“[Color & Light] was born out of COVID,” said Karen Brown, one of the co-founders of the new husband-and-wife neon sign business that is lighting up Madison.
Prior to Color & Light, Karen ran “Young Rembrandts,” a local after school art business. However, once the pandemic hit, Karen was forced to close down. Young Rembrandts officially closed on December 31, 2020.
“We held classes actually in the elementary schools and we had to halt classes right away in March last year, and tried to shift on to online classes,” Karen explained. “And you know, the kids were just burnt out and having them on the computer anymore was a lot to ask. So I went from a thriving business with 18 teachers, to nothing, in an instant. So I needed to shift to a new idea.”
And so they did. As the pandemic persisted, the couple began discussion around what to do next. Although neither of the Browns were involved in the neon sign business, Jonathan was previously an Import Manager for Spectrum Brands, where he still works today in a different capacity. As such, the couple was interested in starting a business in which they could leverage his experience in shipping items to and from the far east as well as harness Karen’s artistic skill.
“With Karen being the artist, I felt like that would be a great opportunity to be able to come up with a design element to this rather than just selling pre-made designs, that we could also come up with some of our own,” Jonathan said.
“I come from the event industry,” Karen added. “I was a marketing director and events director for over 20 years. And just from searching art and searching things about events. And you know, when I was looking for a new business open, I was also looking for, ‘how am I going to bring in some money,’ so I was looking at event things too. And these neon signs are all over the place. They’re being used at weddings, as backdrops, at baby showers, and they’re really big for photo backdrops at events. So I started seeing those and then was really interested and it kind of expanded from there.”
And, as a graphic designer with a background in marketing and web design, Karen built the website.
Of the dozen of designs listed on their website, most were designed by Karen however, Color & Light encourages local artists and organizations to use their art or logos to be made into a neon LED sign.
“So one example is the Progress Center for Black Women. Sabrina Madison had already had this great logo from years ago, that was ‘Protect Your Peace’. And so we reached out to her and asked her if we could use that design and have a portion come back to the center. So she was on board right away….It’s nice to know that anytime somebody buys that, money will go back to the center.”
Customers may also upload or design a sign on the website under the “Customize tab.”
Color & Light offers a special selection of LED neon signs that pertain to various social justice movements and equity initiatives, including signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Love is Love.”
For every sign that is purchased in this section, Color & Light donates 10 percent of the purchase price to an organization either for the cause featured on the sign or another similar effort.
“Karen and I wanted to tie that in as an effort to give back to the community,” Jonathan said.
“Absolutely none of the businesses that exist had any sort of social change element to them,” he added. “So that was kind of our vehicle and our angle to give back.”
Similarly, Young Rembrandts also had what Karen called a “social change element;” the business would award upwards of $20,000 worth of scholarships each year.
Although the Browns did attempt to start making the signs themselves, Karen noted that, “it’s a really tedious process.”
Now, the craftwork is done by several manufacturers in China.
The signs are not actual neon, made of gas and glass, but LEDs, mounted on acrylic. This also allows for them to be dimmable, a feature not typically found in neon lights.
Looking forward, Karen voiced her call to action in the coming months: have your logo or art made into a neon LED.
“If there’s local organizations or local artists, specifically artists of color, for the organizations a new funding source, and for the artists just a fun way to represent their art in a new medium,” she said.
Signs are viable to purchase here, on the Color & Light website. Monthly installment payment plans are available.