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.
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.
There are six
gases one can use in a neon tube. Only two are bright enough to be used
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.