When people think of neon, they often conjure up images of advertising stores, diners and Broadway shows. But, when Richard Wheater traveled from the UK to New York on a student exchange program to study glass-blowing, he developed an appreciation for neon as a medium for artistic expression. When he returned to the UK, he took a job in a commercial neon shop and began teaching the creative side of the craft as well.
He combined his interests in creative design and teaching in 2009 by founding Neon Workshops in Wakefield, UK. He says that the most rewarding things about Neon Workshops are that he gets to introduce people to neon for the first time and that he can use neon in ways that haven't been done before. ‘Neon Workshops is a product of something that just didn't exist,’ Richard says.
In addition to producing and installing large exhibitions and commissions for galleries, artists, TV, film and theater, Neon Workshops instructs a diverse student base. ‘We've taught everyone from priests to long-distance lorry drivers, to people in the medical industry and, of course, students and creatives.’
Teaching, fabrication and installation services make up the brand's main income streams. It also has an online store where people can buy products, like limited-edition neons, books or posters. And soon, Richard hopes to diversify the range even more. The brand's expanding into building and selling an electron bombarder (a machine that creates light) so that people can continue working with neon on their own after attending a workshop. These machines aren't just for workshop students, though – they'll also be aimed at colleges and universities to teach students the art of creating neon.