Will It Paint?: Master Alan’s Fireplace Gunk/Spinel Black

A little while ago, Master Alan here in Calontir told me that he had some sort of black powder stuff that he got from cleaning the fireplace/forge and asked if I wanted some to see if it would paint.

Completed Master Alan’s Fireplace Gunk paint.

I said yes, and during the long weekend, I played “will it paint?”

It did need to be ground, so I got out my trusty mortar and pestle and smooshed the goo around. It’s nice and dry, so no coal tar content that I’m aware of. It also took a bit to get mulled down fine enough (note: wear earplugs because it was not a nice sound).

I don’t have the patience to test this for lightfastness, but based on location that the gunk is from, I suspect it might be fairly lightfast. I’d also have to test for acidity on the long term, but again, I’m impatient, so. . . that may not happen any time soon.

Since I’m not entirely sure what the composition of Master Alan’s Fireplace Gunk is past the carbon – so I can’t call this lampblack, which is made from burning soot in a lamp and collecting it on a piece of glass. There is definitely carbon, but there’s more to it than just carbon based on the colour, which is a very dark brown, not soot black. (Carbon black is very black).

The paint is a dark warm brown, almost leading into black, and it is a little more transparent than vine black, but yes, Master Alan’s Fireplace Gunk will turn into a decent paint. (and yes, if you’re wondering, that is what I’m calling it: Master Alan’s Fireplace Gunk.)

After this, I also played around with some more modern pigment – specifically Spinel black.

Spinel black, prior to Vantablack, was known to be the most light-absorbent paint. And boy howdy, it’s definitely that.

I mixed the spinel black into Schmincke’s gouache binder to ensure the mattifying abilities, and let it dry for about a day before I used it. The vine black that I have was from a batch I made a little over a year ago, and yes, it was also mixed into Schmincke’s gouache binder. I added water and then did a test paint.

Vine black is the more period option (spinel black was first used in the 19th century), but it’s just not as dark or matte.

Spinel black is pretty well opaque. It didn’t take much paint, and for coverage sake, it does a better job than the vine black.

That said, while I love the coverage ability of spinel black, it simply isn’t period for the work that I’m doing for period-grade work. I still may reach for spinel black for things that don’t absolutely have to be period, or things that really need the expanse of dark, but vine black works perfectly well, and at a difference of $10 USD to $20 USD, vine black is the cheaper of the two. That said, vine black can be a really tricky pigment to work with, as it often will fight mixing into the binder (it, like Ivory soap, floats), whereas spinel black was a dream to work with as it mixed right away into the binder.

If you have suggestions for a pigment (that aren’t deadly – looking at you, lead white, realgar, and orpiment) that I should work with next, drop a comment below!

6 thoughts on “Will It Paint?: Master Alan’s Fireplace Gunk/Spinel Black

  1. Have you considered trying out lamp black? I can send along a 6th century Chinese recipe for making the ink sticks, and an accompanying recipe for hide glue if it’d be useful.


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