Signs of the Times - June 2016 - (Page 112)

Ed it o r i a lly S p e aki n g By Robin Donovan Robin Donovan is ST's Editor-inChief. Email her at robin.donovan@ Made by Hand Neon makes a resurgence among younger generations. I n 2012, I had a side job profiling local business owners for a publication that capitalized on Cincinnati's growing tech infrastructure - and venture capitalists. So, I talked to software developers, app programmers, a woman who developed a healthy feeding-tube formula and a tough ICU nurse who provided bio-recovery services (think: person who cleans up an apartment after an unattended death). I also interviewed local artisans who seemingly sprang up alongside the tech geeks. Sometimes, they even partnered to provide design services. You know how they say that if you go to either end of the political spectrum, the extremists start to sound alike? So it was here. Niche interests, tiny companies, uncertain payrolls, funding difficulties - it all matched up, except that angel investors always doted more heavily on the geeks. The difference I saw was that while the geeks jumped from one app to the next, even one company to the next, the artists were devoted to their media. As a musician, I get it: All media, like all instruments, are not created alike. Some, for whatever ineffable reason, are simply "ours" in ways the others never will be. Four years later, I've noticed something else. The developers and programmers have scattered, many following investors and new opportunities, while the artists have mostly stayed. It's structural: Some of the tech folk were recruited to Cincinnati to launch startups, then returned "home" when funds - or ideas - dried up. But the artists, having neither funding nor a home elsewhere, planted themselves. Meet Brian Stuparyk. He's the proprietor of Steam Whistle Letterpress in Cincinnati, where he cranks out greeting cards, posters, art prints, rubber stamps and even novelty socks (they have letterpresses on them - and are currently sold out). He was busy when we spoke in 2012, and more recently told another local publication he's clocking 80-85-hour workweeks. Brian popped into my mind while I was reading an LA Weekly piece about the resurgence of neon on the West Coast. You can tell me if I'm wrong, but this is my view: A swath of neon benders was pushed out of the industry due to the twin pressures of LEDs and the recession. Today, "maker" culture has a new generation interested in the authenticity of neon. Of course, those able to teach the craft are increasingly rare. Neon artists - and I believe neon is increasingly being elevated to an art form - are seeing an uptick 112 SIGNS OF THE TIMES June 2016 in demand, perhaps because the competition has gone out of business. One artist told LA Weekly she's begun to stock her own raw materials because so few suppliers offer them. As neon benders have retired or been weeded out by economic pressures, stories like hers will become more common. I still love neon; I think most people do. It was one of the first subjects I ever covered for ST, and it always catches my eye. Here's the thing: Stuparyk is running a successful business as a letterpress operator, but that doesn't mean we can expect that technology to make a mainstream comeback. It means that there's niche interest in elevating the craft to an art form (Stuparyk is an art-school graduate) and an opportunity for a few to make a decent living fulfilling that need. It's a shame, certainly. I'd love to see more neon when I'm out and about. But I also understand the pressures, including energy consumption concerns, that have led many to LEDs. It's like lightbulbs. I prefer the old incandescents, but I buy and use CFLs whenever I can. The energy consumption difference is too great not to. So, I feel a certain measure of security around neon. It has too many fans to every truly leave us. There is doubtless a loss of skill as neon bending becomes less viable as a profession, but those who still specialize in it seem to be seeing more demand for their work with fewer providers now available. What causes angst, I think, is the evolution of neon from an everyday item to specialty signage, or even fine art. Like any big change, it's not without its elements of grief, loss and pain, particularly for those who have invested their careers in this work - and those of us who have been charmed by neon's alluring (and, yes, uniform) glow. n P.S. The LA Weekly piece is worth a read. Google "LA Weekly resurgence of neon." So, too, is Steve Aust's neon gallery on p. 76.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Signs of the Times - June 2016

Signs of the Times - June 2016
Columns & Departments
ST Update
Technology Update
Tips for Effectively Marketing Your Signs to Millenials
Vinyl Apps
Strictly Electric
LED Update
Software Update
Technology Review - The Summa F Series F2630 Flatbed Cutter/Router
Technology Review - The Durst Rhotex 180 TR
Shop Opps
Sign Museum News
New Products
Second Generation
Undertaking Monumental Tasks
The Light of Our Lives
Cool Digital Printers
Enter ST’s Vehicle Graphics Contest
Advertising Index
Editorially Speaking

Signs of the Times - June 2016