Richard Wheater runs Neon Workshops, which makes signs for the creative sector and sculpture for artists. He told Creative Choices that, although commercial neon may be in decline, it is still in demand as an artistic product.
Making neon as an artist
"When I was studying at Edinburgh, I went over to America to Alfred University, New York. They were doing a neon course there and I thought, 'Yeah, I'm gonna have a go at this.'
"When you're talking about aesthetics and specialist pieces of work, you just cannot beat neon."
"I loved it, then came back and found there was nowhere else to do it, certainly not in a creative sense. I started setting up courses for the general public, and it snowballed from there. The interest just grew and grew because there just really aren't any other educational institutions running neon courses in the UK.
"The problem was, I wanted to make neon as an artist, but I was just basically having to draw out my ideas and give them to commercial neon shops. They huffed and puffed because they just wanted to make lots and lots of straight tubes or something straightforward. They weren't interested in the passion of it, experimenting, which some of my work demanded.
"So I realised this wasn't working very quickly, and that I was going to have to set something up specialist."
Making art from a declining trade
"I think the angle I've chosen, the route I've decided to go down, has a market. But in the commercial world, they would say it's a dying trade.
"There's too much competition now. Regulations in terms of how it should be installed by an electrician out of arm's reach, how it should be disposed, the initial expense of neon. It all goes against it as a material for large jobs compared with something like LEDs.
"But when you're talking about aesthetics and specialist pieces of work, then you just cannot beat neon. It's still, apart from laser, one of the brightest materials to generate light. It's 100 percent recyclable, unlike any of its competitors, and it's still very energy-efficient.
"The expense is that it takes a lot of time to develop the correct skills to be able to make it. We find that people approaching us wanting neon, want it because it's neon. That is what they want. They've got choices now.
"So whilst commercial neon shops are struggling, I think this route will work."