Reclaimed Earth Colors

©2020 Gamblin. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Carrie Judah

A history of sustainability

Our first Reclaimed Color, Torrit Grey, has been popular since the early 1990s when Gamblin decided to recycle pigment collected by our air filtration system and turn it into paint. Torrit Grey reduces the amount of waste that goes into landfills and encourages responsible living and art-making.

Similar to Torrit Grey, the Reclaimed Earth Colors are made with pigment that has a story.

Gamblin Reclaimed Earth Color Brown Ochre pigment

The pollution problem

The Ohio and Mississippi Rivers are among the most polluted in America. Not from litter, but from the Industrial Revolution, when America’s unquenchable thirst for energy exploited the land in its quest for coal. Today, thousands of square miles of coal mines lie abandoned and improperly sealed.

When rainwater seeps into the underground mines it becomes contaminated with toxic levels of heavy metals and acidity. The contaminated water then flows into streams and rivers where the metals oxidize and turn yellow, orange, and red. Officially, the term is “Acid Mine Drainage” (AMD). Unofficially it’s called “toxic sludge” and it’s left once-thriving ecosystems unable to support life.

A solution and a collaboration

For over a decade, Artist John Sabraw (pictured below), Engineer Guy Riefler (above), Environmentalist Michelle Shively, and a team of students at Ohio University have been trying to develop a sustainable solution to this problem. And they have.

The process begins with collecting contaminated water in large tanks. To neutralize the water’s acidity, a base is added, then oxygen. This causes the dissolved iron to crystalize and settle. The result: clean water on top and non-toxic iron oxide pigment on the bottom. The clean water is returned to the river where it is safe for aquatic life* and the iron oxides are dried into lightfast and safe artist pigment. The pigment is heated to various temperatures to achieve each color.

*The team has discovered that within just one year after cleanup, life returns to these once barren waters.

This is where Gamblin comes in

As a colorhouse that promises to be kind to artists and the environment, turning this pigment into paint was something we felt both compelled and honored to do.

In 2018 we officially joined forces by making one full batch of paint with the reclaimed pigment. The process to collect the pigment worked, and an oil paint manufacturer was on board. The concept was no longer just an idea, it was a reality.

Growing the concept, full-scale

The team in Ohio needed funding to scale the project so they took the campaign to Kickstarter and used the tubes of paint as an incentive for patrons to back the project with a $100 pledge. When the campaign exceeded its goal of $30,000 the project was funded.

And the momentum didn’t stop there. Support and interest from artists poured in from around the world; people wanted the paint and we wanted to make it. But for Gamblin to bring these colors to market, we needed pigment, and lots of it. To start, we needed enough pigment to make 2,500 three-tube sets. ​

The Kickstarter funding was used to design and build a pilot plant with a goal to refine the process and a dream to build a full-scale facility that could treat 1,000,000 gallons/day. This got the attention of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, who helped submit a proposal for a multi-million-dollar plant that would generate local jobs and produce over 5,000 lbs of pigment every day. The grant was made and in late 2019, Gamblin received a pallet of Reclaimed Earth Pigments. It was exactly what we needed to make the initial run of 2,500 sets.

Gamblin has volunteered countless (wo)man hours formulating, testing, naming, designing, and creating Gamblin Reclaimed Earth Colors: Rust Red, Iron Violet, and Brown Ochre.

Gamblin is also giving 20% of set sales back to the cause and encouraging our retail partners to donate a portion of their proceeds as well. Purchasing this set not only benefits the project financially, but it literally and directly creates a demand for the pigment and a demand for clean rivers.

The Limited Edition oil paint colors: Brown Ochre, Rust Red, Iron Violet

Glaze = Color + Galkyd | Tint = Color + Titanium Zinc White | Tone = Color + Portland Grey Medium | Shade = Color + Chromatic Black


Gamblin Brown Ochre color swatch with glaze, tint, tone, shade

Brown Ochre is naturally opaque and warm with a golden undertone. This pigment isn’t heated to the extent of the other colors, so it retains the deep yellow/brown hue of the raw iron oxide.


Gamblin Rust Red color swatch with glaze, tint, tone, shade

In its transparency, Rust Red carries the warm color of rusty water. From the tube and in mixtures, it is exactly what you’d expect: an earthy red-orange.


Gamblin Iron Violet color swatch with glaze, tint, tone, shade

Meet the first mauve color Gamblin has ever made. Straight from the tube, Iron Violet is a deep, earthy violet with a unique texture. Add white and it becomes the violet you see in the clouds at sunset or dawn.

Sustainable packaging

Gamblin is committed to reducing the use of plastic and unnecessary packaging wherever we can. We designed this set without plastic shrink-wrap. The sleeve and insert are recyclable, and the structure of the packaging has a function; it’s a primed panel made in Oregon by our friends at American Easel. It’s the ideal painting surface made with U.S.-grown poplar sides and a Baltic birch face.

Availability | How to buy

The new, full-scale True Pigments** treatment plant has the capacity to treat 1.4 million gallons of water and produce over 5,000 lbs of pigment every day. This facility will generate local jobs and it will eliminate the perpetual pollution source in Truetown, Ohio.

Considering the sourcing and complexity of the project, Gamblin is introducing the Reclaimed Colors as a Limited Edition set. We feel passionate about our role as paint-makers and we hope to support the project until the troubled ecosystems are restored.

However, our commitment to make these colors ultimately rests in the balance between supply and demand; painters will play a powerful role in the sustainability of this project.

To purchase a set, please check with your local art supply retailer.

Price: $39.00

Learn more and stay connected

Share your work and see what artists are creating using #reclaimedcolor.

If you would like to further support this important work, tax-deductible donations can be made to the John Sabraw Fund for Art and Innovation at Ohio University.

The 3-person reclaimed team standing in front of a rusty river

Reclaimed Team (from left to right): John Sabraw, Michelle Shively, Guy Riefler

**True Pigments LLC was founded as a social enterprise of Rural Action, with a vision to turn the environmental destruction of yesterday’s extractive industries into vibrant and regenerative environments and economies for the future, creating colors for a cleaner world. For additional information on the project, please visit True Pigments LLC.

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Are the colors safe?

Yes! Absolutely. In fact, they are iron oxides like umbers, ochres, and siennas. Labeling is compliant with ASTM D-4236.


Are they lightfast?

Yes. The colors have been tested and received ASTM D-4302 lightfastness ratings of very good-excellent.

Rust Red: Lightfastness I (excellent)

Iron Violet: Lightfastness I (excellent)

Brown Ochre: Lightfastness II (very good)

During production, we test these colors using the same quality assurance process we use with all our colors.

Can I buy a set outside of the US?

Yes. Please check with your favorite retailer for availability. The Gamblin Factory Store also ships internationally.

Can I buy the colors individually?

Yes! The only place to buy individual tubes is directly from us at the Gamblin Factory Store

Besides buying the paint set, how can I support the project?

Tax-deductible donations can be made here. Please choose “John Sabraw Arts and Innovation” in the dropdown menu.


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