Historically, the making of ivory black was first described in the 4th century BC. The process and the resulting pigment were largely unchanged until the last factory to make this pigment closed in Germany in 1929. To this day, Ivory Black or it’s close relative, Bone Black, are still the most widely used blacks. The difference between these two blacks is that the true Ivory Black is finer and more intense because of its higher carbon content.
When an old, largely ruined piano was being thrown away up the street the opportunity presented itself to make some of this pigment for myself. After removing the ivory keys from the piano’s keyboard, I tightly packed them into this little tin container. Because of the era of the piano, the glue used was a hide-glue (something I’m familiar with) and so cleaning them up was as easy as letting the keys soak in water for an hour.
I wish that I had put some pottery firing cones into the kiln so I could report how hot it actually was inside. Perhaps I’ll do that next time..? Next, I built a primitive kiln with the tin container in the middle. Once it got going it was really quite something to see. The next morning, to my surprise, it had snowed!
Once I dug out the little tin I opened it and found the blacked ivory keys. The top layer still had a little white on the edge (but when I broke one in half I noticed that this whiteness was only on the surface). I removed this top layer just to be safe.
And so, I now had the “ingredient” I needed for making my pigment.
After a few minutes in the blender the keys were reduced to a course powder, all that was then required was half-a-minute with a muller and the pigment was made fine.
The intensity of it is hard to communicate with a photo and really should be seen first hand. This colour has been a real joy to use.