Watch Artist Shawna Peterson Bend Glass Tubes to Make Neon Artwork


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Shawna Peterson bends glass tubes for a dwelling. She makes neon artwork, and has put glowing faces on a large wall of recyclables for artist Erik Otto, bent two-inch circles for a wall sized circuit board for Dolby Labs, and created an indication that merely says “Wash Me” for a San Francisco laundromat. The shining remnants of her previous and future initiatives might be seen scattered all through her workspace. It lies on the border of Oakland, California, and neighboring Emeryville, simply blocks from Pixar Studios in an space dotted with warehouses, workshops, and artwork studios.

“I choose Oakland simply because it is an artist neighborhood and it is oriented in direction of enterprise and lightweight industrial,” says Peterson.

Within the cluttered entrance room of Peterson’s three-room store sits a clunky outdated laptop monitor with an RGB index on it. Peterson says she prefers the older displays since, to her eyes, they present colours extra precisely. Her workshop goes on like this. Stacks of neon tubes subsequent to hissing flames. Stacks of bins full of these four-foot neon tubes. Stacks of designs for future initiatives.

Peterson has been making neon indicators for 30 years. Watching her within the act, her actions are methodical and fluid. She’s so studied, it is easy to overlook the intricacies of the method.

First, Peterson marks the place she must bend the tube with a graphite pencil and swings that part into the awaiting flame. The glass heats up and grows extra pliable; she twists and turns the tube till she feels it is prepared. The tube needs to break down as soon as she removes it from the flame, however she provides a puff of air via a rubber hose to stabilize it. She bends the now smooth tube earlier than inserting it on her sample to verify that the strains match up.

Neon patterns are designed in reverse, so all of the bends seem on the again of the completed piece. This ensures the design or the lettering on the entrance seems flat. Peterson would not thoughts that this system causes the letters and phrases within the sample run backward. “I do not even have a look at it like letters. It is all damaged down in my thoughts as ‘What bend is that this,’ and ‘How do I mark it?'”

Peterson strikes on to the following bend with ease, purple mad scientist goggles pressed in opposition to her face, repeating the method till an “M” seems.

“The tactile nature of neon is fairly necessary,” she says. “Not solely are you dealing with clean, laborious glass that turns right into a moist noodle once you warmth it, however you have got wooden blocks that you just use to chill off the glass. We use smooth graphite pencils to mark the glass. We use actually laborious metallic information to chop it.”

With three flames repeatedly burning, her workspace grows noticeably hotter. Peterson’s favourite device, a wooden block that she makes use of to chill off the glass between bends, is totally blackened after 20 years of use and not provides off a odor when it’s charred by the glass. Nevertheless, she has been breaking in a brand new cherry wooden block that offers off a candy aroma when scorched.

“I’ve the recollections of the odor of a burning pencil from 30 years in the past once I was studying. I odor that odor and it is like, ‘Ah yeah, I do not forget that.'”

It was a part-time job in school that led Peterson on her 30-year path as a tube bender. After years of sitting behind the entrance desk of a retail neon store, Peterson’s boss insisted she take an apprenticeship with the store’s sign-maker. Upon commencement, she continued working in several neon retailers earlier than opening her personal operation 19 years in the past. Finally, she settled in her present Oakland store.

“It was at all times like my again pocket commerce that I principally caught with,” she says. “I did not actually go on to pursue my research in cognitive science.”

Peterson not too long ago participated in She Bends, an all-female exhibit on the Museum of Neon Artwork in Glendale, California. The present runs via February 11, 2018.

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