neon sculpture and neon art installations by artist Ehlenberger including modern and contemporary artwork, sconces and neon clocks
artist working in neon art and neon sculpture

 

EHLENBERGER

 

 

TECHNICAL INFORMATION

 

THE NEON TUBES

The neon tubes are hand-blown by the artist.
The color of the neon tube is determined by 3 factors:

1. The glass:

Clear or colored glass. The colored glass gives deeper and richer colors and require more skill in bending.

2. Powder coatings inside the tube:

These are phosphorescent powders that glow specific colors when excited or stimulated by certain UV wavelengths of light given off by the gas when lit.

3. The gas:

There are six gases one can use in a neon tube. Only two are bright enough to be used commonly:
neon: lights orange-red
mercury (with argon or neon): lights light blue

Other gases less commonly employed are:
argon: lights pale lavender
helium: lights a pale peach color
krypton:
lights pale silver
xenon: lights pale deep blue

The color of the gas interacts with the glass and powders to determine the final color of the tube

 

life span

The life span of a neon tube can be expected to be 20+ years although this may not be the case for every tube. The tubes generally need to be replaced rather than repaired if bad or broken. Neon tubes are fragile but not overly-so.

 

"Snaking"

Sometimes the light in a tube moves in a corkscrew or worm-like pattern. This is called "snaking" and is a normal but transient sign of a new tube. It always stops within days or weeks especially when turned on and off a few times. Unfortunately, it cannot be made permanent even when desired. (QuickTime movie of "snaking" - a large file for fast internet connections only)

 

THE METAL

The metal is usually aluminum. The silver aluminum has been coated with multiple layers of clear polyurethane coating which is applied after the aluminum is hand brushed or ground to create the reflection patterns. The colored aluminum is coated with multiple layers of either opaque or translucent paint then over-sprayed with multiple clear coats to provide depth. These finishes should provide stable color to last for years with minimal maintenance.They are designed only for indoor use. The translucent colors will fade if exposed to direct sunlight for a long period of time.

 

Cleaning

When cleaning, the pieces should first be unplugged and the tubes allowed to cool to room temperature. They can then be cleaned by using a soft cotton cloth (a T-shirt is ideal) dampened with water. Paper towels are too abrasive and may scratch the finish. For troublesome grime buildup or smoke etc., a glass cleaner can be used. Do not apply solvents of any type to the aluminum as they may damage the finish. Frequent dusting is recommended using a soft clean paint brush or feather duster.

 

 

 

TRANSFORMERS

Neon tubes light up when the gas within the tube is "excited" by being bombarded with high-energy electrons. The collision between electrons results in light: the same phenomenon as lightning in the sky. The transformer functions to "transform" either 110 Volt 60Hz (AC current from standard wall outlets) or 12 Volt DC (battery-type current) to a form which has higher energy.

There are 2 types of transformers that are used in the neon industry. The old-style transformer characterized by "beer-sign" transformers which are bulky and very heavy - they put out high voltage/low frequency electricity to light the tube. They often "buzz" when on, causing interference on television or telephones and have no safety features. I rarely use them in my work.

The other type of transformer is electronic in nature and puts out high frequency electricity (20,000 Hz and above) to light up the neon. This is the type I use in almost all of my work. They are lightweight, compact and quiet in operation. They should not interfere with television or telephone reception as the old-style may. In addition, they have safety features which allow them to shut off if overloaded or if they detect a faulty tube.

The transformers run warm when on but should not be too hot to touch. If for some reason this is detected, turn the piece off (unplug). If the tubes flicker on and off, this is usually a sign of a faulty transformer and it should be unplugged. When necessary, exchanging a faulty transformer is a simple process.

The transformers have manufacturer's warranties of 1-2 years. The life span of these transformers is not really known, having been on the market for only 10-15 years or less. Many transformers of this style have been in use by the artist now for 10+ years without problems.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

SHIPPING:

The pieces require careful crating before shipping. The artist has often used Wooden Box Shipping Co,. in New Orleans with great success.

A typical shipping charge for a 32" x 48" piece including crating and insurance from New Orleans to San Francisco is about $275 and to France or Germany about $400. Sometimes multiple pieces can be placed in the same crate and can greatly reduce the cost of shipping per piece.

 

TOXICITY:

The gases in a neon tube are all inert and completely non-toxic. When mercury is used in a tube, its toxicity is equal to that of a mercury thermometer. There is not enough mercury to represent a health hazard if transiently exposed. Nevertheless, any mercury droplets released from a broken tube should be cleaned up and disposed of.



ELECTRIC SHOCK:

Even in the worst scenario, a direct shock from the high voltage end of a neon transformer is usually only an unpleasant experience and not a serious threat as the transformers are designed with maximum current output limitations. None the less, it is best avoided. Any repairs should be performed by an experienced neon technician.

It is not uncommon to experience a faint buzz or crackle when touching a tube or sculpture. This is normal and harmless. If a sculpture or tube "bites" or is otherwise particularly unpleasant - unplug the piece and notify the artist. The 110V plug/cord demands the usual care and precautions of any electrical device.

 

POWER CONSUMPTION:

Neon is the most efficient form of light available - it does not consume large amounts of electricity. My sculptures operate at a level between 30-150 watts depending on the piece.They can be safely left on 24 hours/day at minimal expense if desired.

 

REPAIR:

Most works have exact patterns of its neon tubes reproduced on a sheet of mylar which is clamped to the back of the sculpture. In the event of a faulty or broken tube, this pattern can be removed and taken to any local neon shop or returned to the artist for replacement. Installation of the new neon tube can be done by any local neon shop and should be done only by an experienced neon technician (although the average individual can often be led through the simple process by phone with the artist if desired).

 

FOREIGN /OVERSEAS CLIENTS:

Transformers are available to match with any country's electrical type including 220V. A nominal handling charge to switch transformers will be applied. Sculptures have been shipped to Europe without incident multiple times in the past by the artist.

 


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