Your Interview Samantha Beresford
Introduce yourself (name, company, position, country) and tell us how you got into lighting design (including education/qualifications).
My name is Samantha Beresford, I am a Glass Bender at Neon Creations, based in Bolton, United Kingdom. I have worked for Neon Creations for over ten years now and love every second of it. I left school at 16 with 9 GCSE’s, I knew I did not want to go into higher education. I decided it wasn’t for me. I worked best hands on, I had a very practical mind with a creative streak.
I was shelf stacking for a large company when I saw a tiny advert in the local paper, advertising for the job. The requirements for the role were someone who was practical, hardworking and someone with a creative nature. It still astonishes me that I practically fell into this role, but I have no doubt this is what I was bo rn to do. When I first started, I didn’t really know what neon was, I had a lot to learn. I was employed as Tony Spink’s apprentice ; he has been a Glass Bender for over 30 years and opened Neon Creations 18 years ago. Unfortunately, there aren’t any actual qualifications for Glass Bending. This suited me just fine, I could learn hands on. Tony has been very thorough in my glass bending education and this has evolved over the years to me making my own neon art.
Tell us about your work – is there a specific type of project you like to work on or an area you specialise in and why?
I work as a glass bender full time for Neon Creations. We take custom designs from clients and make them into a beautiful neon sign.
The process of making a Neon Sign involves bending straight tubes of glass over a flame, usually working to a drawing. The glass is then vacuum pumped and bombarded. Basic wiring skills are then required to wire the sign into a transformer. The Glass Bending process has not changed in over 100 years.
I have had to learn basic wood working skills and the properties of Perspex as these are our most popular backings.
We usually set aside some time each week for us to explore and create our own art. Sometimes this is spent at the computer researching different materials, trying different mediums such as acrylic pouring or wood working and then bending glass to go over the finished piece.
I enjoy glass bending anyway, but when I am given free reign and don’t have to work to a drawing this is what I truly prefer
What project are you most proud of and why?
One of the first art piece’s I made was a blue shark, I am very proud of this as I made it while Tony was on holiday and I didn’t have any help on this, technical or creative. It is still hung up in the workshop and always get lots of comments from customers which I am overjoyed at .
There are a few art pieces in the workshop that are a result of my ideas which I am also very proud of.
Although not a project, I am also very proud of the fact I am only 27, I have been glass bending over 10 years now in a male dominated industry. I can do every aspect needed for a neo n piece, design, manufacture and install which I believe makes me stand out from the crowd.
What is the biggest challenge that you have overcome in your career?
To be a glass bender is not an easy task. In my opinion you must be methodical, have a good eye for detail and be completely nuts. Blood, sweat and tears have made me into the glass bender I am today, and every single mistake and burn has taught me something.
You need to be determined and patient, but also not settle for anything but the best. Resilience is a very good attribute in those first few years of starting. I think you need a creative streak and be passionate about what you do to enable you to be successful.
I do not feel that everyone posses the mindset and determination to become a glass bender. You get knocked down when the bending is not going wella lot in those first few years, and I think a lot of people fall at this hurdle.
I could bend glass near enough that very first month after I started, however the real work starts when you have to start forming words that are straight and legible. It takes years of practise to be able to master each letter in each font in each diameter. We offer day courses that enables people to bend glass, but this is typically just shapes. You cannot master glass bending without years of practice.
I feel like another of the challenges I face is being so young, people often overlook me or don’t take me seriously, but they quickly realise their mistake when they find out I know what I am talking about.This usually happens on site, when we do installations. I am very fortunate that Neon Creations trust me and my work, and often push me front and centre on site.
I recently had another challenge that required me to ‘go back to the classroom’ and wrap my head around the process of vacuum pumping and bombarding. It was a struggle for me as I have not been in a learning environment for a long time. I am now confident with the process and have been doing it for about a year.
How does light inspire you?
I can be out shopping , and find a nice piece of home décor, and my immediate thought will be to incorporate neon into the piece to make it stand out.
The same if I see some scrap wood, a quick sand down and stain and red n eon looks amazing over wood. I would spend the rest of the day planning what I would do and how I would bend it, most of the time out and about, not concentrating on what I ’m supposed to be doing that day. Then months down the line, customers come into the workshop and see the finished art piece on the wall, and it lights up t heir face, both literally and figuratively.
I have been sat in a restaurant before now, noticed the logo and immediately told everyone the logo lends itself to neon perfectly . Neon is so versatile that it can be incorporated into almost anything.
Neon has recently been added to the endangered craft list, and it is up to people like myself to push the boundaries of neon glass bending. Every failed experiment only spurs me on further to do better and to be better.
What is your message for other Women In Lighting?
Do what you love and do it well. The rest is just details.