Last week on June 25th, I took part in a neon workshop (previous post – booking a neon workshop). The company called Neon Workshops is in Wakefield and I had a taster session booked where we would learn about neon and its history, how it works and also get to try making a neon shape. I chose the taster session in order to understand the material more, neon sign making is very expensive, so doing this workshop was vital for me in order to decide whether it was something I would want to take further.
The start of the session was talking us through the history of neon signs and also how a neon sign works and is made, this was a lot of information in a short space of time – but below are some notes I took from this part of the workshop:
-The first neon sign was produced in 1910 in Paris
-Paris is now a hotspot for Neon signs as it is where it began, so this is an ideal place for seeing some original signs
-The neon gas inside the tubes lasts a long time; recently one was found behind a wall of a building and it was still lit up
-LA is also famous for the signs; they were also a hotspot for them in the past and they are becoming more popular and cult now
-However LED has taken over from neon as it’s cheaper – Piccadilly Circus in London is an example of this
-The term neon is a label for the traditional red colour
-Neon can be coloured in various ways; having the gas inside react to a colour or using coloured glass tubing and regular gas
-Kryptonite is an option for neon signs and is cream in colour, not green like superman tells us
-The Science part of the neon process, in terms of what makes the sign light up is the gas reacting to the electricity put through using diodes which are attached onto both ends of the tubes
-Neon Workshops in Wakefield offers 35 colours over the spectrum and over 10 shades of white light
Neon signs always use glass to contain the gasses, and in order to shape the glass you use fire to melt it and then bend into shape. We were shown a tutorial and then it was out turn. This first exercise was bending the 5cm glass tube to an angle, we had cut the glass tube ourselves in 30 cm lengths using a single score and pushing the glass to break it away. As the area that would be bent was small, we used a direct flame, so the rest of the tube would remain straight. To ensure the pressure in the glass tube remained perfect when the glass tube was removed from the flame, we has to blow a small amount of air into the tube. I was quite nervous at the thought of doing this but when it was my turn it was a lot easier than I thought, I expected it to be really tricky and dangerous but it was the exact opposite.
Unfortunately I don’t have a photo of this piece but I bent the glass to a 90 degree angle, so it resembled an L shape.
The final task was to be a bit more creative with the shape of the glass and create a squiggle. For this, the glass tube would need to be fully pliable, so the whole tube was placed over a long length of fire, which allows the glass tube to be a consistent temperature. I was more confident doing this task, and I decided to not plan a shape and just let whatever comes to mind happen. A big point the tutor mentioned was to never allow the glass to touch each other – if this happens the glass becomes weak and when the gas is put into the tube it would crack and become useless to contain the gas.
Below is an image of my squiggle creation. I’m really pleased with my piece, during the workshop I was commended on my control of the glass when bending it into shape:
After completing this workshop, I’m still wondering whether this is a technique for me. I enjoy the process and the outcomes, but the high expense and unpredictable outcomes of making neon signs makes me rethink if this is something I want to explore further. Definitely something I’m going to think about.