

Cole: The mainstream has had “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle” for perhaps a decade now. We both see – and I suppose hope for – a comeback of two other “Rs”: Repurpose and Repair. And we see a new “R” on the horizon.

Those of us who find inspiration in found objectives – or are just plain resourceful – have been Re-purposing and Repairing for decades. We see both of these trends gaining momentum.

Many of us have had enough with America’s “throw-it-away-and-buy-a-new-one” school of thought. A new “R” – Rethink – is something on the horizon that is already here in some ways. Artists are rethinking past decisions with ever broader perspectives.

Artists are expressing their environmental and social convictions in their work and with what products they choose to buy. We are seeing a flight to higher-quality, more environmentally responsible materials.

Broadly, the complex, the fleeting, and the multi-featured are being replaced by the meaningful, the elegant and the enduring.

(reprinted with permission)


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