Original Craftsmen: Andy Doig – a life in neon light

Andy Doig feels at home wherever there is dazzling and colorful lighting. The Englishman is a neon artist and masters the traditional craft of glassblowing.

Neon light fills darkness with life

When Andy Doig needs inspiration, the Englishman takes a drive. His journey takes him via dark streets to the outskirts of the city. But not to residential areas or anything like that – no, Andy is attracted to those places that are announced by bright lights from the distance: to the fairgrounds. “In this neighborhood, it would be pitch black without the neon lights,” he says. “The fairs transform the sad darkness into a fun-loving spectacle of lights, lines and colors. It’s like running straight into a fantasy world,” he says, multifaceted and colorful moods, especially in neon, fascinated Andy as a child. And they never let him go.

Some illuminated neon lights hanging on a rack

Neon – for Andy Doig like magic

Andy Doig is a neon artist. Wherever it glitters and sparkles in neon colors, his eyes light up. It all started in the USA. More by chance, the Englishman stumbled into a small studio full of neon art in Chicago. “Everywhere there were neon tubes, it glowed brightly.” Even over 30 years later, this memory still brings a smile to his face.

Profession and self-realization

Neon was to become Andy’s profession and later his vocation. But first things first: in the early 1990s, the Englishman produced neon signs for television, musicals and theatre. Gradually, however, he realized that the orders were not always in line with his wealth of ideas. Andy wanted to express himself in glass, color and (neon) light. But how could he do that? “I tried my hand at glassblowing,” he says. He had tried it for the first time in Chicago. He took the old craft home with him and went to the British School of Neon. Now Andy was able to produce the glass for the neon tubes himself and to shape and design them exactly as he wanted. The path was clear, to turn a profession and passion into art. “Everything I’ve done since then has its origins here.”

It was important for me to understand and master the whole process of this art form.

A man heating glass at a table

Traditional craftsmanship with a finger on the pulse

“It was important for me to understand and master the whole process of this art form,” says the neon artist. In 1995, the color-loving Englishman moved into his own studio, Fishtail Neon Studios, on Brighton’s coast. “I like to work with glass. I am very enthusiastic about the history of neon. That’s why I have taken this traditional technique and twisted it to fit into the future.” This is well appreciated, Andy’s clients include both companies and private individuals. But he also makes installations for himself or for exhibitions. Whether he prefers to create his installations outdoors or indoors? “Both have their own charm,” he says at first. But then adds: “in the open air, you design an existing environment, outside you work subtly, sometimes more directly on the atmosphere. That’s very attractive. Indoor art, on the other hand, is a bit like decorating a wall.” Now he smiles.

Neon tubes glow in the dark
Glass tubes and light bulbs are sorted and kept in stock

Fishtail Neon Studios in Brighton

Andy describes glassblowing in particular as an honest and basically simple craft. “Whether I’m making neon lettering, a gigantic Flamingo picture or a sign with the inscription, here’s cold beer, at the end of the day it’s all down to three basic movements.” He laughs. A colorful universe, born in the fire, designed with few bending techniques, if you will. “It’s a simple thing,” says Andy, nodding. And yet, despite all his modesty, the glass and neon artist knows from his own experience that the basal handicraft of a glass maker takes many years of continuous practice and testing if you want to bring it to perfection. UNESCO has long since declared manual glass production as an intangible cultural heritage – in order to protect the handicraft.

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Rise and fall – the history of neon

The first neon tube made of colored gas served as an advertising sign for a hairdresser in Paris. In 1912, the two scientists Georges Claude and Jacques Fonseque developed the brilliant neon lettering. The first neon signs emerged mainly on the streets of Los Angeles in the early 1920s, and spread from California throughout the USA leaving their mark on the cityscape and public spaces – especially in New York’s Time Square and Las Vegas. The glittering casino mecca, however, also symbolizes the demise of neon tubes and neon signs. There, in the gambling paradise of Nevada’s desert, you will find the Neon Museum, where numerous discarded neon signs have found their final resting place. They have been replaced over the years: first by illuminated Plexiglas boxes and in recent years by LEDs.

Neon School: Andy passes on his craft

Andy now passes on his knowledge to other neon lovers in the “Neon School” he founded. Andy is synonymous with the modern interpretation of a dying craft – in a world in which LED has mostly displaced the classic neon lights from the cityscape. As a young boy, Andy was once fascinated by the English fairgrounds and he still is today. Yes, when it comes to neon signs, glowing fairground signs or neon installations, a part of that little boy remains in his heart. Today, though, Andy creates these surreal worlds of light himself.


Andi Doig

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