A limited-edition ink series inspired by the poetry of Lorna Goodison handmade by the Toronto Ink Company for Fritz Swanson at Wolverine Press

Black is the color of coal, ebony, and of outer space. It is the darkest color, the result of the absence of or complete absorption of light and was one of the first colors used by artists in neolithic cave paintings. 


By Lorna Goodison


  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 colours.

  First, there is a black derived from soft black stone.

  It is a fat colour; not hard at heart, a stone unctioned.


  Then there is a black that is obtained from vine twigs.

  Twigs that 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

  colour, favoured alike by vinedressers and artists.


  There is also the black that is scraped 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 that 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

  colour — 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, Cennini says.


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




I started in the summer of 2014,experimenting with overcooking  Indian shellac flakes in borax(a natural mineral found in Death Valley and used by traditionalists for whitening laundry) until the flakes turned close to black. I also started adding iron sulfate (found at the local drug store, the coating removed and the pills then crushed) to some of my other ink experiments to get darker colours.   

Goodison’s poem lead me to Cennino d’Andrea Cennini’s “Craftsan’s Handbook” which led me to a study of cave-painting materials and rare pigments of Southern Spain.  To solve the problems of black ink I became interested in shale and Roman black earth, Renaissance underpainting, Siberian shells, and early Chinese ink experiments with pine pitch. You can find genuine peach pit dust from the German Alchemist-art material supplier, Kremmer pigments. Though if you use their pigment, you will not discover that a peach stone cooked in your oven will eventually start burning from the inside, and smoke for hours after taking it out of the oven, emitting a beautiful, vaguely turkish bitter-almond scent.

You can buy tiny, multi-patterned Manilla clams deep in the fishtanks  of Toronto’s Chinatown markets. Wild grape vines are everywhere,  though burning them down to charcoal and grinding this charcoal down to dust is time consuming. The gum from accadia trees (gum arabic) is necessary to bind ashes to water. 

My main goal was to have five black inks that had different qualities and that were made in five different ways. I am not sure that they all work in a fountain pen. But without question each ink contains a story.  

construction by Don Taylor

This modification of a classic “clamshell” box combined with graphics made for a dual purpose structure that shows off the five bottles of The Toronto Ink
Company’s hand made ink while protecting the  bottles in transit.  The clamshell box’s usual use in libraries to house valuable books went sympathetically with the notion of the ink as a material in the creation of manuscripts both ancient and modern. Durotone paper over binders board. Still life photography by Kristin Sjaarda


Hand-harvested kerosene soot mixed with food-grade indian shellac flakes disolved in borax. Deep warm glossy black.


Manilla clam shells baked, blackened and crushed powdered and re-cooked. Mixed with overcooked Indian shellac flakes, iron sulfate- darkened hand-harvested Canadian sumac fruit and water. Grey-black and glossy


Wild Canadian grapevine ash in water bound with gum arabic. Grainy velvet blue black.


Oven-charred peach stones ground in water bound with gum arabic. Matte greyish blue-black.


Black earth from Andalusia in water bound with gum arabic. Grainy grey-black with brownish undertones. A bit silty.