I’ve heard a lot about blending colored pencil with Gamsol over the last several months, but only recently purchased my first bottle. Today, I want to share my thoughts on the product and how it performed for my first piece.
What is Gamsol?
Gamsol is a solvent developed by Gamblin Colors for use with their oil paints. It’s a little more expensive than industrial solvents, but it is tested for use in art applications, and is therefore safe for use with colored pencils. It blends and spreads pigment without interfering with longevity.
In other words, you can blend colored pencils with Gamsol, and trust your work to last for years.
It has been extensively tested by Gamblin for odor and toxicity, and is reported to be the least toxic solvent currently on the market.
Blending Colored Pencil with Gamsol – My Review
My project was a quick landscape study on Uart Premium Sanded Pastel Paper, 800 grit. The study is 6 x 8 inches and drawn from imagination and memory. Not a finished piece, but the ideal piece on which to try a new solvent.
The First Layers of Color
One thing to remember when using any type of solvent to blend colored pencils is that you need a good amount of pigment on the paper. Solvents break down the binder in the pencil so the pigments can “flow together.” If there’s not enough pigment to blend, the solvent will just not work.
For this study, I roughed in each area with a light value and a dark value, mixing the two values to draw middle values. Since I wanted to blend, I didn’t fuss with details.
First Gamsol Blend
I used a 1/2 inch Golden Taklon Wash, and a #6 Sable Round brush for blending.
The small brush was used for the sky and the smaller areas. I used the wash brush primarily for the trees, since the splayed hairs are ideal for that purpose. (It is the same brush I used to paint the grass when using watercolor pencils.)
I blended each area separately with a stippling stroke. Stippling strokes work best on sanded art papers because they push the solvent and pigment deeper into the tooth of the paper, and don’t move the pigment from place to place on the paper like a more traditional stroke might.
I also worked from light values to dark, which is the accepted practice. If you need to work on a light area after blending a dark area, clean your brush first or you may add dark color to the light area.
At this point, I was disappointed in the results. The greens looked great, especially in the trees, but the sky was blotchy. There was also still a lot of paper tooth showing through.
But this method involves several rounds of layering and blending. So I layered more color over all parts of the drawing.
The Second Layers of Color
After the paper was thoroughly dry (10 to 20 minutes,) I added more layers of the sames into the sky. I used blunt pencils with medium pressure, and alternated the colors through a couple of layers (I did three layers of each color.)
Blending the Sky
Beginning at the horizon, I used a wet #6 Sable round brush to stipple Gamsol onto the paper, then used short, vertical strokes to blend the color.
Then I stroked Gamsol onto the paper from side to side in one long stroke, before pulling Gamsol into the dry color above and below that long stroke.
Finally, I blended with side-to-side stroke, overlapping the strokes slightly, just to see how that worked.
The type of stroke didn’t seem to make much difference this time, but I discovered that it helps to let the Gamsol sit on the paper for a few seconds before blending. The reason may have been that the solvent had more time to soften or “melt” the wax binder, so the color spread more evenly.
The sky looked way too dark after this blend. So dark, I thought I’d have to lighten it with a lighter blue later on, but the color lightened somewhat as the paper dried.
More Color, More Blending
Next, I added more color to the trees and grass, then blended those areas for the second time.
After that blend, I worked through the study again, adding more color and blending.
I had hoped to finish this study, but at this point, I decided to call it good and move on to another piece. Had I been working from a reference photo, I would have pushed it a little further, if only to see if I could get better results with more color and more blending.
As it was, time seemed better used on something other than a study.
So What Did I Think of Gamsol?
The short answer is that I wasn’t all that impressed.
Yes, it’s ideal for working inside. There is no odor at all, and it dries very quickly.
But it didn’t blend nearly as well as regular turpentine, which is what I’ve been using.
In all fairness, however, I have to say that starting out with sanded art paper may not have been the wisest choice. Sanded art paper is very blendable, but you can get almost as good a blend just by pushing pigment around with a dry bristle brush as with a solvent of any kind. The fact of the matter is that I use solvents on sanded paper only as a last resort.
Why did I choose sanded paper for this product test? It was handy, I suppose. And all of my recent pieces have been on sanded art papers, so comparing Gamsol to turpentine was easy.
Will I try it again?
Yes, and the next time I’ll use a regular drawing paper like Stonehenge or Canson Mi-Tientes. Even a watercolor paper would probably be a better support for a second trial.
Does that mean Gamsol doesn’t work?
No. It just means it didn’t work with my methods on this paper for this particular study.
One thing I can tell you without hesitation: If you haven’t tried it yet but want to, buy the smallest bottle you can. I got a 4.2 fluid ounce bottle at Hobby Lobby for $8. That amount will last a long time.
Oh, and if you do buy at Hobby Lobby, make sure to print their 40% coupon before going to the store and get 40% off the most expensive item you buy.
is this better than just rubbing alcohol? That works well for me, albeit in pretty small format.
Gamsol is more thorough than rubbing alcohol. You can blend with rubbing alcohol, but blends are usually softer.
With Gamsol, you can blend a lot more pigment at a time.
They both have their uses and are not really interchangeable, so try some and see if it works for you.
Good morning, Carrie!
As you know I use solvent extensively and your observations and experimental results are quite correct. You hit upon the reason the solvent was less than effective – the absorptive ability of the support and the ground is the key. Very absorptive papers (sanded ones are such) and solvent do not get along well when used in any but small areas – as you found. But grounds such as canvas, canvas board and smooth, dense papers/boards will yield better spreading results.
Also – Solvent works best when the CP layer is not really dense. The ratio of CP to solvent is important: dense CP + low solvent = paste versus smooth, liquid spreading. It’s a matter of experience and experimentation – the type of solvent is less important except for safety concerns with some of the hardware store types which should be avoided.
I read your blog posts daily and gain much from them.
It’s always great to hear from you.
Thank you for your feedback. I hadn’t taken the type of paper into consideration, but I’m glad to hear your thoughts on the subject. I wouldn’t have considered sanded paper to be very absorbent, so that’s good information to have.