Prodigal Son's Artists Pigments, Handmade Watercolor, PB33 Manganese Blue Genuine, Granulating, Rare, Historical Colors.
Prodigal Son's Artists Pigments is a small business offering handmade watercolors and pigment powders. The owner, Gregory Kuhar from Pennsylvania USA, is currently selling through Etsy with shipping available to many countries. I recommend looking into this brand if you love granulation texture, mixing your own color separating mixtures or collecting rare pigments of historical significance.
You can find these paints online at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ProdigalSonsPigments
I gave permission to this paint maker to use my swatch cards and artwork in their listings, but please note that I am not affiliated with this shop or Etsy. I do not have anything to do with the production of the paints and I do not make any profit from sharing my opinions on these products. I am just very enthusiastic about rare pigments and granulating colors. I'm particularly fond of more than a few colors from this paint maker such as Smalt PB32, several varieties of PG19 that range from a dark grassy green to a deep teal, as well as the stunning vibrant cyan Manganese Blue PB33. All have above average pigment load, texture and color separation properties when mixed with other colors. These paints made me happy as a pigment collector. I believe other artists may feel the same, so I want to support this independent sole-proprietor by helping to spread the word about his shop!
Prodigal Son's Etsy shop provides artists with a current source for rare or discontinued pigments (several of which are no longer produced and only available as limited edition until his stockpile is depleted). The owner has invested in obtaining large amounts of pigment powders (such as the vintage PB33) to turn into watercolor via the tedious handmade method of mulling on glass with gum arabic, glycerin and clove oil, a natural preservative. In addition to Manganese Blue Genuine PB33 (perhaps the star of the show), he also offers historically significant paints, as well as gemstone / ore / mineral based colors. This includes colors like Cinnabar PR106, Naples Yellow Genuine and Lead-Tin yellows, Han Blue, Egyptian Blue (copper frit) PB31, a wide variety of Cobalts, Smalt in two particle sizes (Cobalt Glass PB32, genuine, unlike Winsor and Newton's Smalt "hue" based on Ultramarine Violet PV15), Vivianite, Azurite, Dioptase, Chrysocolla, Malachite and Jarosite (a lovely pale granulating brown, slightly lighter in value than Goethite). I plan to do several videos regarding the history of certain colors, the famous masters that created works with them and the reasons for their eventual decline in production.
My experience with this shop: After asking several questions about products (like where the vintage powders were sourced and if he could make a custom watercolor because I didn't want to handle the powder form) I received prompt, knowledgeable, polite and helpful responses. He listed 3 versions of PG19 in watercolor form at my request (slight chemical variants of one of my favorite pigments, which I had stopped using because Daniel Smith's Cobalt Green Pale version yellows so badly in the tube over time). This is part of what I love about dealing with a smaller business! I'm sure we've all asked a big business for a special request, or even just a question, to find that the employee can't help or doesn't know the answer. It appears great care, careful pigment sourcing and research went into each step of his paint production.
Packaging: My order came quickly and was carefully protected. Each pan looks beautiful and is wrapped with care, like a present. An inner wax paper layer avoids leaking during transit and prevents you from accidentally getting paint on your hands during unboxing. If your package was shipped in hot or humid weather, you can help prevent color sticking to the wrapping by placing the pans in the freezer for about 20 minutes. The outer wrapping is colored with a hand painted swatch on watercolor paper. It's nice to see a real swatch before painting (not a printed representation of color). This packaging is similar to Roman Szmal Aquarius, providing you with an instant sense of what the paint will truly look like (exciting to see when opening a package or giving a gift). It was carefully folded so that each pan can be pushed out without having to rip up the swatch. The paper could even be cut up and taped onto cardstock for the quick creation of a color chart. This saved me time setting up my palette color chart, no need for re-writing all the color names and pigment codes before painting. Each pan had a little sticker on the side with an abbreviated color name with pigment code number (again something I'm used to tediously doing myself with other brands to make sure I can easily identify a pan should it fall out of place or be moved to another palette).
