To Make Various Sorts of Black

To Make Various Sorts of Black


According to the craftsman’s handbook chapter XXXVII
Il libro dell’arte by Cennino d’Andrea Cennini

who tells us there are several kinds of black colors.
First, there is a black derived from soft black stone.
It is a fat color; not hard at heart, a stone unctioned.

Then there is a black which is made from vine twigs.
Twigs which choose to abide on the true vine
offering up their bodies at the last to be burned,

then quenched and worked up, they can live again
as twig of the vine black; not a fat, more of a lean
color favored alike by vinedressers and artists.

There is also the black that’s made from burnt shells.
++++Markers of Atlantic’s graves.
Black of scorched earth, of torched stones of peach;
++++twisted trees that bore strange fruit.

And then there is the black that is the source of light
from a lamp full of oil such as any thoughtful guest
waiting for bride and groom who cometh will have.

A lamp you light and place underneath—not a bushel—
but a good clean everyday dish that is fit for baking.
Now bring the little flame of the lamp up to the under-

surface of the earthenware dish (say a distance of two
or three fingers away) and the smoke which emits
from that small flame will struggle up to strike at clay.

Strike till it crowds and collects in a mess or a mass.
Now wait; wait a while please, before you sweep this
color—now sable velvet soot—off onto any old paper

or consign it to shadows, outlines and backgrounds.
Observe: it does not need to be worked up nor ground;
it is just perfect as it is. Refill the lamp, Cennino says,

As many times as the flame burns low, refill it.