Disclaimer: While I do not work for Gamblin Artist’s Colors, or represent the company in any way, I have known the founder Robert Gamblin for a long time–over 26 years to be precise. I also know Scott Gellatly, the company product manager, and I consider both to be good friends. I have used various Gamblin products since the company was founded due to the consistent high-quality and standardized working properties across product lines. Their manufacturing is also local to me so I can walk into their factory anytime I wish and raise a technical question. I also value their willingness to openly share what goes into their products, and how they are made. Gamblin sets the bar in terms of disclosure.
. . . so when Scott approached me a few months back and asked if I’d write about a new product they had developed called “FastMatte™” I said sure, but only after testing it out extensively in various situations over the last three months. Here are my thoughts:
The Short and Long of it . . .
FastMatte is an interesting paint and offers much to the oil painter who is willing to exploit its unique working properties. FastMatte is a ‘short’ paint– meaning it tends to break a stroke abruptly towards the end of the pull, and it is ideally suited for broken color effects or scumbling. (see illustrations below) Conversely, a ‘long’ paint draws out like a piece of taffy and at the end of a stroke it tends to trail off more gently. But don’t let my technical definition imply a good or bad thing in your mind. Long and short strokes are analogous to the musical terms largo and staccato. (as in, slow and dignified vs short and crisp.) Both types of strokes have a place in a painter’s toolbox and when they are used together intelligently they can create an interesting contrast.
Essentially, FastMatte differs from traditional oil paint in two basic ways: the binder is a soy-based alkyd and is not linseed, walnut, or safflower oil in origin. The second way the paint is unique is that the colorant or pigment used in the paint has a significantly larger particle size than what is commonly mulled into artist-grade oil colors.
But why use a soy-based alkyd binder and a larger pigment particle size?
First the ‘Fast’ . . .
FastMatte is aptly named. It has been developed to produce a quick drying under-painting for the artist who is interested in time-honored working methods. Techniques which involve the laying down of semi-transparent colors over many sessions, or glazing transparent colors over a fully developed grisaille – with the aforementioned top work being executed using traditional oils – perhaps modified by various mediums or ‘special’ secret sauces of the Old Masters. Or perhaps not.
So the soy-based alkyd in Gamblin’s FastMatte color ‘dries’ more rapidly than traditional binders do. (And accelerated aging tests suggest this alkyd will yellow less over time than traditional linseed oil will, but I can’t speak to that point with any authority. I’m an oil painter, not a chemist. Some things I just have to trust are true.)
And second, the ‘Matte’ . . .
It is the atypical large particle size of the colorant itself that imparts the matte finish to the paint. Nothing else is added to achieve it and when surface is dry to the touch it looks very much like the velvet of a fine gouache painting. It is the matte surface that should interest the traditional painter because it provides great tooth for a physical bond between layers, and reduces the likelihood of future delaminating from the layers below. A real and present concern for any artists who chooses to create complicated paint films.
But hey, I’m not a traditionalist in my methods . . .
I’m mostly an alla prima plein air painter, a field artist, so FastMatte’s original purpose–its raison d’etre–was not the reason I found it to be of interest. I saw the potential for something else.
As a plein air painter I’m always working under a time limit. I normally restrict myself to a single 3 or 4 hour session per painting, sometimes less, with the occasional touch-up every now and then after I return to my studio. That’s about the same amount of time traditional oils will remain fresh and open without me messing around with the basic chemistry of the paint, and this is also about the same amount of time natural light will hold steady before things change too much for me to continue. These two ‘clocks’ encourage me to work rapidly and not fiddle-faddle as I work. So the idea of being able to quickly block in my painting, and then further develop it by overpainting my block-in sounded appealing. Without offering too much detail (no pun intended) I found this potential confirmed by the FastMatte paint. I could accomplish more inside the same amount of time. Plus, I found I could scumble FastMatte over a surface previously covered by a thin veil of (alkyd) paint and solvent – a standard approach to blocking in alla prima work.
“Caroline’s Creek”, near Mulino, Oregon
12 x 9 inches | FastMatte on Raymar panel | Sold
“Detail of Caroline’s Creek”, from mid-left of painting.
Extreme close up of detail, showing alla prima execution of the FastMatte paint. Note the crisp edgework is maintained even though the paint is going down onto wet passages. So the overriding issue becomes more about creating and maintaining soft edgework than it does making hard breaks and crisp edges.
I also found that FastMatte was capable of being dry-brushed over top of a thicker wet layer. (see above) This can be a difficult thing to achieve when working with traditional oils without the addition of third-party adulterants such as beeswax, or harsh driers like siccatives, or simply waiting for the original layer of paint to dry. (None of which are good for the longevity of a painting.) And, this ability to immediately dry-brush comes in handy when there is a need to convey the texture of a natural object, say, the edge along a tuff of grass, or a shadow line cast across the crumbling bark of a tree. But a having a paint this receptive to dry-brushing comes at a cost. Since FastMatte itself is so short you can’t expect to effectively push one color into another the way you might with a longer paint. (This is FastMatte’s second similarity to gouache, the first and strongest being its matte finish.) Pushing color into color, or wet-into-wet, is only achievable via a ‘longer’ paint, so if you like throwing down wet-into-wet effects then you will have to accomplished them on top of the FastMatte using traditional oils. Frankly, I found switching over to a linseed oil paint mid-session not to be a issue, and it felt very natural when I did so. In the creek painting above I may have gone back and forth a couple of times without noticing. Once that painting was finished and ‘dry’ it became difficult to discern which passages were largely accomplished with the FastMatte and which ones weren’t. My conclusion? Both paints play nicely together.