The paints are most similar to the look, feel and price of Kremer Pigments ready-made watercolors. As expected, there is evidence of being hand poured, such as a small bubble or ripple (instead of baked, extruded and sliced style mass manufactured paints). These liquid filled colors won't fall out of the pan, the paint touches all edges and are filled to the brim. The value of these paints for the price is reasonable considering the types and amounts of the pigments used. The pigment load is very high, resulting in opaque pigments being extremely matte and gouache-like. Many of these pigments, especially Cobalts are naturally opaque and the lack of gum arabic binder gloss can give them a chalk-like appearance. This no-filler, low binder to high pigment ratio style of making watercolor results in an unusually matte surface (complete lack of sheen). This should not be confused with being negatively "chalky" from fillers or the rubbing off of pastel-dust. These will not look like your average mass-manufactured watercolor - and that can be a very good thing. After all, why seek out a specialty product if it's just the same as cheaper mass manufactured ones?
Recommendations: I appreciate Prodigal Son's for providing many unique products, worthy of seeking out a handmade paint maker. While the super rare PB33 Manganese Blue and all three Cobalt Blue-Greens made from PG19 will be my top recommended colors (as some of my favorite granulating pigments ever made with incredible color separating tendencies in mixtures) I also want to point out the shockingly high pigment load of Cobalt Violet Pale, Potter's Pink and both Cerulean Blues (PB35). I feel like we've been lied to all these years by big brands (such as Daniel Smith) who provide gummy/lower pigment load/lack of easy-rewet Ceruleans, Cobalt Violets and Potter's Pink... as if it were an unavoidable tricky pigment property. Plainly that isn't the case, as the two pans I tested here had zero binder gloss and were very strong with a lot of covering power. Cobalt Violet PV14 is a very thirsty pigment, which can cause tubes of it to dry rock hard before dispensing. It's likely that major big brands add more humectants like glycerin to their formulas to combat this. It's less necessary when storing PV14 in a dry state in the pan. Prodigal Son's pan form worked really well for me, despite using very little binder or additives. These types of highly absorbent pigments (including PG18 Viridian) may require a drop of water for a minute pre-soak depending on your local humidity.
Unsure about the super matte gouache-like finish? If you want these paints to look the same way as big brands, you could always add a drop of gum arabic from Jackson's onto your palette to mix in while painting (enhances gloss, transparency and further binds the pigment to the paper surface). The beauty of the lower binder to higher pigment load provided here (aside from cost value) is that this formula provides greater artist freedom. You can always add more binder if you see fit, but you can't go back to add more pigment load (without access to the pigment powder). The high pigment load also makes these watercolors more suitable for mixing into other media, like gouache, PVA glue/vinyl or acrylic paints without being overly gummy or too diluted.
--- I plan to make a Smalt Genuine vs Hue video, so you can see a comparison to Winsor and Newton's (their Smalt/Dumont's Blue made from a dark variant of Ultramarine Violet which is not properly labeled as a hue/look-alike). Coming to my YouTube channel soon. Until then, I'll just say that W&N's handles like a smoother Ultramarine (a shade between PB29 and PV15) which has a much different feel and less drastic granulation texture compared to genuine PB32. Smalt has a gritty, sand-like glassy feel with a slightly reflective shimmer which can't be replicated by Ultramarine pigments. ---
Genuine Smalt / Dumont's Blue: I highly recommend the rare pigment Smalt PB32 which is offered here in two particle sizes - Smalt 400's (an eagerly granulating, slightly better behaved, less gritty, slightly lighter valued royal blue) or Smalt 200's (my favorite, despite being more sandy feeling due to being larger coarse cobalt glass silicate particles). Smalt 200's is gorgeous and the pan looks like it contains a big gemstone! It gets my vote as a must-have due to it being a lightfast, extremely unique, dark valued royal blue with hints of sparkle when light hits the glass particles:
For pigment enthusiasts, historians and those wishing to reproduce master studies, Prodigal Son's offers many lead based pigments that are of historical significance. Lead-Tin yellows, Naples Yellow Paris, Chrome Red and Orange were used in many master art works in the 1600s. These pigment powders are still in demand today primarily from oil painters who value their unique buttery-smooth feel and subtle tones that lend themselves well to portraiture and hinting at the warm glow of sun or candle light. Lead based colors have a unique feel to them that really needs to be experienced to fully understand, but I'll best summarize it as very smooth, willing to flow off your brush with minimal effort and gliding across the paper surface with stunning pigment load and covering power. These pigments are less permanent in watercolor, but may be preserved by sealing/varnishing and avoiding any cross contamination with sulfides.
