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Neon light-making workshop

  • Things to do
  • Newington Green
  1. Photograph: Andy Parsons
  2. Photograph: Andy Parsons
  3. Photograph: Andy Parsons
  4. Photograph: Andy Parsons
  5. Photograph: Alexandra Sims

Time Out says

An extremely hands-on day of neon sign-making where you can create your own glowing artwork (while exposed to an 800C flame).

The dazzling world of neon light-making isn’t as glamorous as I’d hoped. There are some risks involved: three, if you’re counting, which I am. According to our neon pro Julia Bickerstaff, the list includes ‘electrocuting yourself, burning yourself and cutting yourself’, and she’s had all of the above. Along with artist Richard Wheater, Julia teaches the only neon light-making class in the UK, and today, they’ve brought their Yorkshire-based operation to London.

Once we’ve been warned of stray shards and molten glass, Richard gives us the lowdown on neon’s history, which goes right back to the 1890s, when two British scientists discovered the gases that create the bright lights.

We get to work sketching out our own light designs, and I opt for a River Thames-shaped squiggle, which will be created using a glass tube. To shape the tubes, we lower the them into an 800C flame. It gets so hot and supple I can bend it like a slack hosepipe. As I bend, I also have to blow into the glass using a rubber pipe to stop it from kinking, which is much harder than it looks.

Julia takes over, expertly manipulating the stiff glass rods into our designs and sealing electrodes on to the ends. Next comes the gas. I choose to fill my squiggle with icy blue Xenon. Richard wires it onto one of their special machines and my design lies there like Frankenstein’s Monster, waiting to be filled with light. Suddenly, gas comes whizzing out of a silver cylinder and into my squiggle, lighting it up with zinging creamy blue light. My glowing neon baby is alive, and I’ve never felt so gassed.

Written by
Alexandra Sims


49 Green Lanes, Newington Green, London
N16 9BU
Canonbury Overground
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