So don’t consider the inherent shortness of FastMatte as it comes out of the tube as a defect. Instead, consider it to be a characteristic ripe for creative exploitation and speed. It offers an unprecedented ability to drawing with an oil paint and is very like watercolor in its precision. (Oh geez, I hope I’m not spawning another mob of hard-edge painting with this review.) In the past I’d often reach for a coarsely ground, slightly oil-starved earth-color to sketch in my underpainting. Then, I’d gently lay in semi-transparent longer paint with the hope I wouldn’t disturb the subtleties of that gesture contained within that sketch. With FastMatte color I have the option of using a transparent iron-oxide earth color, what Gamblin calls “Transparent Earth Red” – and that paint clings to the underlying painting support more tenaciously than any of the traditional earth colors I’d been using in the past, even when wet. (And as an informative aside . . . the advantage of keeping your darks transparent should be obvious to all but it sometimes is not. Transparency enlivens up the bottom notes of a painting and creates an interesting contrast to the high-key opaque passages laid on top. It is an excellent thing for any artist to master – transparent vs opaque passages, because with every kind of painting, contrast is the game.)
“The Waistcoat”, a three hour figure study
approx.11 x 14 inches | FastMatte on Raymar panel
The above figure study was painted using four of Gamblin’s FastMatte colors: Transparent Earth Red, Chromatic Black, Hansa Yellow Medium, and Titanium White. Check out the closeups below for brushwork which may be difficult to make out in the primary image. In conjunction with Gamblin’s FastMatte colors, I used a 1:1 medium of a walnut alkyd and Gamsol to lay in the washes. A combination of round and flat stiff hog hair brushes were used throughout the session. Any ‘detail’ is derived from making a mark with a # 4 or larger bristle, and that means that anything smaller is a striations resulting from the paint itself and how it handles. None of it comes from any concerted hatching or stroking. The detail images below show how the atypically large particle size increases the thixotropic properties
of the paint. (An idiosyncratic property of the Old Master’s oil paint mostly lost when paint-making shifted from the hand-mulled to the machine rolled commercial process we depend upon today.) The larger particles are moved and jostled about by the hog hair as it moves and then they immediately drop to the painting support when the brush is lifted. There is zero flow out after each stroke. A mere few minutes later, the initial layer will no longer lift as easily allowing a more agressive application of paint on top. This is different from how most other traditional oils work, although you do find variances in this characteristic between all the paint manufacturers.
Less than three hours was invested into this painting but the build-up and layering feels as though several sessions have occurred.
A close-up showing a thin-to-thick application of paint. The area under the model’s right breast is completely transparent and you can see the white of the painting support shining through.
An example of dragging a lighter-valued paint across a dark mass of hair late in the session. Zero integration, other than an optical flickering between the two. Monet would have loved this paint for his haystack and cathedral series.
Another transparent vs opaque passage. This shows FastMatte’s tendency for a short break, a crisp edge along a stroke, and striations. (Velasquez would love this paint as well. He was known to add calcite or marble dust to his paint to achieve a similar effect.) FastMatte is a draftperson’s, or gouache painter’s dream. Note the transparency found in the striations to the right of the hip. It mimics the effects of what is now difficult-to-obtain and dangerous-to-cook copal varnish once venerated by artists of the 19th century. Created by just the combination of the thixotropic FastMatte and walnut alkyd/Gamsol medium.
Conclusion . . .
Gamblin Oil Colors has started something in the art-materials industry with this paint and it may turn out to be revolutionary in its impact. It has been a while since anyone has introduced an alkyd-based artist color and to the best of my recollection, all previous attempts have seemed wimpy in pigment load, thin in mixing range, and generally an unsatisfying paint to push around when compared to the quality and plasticity of a well-made traditional oil. But I feel I can now recommend an alkyd oil paint and it is Gamblin’s FastMatte Color. The fact it was brought to market by some friends is irrelevant. I can encourage other artists to enjoy and exploit its unique properties. I can play with them myself. But don’t try to force this paint to do something it won’t, or the experience will just make you cranky. As a wise guy once told me, “Dude, don’t fight forces, use them”. That is as true in the world of fine art as it is in the world of martial arts.
Rest assured that Gamblin’s FastMatte colors will not behave like those awful water-soluble oils which first appeared during the last decade. FastMatte will perform more like its traditional counterpart than it will anything else, without the weird gumminess or milky quality of that water-soluble excremental goo. And, as I’ve already noted, the FastMatte paint will play nicely when it is intermingled with traditional oils. You can blend them all together in any combination with little concern, other than possibly ending up with a unexpected variation in your surface finish. (And actually, if handled with restraint and control, different finishes on the same painting could become part of the artistic vocabulary as well.) You can incorporate any oil-appropriate painting medium. If you do end up with a finish you don’t like, take note of what you did to make it happen and do something different. Experiment. Or, wait the customary 6-12 months and hit the surface with the picture varnish of your choice. Or, apply your picture varnish sooner since it is being applied to an alkyd film that dried more rapidly anyway. If you are worried, call Gamblin’s excellent tech support for advice on drying and varnishing times. It’s all good.
My only complaint about the FastMatte line is going to sound like a whine: “I waaaaaaant more colors on the shelf!” I know I’m being sniveling and pathetic when I say this because Gamblin has provided us with a full-strength chromatic palette capable of mixing any hue an painter might want or need. But more colors choices would be great. Sometimes I just don’t feel like mixing an ochre . . .
We painters are never satisfied, eh? Always asking the Colormen for more.
“Gamblin Artist’s Colors” and “FastMatte” are registered trademarked properties of their respective owners. All other names, trademarks, copyrights, mentioned in this or any other review on this blog should be considered the same.