Lead-Tin Yellow, Naples Yellow Genuine and Naples Yellow Paris have been mimicked as "hues" (look-alikes) in many brands of modern paints. Some companies mix as many as 4 to 5 pigments in an attempt to accurately replicate the genuine lead based colors. PBr24 is the closest pigment we have to Naples Yellow Paris, but you may also see hues made with PY53 and whites like PW5 and PW6 to give a similar pastel-lemon appearance to the more pale variants.
While Aureolin PY40 has a generally poor reputation in the watercolor world due to its tendency to dull into a brown-grey with UV exposure, the Aureolin Cobalt Yellow PY40 from Prodigal Son's is noteworthy for its texture. Most brands of PY40 are mulled very smooth, but this one is granulating and could definitely provide unique effects. Otherwise PY159 and PY53 are the only yellows that have some granulation or heavy particles that sink to make color separation in mixtures, but those are more opaque and pale than PY40. I could see using Prodigal Son's PY40 for work that is meant for sketchbooks or print reproductions, as it may allow you to achieve special effects not easily replicated with any other pigment.
There are many natural mineral pigments (ground up rocks, ores and gemstones) offered by this brand. These are mostly granulating and generally lightfast but only semi chemically stable (require protection against acids/avoidance of sulfurs or honey binders to avoid yellowing). Some pigments, like Dioptase are very rare gems and priced accordingly. It's a nice treat that a paint maker was willing to invest in higher cost materials to offer rare colors deemed too expensive to be offered by most brands, giving us a unique opportunity to try something extravagant. This paired with unusual historical colors like Egyptian Blue (the oldest synthetic blue altered from copper ore, used in ancient Egypt for art that still retains its bright blue highlights today) or the similar story of Han Blue (used during the Han Dynasty, a unique mixture of quartz sand, barytes and blue-green copper minerals like azurite and malachite heated into a deep royal blue in thousand degree kilns by ancient Chinese chemists) make this such a great shop for buying a gift for that artist who otherwise "has it all".
Since many of the pigments provided are uncommon, they may have handling properties artists are unfamiliar with. The unusually thirsty PV14 pigment may require more water or a pre-soak, and certain historical pigments can have odd chemical reactions when mixed with honey or other pigments on the palette. Most of the colors re-wet very well and the rare pigments that require a pre-soak "woke up" within minutes to provide me with beautiful color. I expect that this will vary depending on your local humidity. If there is a particular trait I'd like to call attention to, I will note it on the swatch cards with any known chemical interaction or lightfast information below:
Cobalt Violet PV14, PV47 or 49 variants from any brand (Qor, Roman Szmal, Daniel Smith, Da Vinci, Winsor and Newton etc.) are all rated as LFI (max/8 on the Blue Wool Scale) BUT this pigment has a weatherfastness issue. There may be fading unrelated to UV - regarding sensitivity to heat, humidity or acids so I do not recommend it for outdoor or display near direct sunlight.
Chemical interactions, toxicity and safe handling practices: Please note that this brand includes many pigments that are toxic if ingested. They require care/mask/gloves when handling them in powder form (far more problematic if inhaled). Do not spray apply any color from this brand (same goes for any brand's Cadmiums or Cobalts). I generally only recommend these paints for careful adult handling (the pans are much safer than powder to handle, but please don't lick your brush, painting or drink your paint water). Definitely wash your hands if you've gotten messy and keep them away from kids or pets. Many historical pigments contain free-copper particles which may yellow or otherwise discolor from interactions with acids or atmospheric sulfides (Malachite and minor ore of copper like Azurite, Egyptian Blue Frit, Han Blue, Vivianite). Mercury or arsenic based colors like Paris Green, genuine Cinnabar or Realgar should be treated with extra care, expected to be fugitive in direct sunlight and may darken in the presence of lead, sulphur (ultramarines, cadmiums) or on acidic papers /non-archival/ high PH surfaces.
Want to see how these colors compare to the same pigment in other brands? Check the pigment database pages here.