A glimpse of the world of a master Neon artist

February 1, 2011

When we went and played at Taylormade Racing, I met their neighbor; Michael Flechtner (www.Flektro.com) He is a neon artist. I had stepped into his shoppe to see what this was about and was instantly caught by the magic vibe in the air. Michael has just been commissioned to create a stamp for the US Postal Service, quite an honor, he took the time, on a Tuesday night, amidst all the press and media madness to show me how to bend glass and how neon lights are made.

Human beings are intrinsically attracted to shiny things. Neon has that capacity to woo us with its incandescent bright colors filling the eye with playful brilliance. And we fall for it.

So the moth that I am went back for more.

Glass is very flexible once heated. It also keeps pretty much to it’s shape if you don’t mess up too badly (like I did!). We started with a letter design : DH, my initials, in capital letters. I

Michael built all the pieces then melted them together and I could see my initials taking shape. It looked really simple and easy but I knew better than to think it is.

The crossfire

perfecting the shape

Give me a D!

Once the glass was shaped and put together we went on to the “mad scientist” side of the shop where rare gases, electrical power that could literally fry your socks off (and more..) and vacuum system are waiting for us.

18 000 volt transformer...

Vacuum system

Rare gases and of course Kryptonite...

We decided to go for a blue color so we had to put mercury in the system, in a little “trap” to use once the neon gas would be in the tube, the mercury makes the neon go from red to blue.

a little shot of mercury anyone?

Then we have to empty the tube of all materials, air, fluids, that is when the 18 000 volt thingy comes into play, with the tube sealed, you blast the electricity and heat up the whole thing to 500 degrees F. It happens fast. It’s kind of a violent experiment but then the whole thing glows like mad. It’s beautiful. Dangerous and beautiful.

one of the few temperature gauges

the glass is set up with piece of mica over an elevated surface

the beautifully dangerous glow of burning matter

The next stage is to put the gas in the tube and put electrodes on each end to light it. after that is done it gets plugged in and the magic happens. the red neon gas turns to blue with the help of mercury and we’re all mesmerized.

just lit up before the mercury starts to create the reaction

turning blue



love the curves and lines

After this was all done, I got my chance to try to bend glass. My first attempt was hilariously bad, when I managed to not bend the glass, blow a hole through it and collapse the shape where I wanted to bend the glass. I laughed so hard, it was just too funny. Sometimes it’s just good to be really bad at something.

The next few tries I started to understand how fast and how tensile the material actually is. There are a few parameters you have to keep under control : Heat the glass evenly, keep it centered in the cross fire, keep moving it, and be very aware of the state of the material so you bend just at the right moment, not blowing too much air or too little. After about 5 tries I was starting to get something that looked like a 90 degree angle. There is an interesting conversation that starts between you and the glass. the imposition of your will on to the matter. It was a very interesting experience.

We ended and went for a bite to eat. I then hopped back on Beowulf, balaclava, heated vest and all related warm gear as the nights are cool and I headed back towards San Dimas.

As I climbed towards the mountains. Beowulf glides into the night. We are only in January but I feel the earth turning and the days are lengthening. I feel the call of spring and the call of the road. I’m so grateful I still have a bike to ride.

What a cool little evening adventure. Neon glow in the night. Now I ride, I feel free, my head is full of bright things, as Ozzy would say : We got it good.


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