Sign In and Shine On: Neon Verbs in The Art Room.
Lesson Plan and Artwork by Kathryn Cahill
Neon signs were popular during the 1950's and resurged during the 1980's. Although neon could be considered a dying art form because of the development of LED lighting and digital displays, no one can deny the electrifying beauty of those hypnotic glass tubes. From Las Vegas to Broadway and into museums, neon text-based artists like Bruce Nauman and Patrick Martinez have burned their artistic messages into our brains and hearts. In this lesson, learn to bend light by illustrating action verbs using yarn. Wrap an armature made of wire and masking tape and "let it glow" against a marquee background using Foam Core and Plastic Poster Boards. These signs will attract an audience, so be prepared to shine.
- Investigate the material culture of neon signage.
- Explore the work of artists who use neon as a medium.
- Choose an action verb that communicates a message.
- Construct a sign by combining text and architectural detail.
- Present the work to an audience within your community.
Pacon® Foam Core Board, White, 22" x 28", 3/16" thick, Carton of 5
Pacon® Foam Core Board, Black, 22" x 28", 3/16" thick, Carton of 5
Pacon® Plastic Poster Board, Neon Green, 22" x 28", Pack of 25
Pacon® Plastic Poster Board, Neon Pink, 22" x 28", Pack of 25
Pacon® Plastic Poster Board, Azure, 22" x 28", Pack of 25
Pacon® Plastic Poster Board, Yellow, 22" x 28", Pack of 25
Pacon® Plastic Poster Board, Red, 22" x 28", Pack of 25
Pacon® Plastic Poster Board, Clear, 22" x 28", Pack of 25
Trait-Tex® Acrylic School Roving Yarn Pack, Assorted Bright Colors, 5', Pack of 10
Trait-Tex® Acrylic Jumbo-Weight Yarn, Assorted Colors, 5', Pack of 12
Trait-Tex® Acrylic 4-Ply Jumbo-Weight Yarn Cone Set, Assorted Neon Colors, 2 oz., Set of 9
Aluminum Soft Flexible Sculpture Wire, 1/8" dia x 130' roll
Stainless Steel Ultra Light-Weight Mini Plier, 5", Pack of 4
Masking Tape, Tan, 1 1/2" x 60 yd
Full size standard dual temperature glue gun, Blue, 60 W
All Temperature Glue Stick, Regular Round, Clear, 7/16" x 4", Pack of 6
X-acto Knives, Set of 3
*Here are the supplies needed for this lesson plan for reference. Find a convenient carousel of shoppable products for this lesson below.
Standard #3: Refine and complete artistic work.
Standard #4: Analyze, interpret, and select artistic work for presentation.
Standard #8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
Standard #11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.
Begin by gathering images of neon signs and marquees. You can consult museums like The Museum of Neon Art at www.neonmona.org, or study artwork like Bruce Nauman's Human/Need/Desire (1983). You can also refer to commercial web pages where businesses or individuals purchase custom signs. Discuss the purpose of signs to advertise and attract. Print a list of action verbs that would be appropriate for use with this project. Sketch initial designs paying close attention to font, line, balance and symmetry. Words can be written in cursive or print and block lettering.
Use wire as a line to "write" the action verb. Use the pliers to make the appropriate curves and cuts. Wrap the wire armature in a layer (or two) of masking tape until you reach the consistent width of glass tubing. Choose a bright color of yarn and tie it to the beginning of the word. Wrap the letters in tight, consistent coils using hot glue on the back of each letter to secure it along the way. Use smaller, wrapped-up lengths of yarn when coiling inside of a closed letter, like an "o". Be sure to wrap over any loose ends or secure them with glue. Some areas may need an extra layer of yarn for better coverage and craftsmanship.
Place your finished word on black foam board and trace around the outside perimeter. Use an X-Acto® knife to cut the foam board and hot glue the word to the board. The black color of the foam board absorbs extra light around the word and makes it appear brighter. The fuzz from the yarn looks like soft light that is beaming out onto the black board.
Cut a piece of translucent Plastic Poster Board to use as a background marquee or window. I chose a color closest to complimentary to add visual impact using contrast. Design a mat, window pane, or theater exterior in 3D by cutting and assembling Foam Board.
Place the sign strategically in the art room or school to motivate or encourage. Display in a window or in front of a light to make your sign "glow" that extra mile.