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Seattle Times photographers offer a glimpse into what inspires their best visual reporting.

May 25, 2012 at 8:57 PM

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Northwest wanderings: Crazy for the glow of neon


ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Tom "Dr. Neon" Webb, with 32 years as a journeyman in the neon business, has the red of circular tubes reflected in his glasses from an airport parking sign he's made at the Neon Electric Sign Company.

When "Dr. Neon" came looking for work in Seattle he stopped by Neon Electric Sign Co. in Interbay. They were just beginning a challenging art project and the owner handed him a tube.

"Show us what you can do," he said.

Tom Webb began a series of twists and turns on one large tube of glass, then he attached electrodes. The owner asked if he could start the next day.



ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Tom Web moves a tattoo shop's sign he's repaired at NESCO, the Neon Electric Sign Company in Interbay.

Webb says he got the nickname Dr. Neon from clients because he'd take on projects and repairs others would decline.

"The more creative things I can do, the better," he says. "The harder, the more intense, the more fun it is." Webb's love of neon began on Route 66 road trips in his mom's '56 Buick.

He loved the color coming through the hotel-room windows.

"I went crazy for it. There's something magnetic about it. The color is being pushed at you."

As Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane blare on the stereo, he heats another tube and produces a smooth, continuous loop.

"It's all made by hand, all handmade."

As a 32-year journeyman, he's made more than 3,300 signs.



ALAN BERNER / THE SEATTLE TIMES

Tom Webb also made the Cupcake Royale sign for the dessert shop on East Pike on Capitol Hill.

His favorites include Slim's Last Chance in South Seattle and Cupcake Royale on East Pike. A favorite he didn't make is for the Elephant Car Wash on Denny Way.

For Dr. Neon, greater the challenge, the more creative the response.

"I like doing the hard stuff."

For more photos, visit the gallery.

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