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What is Neon Art?

Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

Neon art is a relatively new media utilizing neon lights to create visually stimulating forms of art, often incorporating motion and interactivity. As a genre, the field of neon art is still emerging, with new techniques and technologies creating new opportunities each year.

Neon is one of the noble gases, having a number of properties in common with the other gases: argon, krypton, xenon, and radon. Of these, only neon and argon are commonly used in neon art. When a noble gas is bombarded with electrons by running an electric current through it, its atoms are dislodged from their orbit. As the atoms absorb the electrons, the resulting energy emits as light.

Woman painting
Woman painting

Neon gives off red light, while argon mixed with a bit of mercury gives off a deep blue light. These are the two base colors used in neon art, but other colors may be achieved either by baking fluorescent powder into the glass tubing or by using colored glass. In this way, a wide range of colors may be achieved in neon art, including different shades of red and blue, rich greens and yellows, and pure whites.

When creating neon art, most artists bend the glass freehand, while some rely on the sorts of templates commonly used in neon sign making. Glass is bent by fixing it over a high-temperature flame and rolling it back and forth while pulling it into the desired shape.

In 1981, the Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Los Angeles became the first museum in the world to specialize in works of neon art. To date, they have shown the work of more than four-hundred artists and received extensive praise. As well as operating a museum, MONA also offers classes in introductory neon shaping and technique, taught by the staff of the museum and resident artists.

Neon art takes two main forms. In the first, neon tubing is the exclusive media of the pieces. Often these pieces resemble traditional neon signs, with some subtle message added as a form of artistic expression.

Other times the work may be free-form, with no narrative structure whatsoever, expressing itself through the gentle curves and vivid colors neon lighting lends itself to. Another style of neon art makes use of neon lighting combined with traditional media, or with objects from everyday life. This style of neon art tends more towards political statement than neon art which focuses exclusively on the shape and color of the neon, and has produced some works which have met with great critical praise.

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Discussion Comments


@softener - LED based signs are actually not true neon signs. As the article says, neon is actually a gas. LED based signs are a lot cheaper though and is used by some artists.

Unfortunately the process of neon art is quite difficult to learn on your own. There are neon workshops in some parts of the world, but I imagine learning the hands on of neon art is something you'd need to go to art school for.

If you had a design or an idea in mind you could try having it custom made.


I've been fascinated by neon art and was wondering how how to make neon art myself, so this was a great article for me. Looks like it requires glassblowing and then I guess some kind of basic electronics for the LEDs inside. I'm considering making something just for the fun of it.

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