When I walked into the vendor's room at this year's Art of the Portrait Conference in Philadelphia, I was not planning on spending much money. Sure, there was that palette cup from Holbein I had known I was going to purchase, but that would be all: or at least that was the edict I had set for myself. But, there I was, like the proverbial kid in the candy store - and a discount candy store at that - and I could not help but pick up just a few additional things for the studio. There were the paints from Natural Pigments which form the backbone of my standard palette, and the brushes from Rosemary & Co. which I rely on so heavily, and a few little odds and ends I found at other tables, but nothing that was luxurious. And I justified my purchases by reminding myself they were necessary for creating my work, and were, in fact, replacements for supplies I had already consumed. But the one item I did not expect to buy, the one item that seemed - at first - to be an indulgence, was the wooden palette from New Wave® Art Products which I acquired on the second day of the conference.
I already had several palettes at home. Some were gifts from well-meaning non-artists; these were unfortunately useless, except for squashing the occasional studio-spider. One was a small ovular, wooden palette in gray that I used during the final stages of detail painting. Another was a beautiful handmade and fairly expensive, wooden palette which was counterbalanced, and which I used often. And of course there was my taboret, which I had covered with a large piece of quarter-inch glass, and which always stands by my side at the easel. Why did I need another palette?
What was it that made this palette so special (and would I ever forgive myself for charging more on my business credit card than I had originally anticipated?)
I was intrigued by New Wave® Art as soon as I saw their booth from across the room. What caught my eye was their wall sculpture comprised of the seven different styles of palette that they have available for purchase. Although there were some familiar shapes among the palettes, most of what I saw was unique. Unfortunately, I cannot say I was sold on their designs right away, but the craftsmanship was obviously very high, so I decided to take a closer look, and ask a few questions.
The brainchild of the O'Brien brothers, Kyle and Keith, New Wave® Art has as its core idea the literal reshaping of the painter's palette, and updating the tool for the 21st century. “Artists are the most creative group anywhere in the world, "says Kyle O'Brien, "And yet a staple tool, the artist palette, has lacked innovation for centuries.” The young men were inspired to improve upon the design of this apparatus after witnessing the frustration born by their father, artist Thomas O'Brien, in his search for a comfortable artist's palette - and after watching the graveyard of unacceptable palettes pile-up frighteningly large in the corner of his studio.
I walked up to New Wave® Art's display, and picked up the Academian™, the palette from their table that was most unusual to me, and began talking to Kyle O'Brien about their product. This is what I learned from Kyle: New Wave® palettes have a three-point anchor system developed by Thomas O'Brien which distributes the weight of the palette on the hand, forearm, and hip/torso, and which creates greater stability, and reduces strain on any one point of the body; they are handcrafted by Amish woodworkers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania; they are made from lightweight and densely grained hard, white maple; the finished palettes are stained with a proprietary blend of distilled citrus peels and polymerized Tung Oil, the color of which was the result of over 60 experimental combinations; the palettes are product tested by artists and modified by their suggestions before the palettes ever make it to market; they are counterbalanced through their shape, and not through the addition of a weight placed at the thumb hole, so these palettes can be laid flat if desired; and the refined satin stain sealant is mar and scratch resistant, UV protected, non-yellowing, crack resistant, and has resistance to most mediums and solvents (clove oil is, unfortunately, one of the exceptions). It was a lot of information to absorb, and during the wonderful and informative conversation with Kyle O'Brien, I lost consciousness of the palette being at my side; it was extremely comfortable.
Still, I hesitated to buy one. But over the course of the day, I received the best convincing I could ever get. Artist after artist to whom I confided I was thinking of purchasing a New Wave® palette told me to do it. Every artist who had one told me they loved theirs. The next day, I bought the Academian™, which was designed for painters who lay out their palette in value strings, as I do, and looked forward to getting it home and trying it out.
So did I ever recover from the unexpected purchase on my credit card? I did. In fact, my recovery was so great that I acquired a second palette from New Wave® not long after I began using the Academian™ (I purchased the Highland™, to replace my detail palette). And now that I know I can order any of their designs pre-painted gray (at Munsell value 5) and sealed with the same great satin stain, I may just be saving up for a third.
And what of that expensive counterbalanced palette I already had? I picked it up the other day, and within moments, I noticed a slight pain at my thumb, so I put it down and reached for one of my New Wave® palettes. I am kind of sad at seeing the old palette going unused - but I am sure another spider will eventually find its way over to my easel. . .
New Wave® Fine Art Products is located at 219 Church Street, Suite 2, in Phoenixville, PA, 19460. They can be reached by phone at 484.924.8619, or via their website, www.newwaveart.com.