Historic descriptions of how to prepare black watercolor paint are remarkably consistent. In contrast to the wealth of black pigments available, the choice of the binding medium was quite limited and in later centuries even narrowed down to gum Arabic only. The process of paint making comprises three steps – preparation of the pigment, preparation of the binding medium, and blending the pigment and binder into a watercolor paint.

Reconstructions of these steps show that all the senses are involved during the preparation. You will never forget the smoky smell of bister which brings back memories of old fireplaces and campfires, the scratching sound of grinding pigments on a stone, and the extreme sensitivity of the fingertips to test the quality of the paint. With thorough knowledge of the raw materials and processing, black watercolors can be produced in countless shades and textures.

By bringing the ancient knowledge of black watercolors back to life, Een cleyn boecxken van swarte watercoleuren is written to inspire readers in multiple ways – to inform attempts to make a perfect and fine black, to dive further into the study of ancient recipes, or – the next time you marvel at an original medieval illumination – to pay special attention to how the illuminator was able to create such a rich tonality in black.