The artist shares his light with others… and it’s neon

BALTIMORE — If you ask her, how she got started making neon lights was a happy accident.

Selena Carter was working in Morgan State University’s Built Environment Applied Research Lab, learning to laser cut plywood. One day she came across a piece of viscous green fluorescent acrylic in the lab and started thinking about how something like that would look lit.

After several purchases on Amazon, trips to Home Depot, extensive discussions about electricity with her father and a lot of experimentation, she made her first neon sign. It took nearly a year and many more signs afterward to perfect her practice, she said.

The Baltimore native who grew up in the Mondawmin area had no idea this new hobby was putting her on the path to entrepreneurship. She also never dreamed that she would have fans – over 22,000 followers on Instagram and over 21,000 on Twitter.

“You never know what people like about you until you show them what you do,” Carter said.

Carter uses a combination of laser and acrylic cutting, designing, electrical wires and more to make special-order neon light signs for customers, and she’s created a masterclass to teach others how to make them, too. Carter’s neon signs illuminate several Baltimore businesses. A shiny white “Pinky’s up” sign is in Cuples Tea House on North Howard Street. A neon pink gothic police sign spelling out “status” lights up Status Studio on Greenmount Avenue. Carter also created a large “The Future is Creamy” sign and a few others for an ice cream spot in Nebraska.

Carter was serving tables at The Cheesecake Factory before he began experimenting with neon. She didn’t care at all about waiting tables and a lot of her shift she spent writing down tasks that had nothing to do with the waitress and everything to do with going out and doing other things . Carter was plotting, she said, a way out of the food industry. She ended a shift at The Cheesecake Factory in 2019 and never returned.

That same year, she posted her first neon sign, which spelled out her name, on Twitter. People loved it and her post received over 15,000 likes and dozens of comments. She immediately started taking orders to sign for others and created a website. Her brand was originally called Design House 1129, but she later changed it to By Selena Carter.

Carter decided she wanted to share what she knows and teach others, she said, because she really has come a long way. She remembers wishing there were more opportunities for her to learn when she was learning about soldering irons, wires, brackets, and other aspects of neon manufacturing.

During the pandemic, Carter created the masterclass to share resources with others and find a way to further monetize her newfound talent. People who purchase the virtual classroom, which costs $100, receive individual video tutorials from Carter and a detailed list of supplies with links to where to purchase them. They can also join his private Facebook page to talk about the class and share things they’ve created.

Nasir Ali, owner of Instagram page Bmore Creative, bought Carter’s masterclass in July. As an art teacher in Baltimore County schools, he is a big proponent of finding ways to express his creativity. He also appreciated Carter’s thorough approach and willingness to share what she knows.

“It was really good to see someone do their own thing, but also give back,” Ali said.

Carter has always had an artistic and creative side, she said. These are qualities in which she would have liked her parents to invest more. But they insisted on the traditional route of attending a good high school — Western High School in Baltimore — and then moving on to college at Morgan State University’s School of Architecture and Planning. Her interest in architecture and interior design comes from her father, an entrepreneur. He used to take her to his project sites and she remembers the work he put into her developments.

Carter said her time at Morgan’s BEAR Lab inspired her to create new things because she was surrounded by other creators.

Carter tells her students that making neon lights takes practice and consistency. Her creations may seem easy to build on social media, but there were times when she wanted to give up and sat on her kitchen counter, discouraged because a light had collapsed or failed. did not light.

And those were just technical difficulties.

Carter, 27, needed to balance school, a thriving business and caring for her 6-year-old son. She decided to take a break from Morgan once her son started elementary school, but plans to go back one day. Carter has about a year to graduate, she said, and she wants her portfolio to be “top-notch” by the time she graduates. Outside of school, however, she still contributes to her wallet.

Carter also took a mental vacation for six months last year to recharge, reflect and come back better. She had great successes, but she worked so hard that she didn’t take it all in.

“I thought to myself, ‘If you don’t take a break, everything is going to fall apart,'” she said.

She officially returned this summer, renting space at Open Works. Carter wants to create and teach another master class and eventually expand his neon business. Baltimore has given her lots of love and support, but she could see herself venturing to another state to grow.

There are ways to give back and be a positive catalyst for change in the city beyond just being there, she said. Carter would also like to delve into other arts, such as upholstery and interior design.

“I’m a person who’s going to live a lot of different lives,” Carter said.

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