Thursday 1 September 2016

Gamboge - what is it?

Many people are familiar with the name Gamboge, often called New Gamboge, but not so many will have come across the resin that made the original paint.

Gamboge chunks
NY24 is Natural Yellow 24 - natural gamboge, a resin from a few trees found in Asia from the Garcina genus, and particularly in Cambodia. the name is derived from cambugium - as is the name Cambodia itself. It is a strange substance, appearing as a dull earthy yellow lump but when you touch a brush to it a stunning yellow paint appears. Sadly, though, it is a fugitive colour, not suited to long-term use.

Most companies have a paint based on this pigment colour. It is generally a mid to warm transparent yellow.

PY153 was a popular pigment to use - available in Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton, but it is no longer available so alternative mixes are being used. You can read a great W&N article about it here.

Natural Gamboge painted out as a pigment

Here is the natural gamboge. A touch of a wet brush and the colour is a very pure and lovely yellow.

But it also fades. Here it is in my lightfast tests after just a few months. The left side was exposed to light, the right side wasn't.

Natural gamboge is apparently a powerful purgative/cathartic and/or diuretic depending what you read and is poisonous so not a substance you'd want to ingest by accident. Fascinating though :-)

Please note - this is not a recommended pigment, though traditionally used in Chinese painting.


  1. Jane, As far as you know, when a color is called "new gamboge," does that imply that it's a chemically made substitute for natural gamboge, and therefore, more colorfast?

    1. There are a number of different names for the various hues that have been made to replicate the colour of Gamboge with more permanent pigments. Provided the pigments used are lightfast, the gamboge hues will be too.

  2. Fascinating! I did not know that the original Gamboge was a resin! Thank you for sharing this!

  3. I have a friend who is a luthier and specializes in baroque techniques. He uses Gamboge to color his instruments, violins, violas, etc. If I remember correctly, he cooks it down and makes a stain out of it. It's my favorite yellow. :)

  4. Amazingly, I was just wondering about it the other day! How interesting! So, I assume that what is now called gamboge has permanent pigment added to it, and therefore safe to use? Or should I throw my half pan out? Can't remember if it's WN or Sennelier...

    1. Don't throw it away. You may have the discontinued PY153. Safe permanent pigment that they are not making any more.

  5. I had a very small tube of Daniel Smith New Gamboge which I'm pretty sure was the new formula and I don't like it at all. It is way too orange for my taste.

    I bought a few vintage watercolor palettes and have New Gamboge in a Winsor and Newton #3 Bijou Box with the four well lid that I'm pretty sure is the old formula. I don't have a date on it but It's old enough to be the original formula but probably not old enough to be real Gamboge. It is labeled New Gamboge.

    I've been using that color to try to make an acceptable substitute color. I looked at the formulas from Daniel Smith (PY97, PY110), Da Vinci (PY3, PY42), M. Graham (PY151, PO62), Rembrandt (PY150, PO48) and Winsor and Newton (PY150, PR209) none of which I am thrilled with.

    So far I'm happiest with 6 parts PY97 Hansa Yellow Medium, 1 part PY43 Verona Gold Ochre and a tiny bit of Transparent Pyrrol Orange. I dipped a toothpick into the tube of orange for about a quarter of an inch and then stirred it in. I did this twice so two toothpick dips. I mixed it in a half pan so one part is about a pea sized squeeze of the tube.

    I don't have any Daniel Smith Indian Yellow to compare it with. If it's close that may be my new "gamboge" as I don't really want to start mixing different manufacturers.

    I haven't been doing watercolor long and had no idea colors could disappear like this. Unfortunately it was already discontinued before I started. But I am stocking up on Quin. Gold now that I know it's days are numbered.

  6. The best substitute for NY24 Gamboge is PY150 Nickel Azomethine Yellow. PY150 is so useful I use it as my only bright yellow (along with an earth yellow for convenience). PY153 Nickel Dioxine Yellow (aka "New Gamboge") and PY110 Isoindolinone Yellow (aka "Indian Yellow") can be easily approximated by adding a little red to PY150 (more is required for PY110, obviously). PO49 Quin. Gold can also be closely approximated by adding some PO48 Quin. (Burnt) Orange to PY150.