Friday, 25 March 2011

making neon

I went along to an amazing workshop today to make some neon! It was up in Wakefield at the neon workshop  ran by the lovely Julia Bickerstaff and Richard Wheater

I have plans for a Hawaii/Tiki themed dining room and after working for raphael daden, thinking differently about light as an art-form and seeing some recent neon works he had made, I had started thinking about neon as a potential addition to my decor! I saw the advert in an arts council newsletter and booked myself on it!

One Day Intensive : 25th March 2011 
Participants will be taught by master neon maker Julia Bickerstaff and artist Richard William Wheater, and will learn everything from transcribing ideas into neon drawings to filling their glass forms with gas. The workshop will take place at our new neon studio in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, between 10am and 5pm. At the end of the day each participant will take home a neon sculpture they have designed and helped make or directed in making. 

I took the train at 6.30am and arrived with time to have a wander about Wakefield, bank a cheque and have some breakfast before the workshop started! There were 5 of us on the workshop, coming from all over. I got talking with Katy who had come over from Leeds and has been working in glass since uni. Having never worked with glass myself, I was a bit nervous but Julia and Richard were very supportive, and encouraged having a play! We started the day with an introduction to the history and capabilities of neon and then talked through the design and fabrication process.

After lunch (which I took at the green room cafe...serving me a monster plate of falafel + mezze - yummy!) we worked with Julia on fabricating our designs. Because of the time it takes to make the sculptures it was advised that Julia would actually 'make it' but that we would direct our designs. After never working in glass, having a go and breaking it VERY EASILY, I was happy to advise Julia!   

Here are some pictures of the day
starting out with the 1.5m glass tubing...

Depending on the colour of the design would depend on the type of glass used. It is available as clear or specially coated in a variety of powders to react with the gases inside the tubing and provide a variety of colours. Neon gas in its purest form is a rich and beautiful red. Mix it with other gases, as I did for mine, and you open up a palette of luminous possibilities!

Julia blowing into the glass as she moulds it into shape
annealing the glass

checking against the design on a regular basis!

You have to sculpt the work in reverse so there are potentially a lot of mistakes that can happen!
Leaving it to cool...

...and it's rear!
flushing the glass of impurities...

...with this lovely bit of kit!
filling it with neon, helium and argon gases!
Richard shaking the mercury...
...before adding electricity! 
See how the light changes intensity as it settles and sticks to/reacts with the mercury?
Other designs from the day included this lovely swallow - the blue is amazing!
and this kryptonite green house!
And here is my flamingo! In situ on my wall at home!

I'm so glad I went to this workshop! It was a really inspiring day and opened me up to potential new processes for future work!

I'm very happy with the finished piece and even though I didn't 'make it' myself it was an absolute joy watching Julia make - she is very skillful! I love it when I turn it on at night, when it emits a rich pink, almost purple glow around the room. I am thinking a waterfall blue and warm summer orange for the colour scheme for the rest of the room...but I can't decide which way to put them! I think the orange might look best up on the walls, and make the most of the light from the neon. The blue on all the skirting boards, picture rail, and radiator will help define the room's characteristic assets I think?! More photos up when I complete it though!!