The L-Ken’s: Saturday Night Clam Fry Project

If I can get this done in time … I can enter it in competition.

But I have to finish it.  No distractions, no delays, no postponements, no extensions, no procrastinations.

And I have to build on the techniques I learned from every photograph I’ve ever taken, every Dream Window I’ve ever built, every Crate Art Project I’ve ever reconstructed … to build this project, and to make it functional and aesthetically pleasing.

No excuses.

Make it happen or don’t even bother, Miller.

L-Ken's sign, Colonie, N.Y., Kodachrome 40

I’m sure you recognize this sign.

Over the years, I’ve photographed the slow decay of the iconic L-Ken’s Drive-In sign along Central Avenue.  L-Ken’s used to be the social event locale for Colonie residents, people would order delicious clam fry baskets and munch on Saturday nights, conversing over old picnic tables and having a great time.

Then, L-Ken’s closed a decade ago, and the sign remained in place, a tantalizing reminder of our wonderful times that passed behind us.

I kept photographing the sign from time to time – watching as the weeds tried to choke it away, watching as the neon glass tubes deteriorated and fell apart … watching as the smiling chef continued to wave at passers-by, enticing them to stop at a restaurant that no longer existed.

L-Ken's sign demolition

And then … one day … the L-Ken’s sign was gone.  A few weeks later, what was once a gathering Eucharist for clam fry aficionados and hot dogs enthusiasts became a nondescript Verizon call center building.  Ugh and double ugh.

I’ve entered photos of L-Ken’s in competition before.  In 2013, for example, I submitted a lenticular collage, featuring a reimagined L-Ken’s with painted neon lighting.  The artwork took an Honorable Mention at Altamont, which made me very happy.

Eventually I gave that framed L-Ken’s lenticular art to someone as a gesture of friendship.  He later told me that he wouldn’t accept the gift on some sort of convoluted principle, and that he would have the artwork returned to me.  Surprisingly, I never received the print back after that – or an explanation as to why it was rejected.  So I guess he liked it … but he didn’t like that it came from me.  That’s always good for the psyche.  Pfft.

Nevertheless, I can’t brood over old slights.  Not any more.  I need to rebuild the L-Ken’s sign bigger and better than previously achieved, and, if I do this with both innovation and ingenuity, I would restore the iconic advertising banner to its former glory.

Or at least I would try as hard as I possibly could.

Get my damn tools.  Roll up my damn sleeves.  Chuck is in damn business.

This was one of my best captures of the L-Ken’s sign, an exposure from 2014.

L-Ken's Drive-In Updated Sign

I say “best” because I digitally removed the annoyingly obtuse Carrow Real Estate sign and replaced it with an original ice cream cone artwork that was in one of my 2009-era photographs.  For this 2017 project, I also digitally erased that nasty chunk of sheet metal that dangerously dangled from the bend of the illuminated arrow.

I re-sized this image as a 34×26 foam-boarded print and sent it to FedEx Office for printing and preparation.  Normally I would take this print to McGreevy Pro Lab, my pro lab of choice – but McGreevy foam-boards my artworks on high-quality GatorFoam, and my plan is to puncture this artwork with holes to thread things through it.  GatorFoam would be too hard to puncture – so I’ll use the cheap foam that FedEx Office provides.

September 9, 2017.  13 days before deadline.  I dropped the digital file off at FedEx Office.  “We can have it done in a couple of days,” the FedEx Office worker said.  “Are the dimensions correct for what you need?”

“Yes they are.”

“Okay, here’s your price.  You can pay now, or you can pay at pickup.”

“I can pay now if that will help.”

“Okay, and we do have a 10% off coupon so that will lower your bill slightly.”

“Nice.  Please apply that to my print.”

“Oh, wait, I can’t do that, this would require a manager’s approval and there’s no manager here.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I half-smirked.  “I’ll pay for it when it’s done, and hopefully there will be a manager on site at that point.”

September 11, 2017.  11 days before deadline.  FedEx Office calls me, letting me know that the print is done.

I drive to Wolf Road to pick it up.

The cashier quotes me the price.

“I was quoted a 10% discount.”

“And where is your coupon, sir?”

“The cashier had a coupon and said he would use it for me, but he needed a manager to authorize the discount.”

“Oh, he shouldn’t have said that,” the cashier said, her voice in an annoying range of don’t-quote-me-a-sale.  “I’ll give you the discount this time – but he should have known better.”

Yeah, it’s not like I’ve quoted FedEx Office a size for my prints and they’ve either under-cut or over-cut my dimensions in the past.  I paid for my print – with the discount applied – and went on my way.

I drove over to Hobby Lobby, my mat-cutting place of choice.  Once I arrived, I used one of Hobby Lobby’s measuring tapes to check the measurements of my piece.

34 inches vertical.  Perfect.

25 3/4 inches horizontal.  Quarter of an inch short.  Damn it, FedEx Office, “discount” means discount on price, not discount on measurements!  Freaking bonkbrains…

No matter.  Thanks to Hobby Lobby’s master mat cutter Gene, I was able to get a nice mat that measured to the proper dimensions, so that the picture will fit in the frame rails without wiggle or wobble.  I’ll just have to work with the hand I’m dealt.  Give me the 2-7 off-suit and I’ll win with 5 aces.  And don’t think I won’t.

Nice.  The mat matches the blue field in the L-Ken’s sign.  I can definitely work with this.

If you remember my most popular Dream Window construct from 2016, the award-winning Friday Night Fish Fry, you might remember that I wired that bad boy up with electroluminescent wire, a cool-glowing flexible wire that looks like miniature neon tubes.

Okay, a quick call to my dealer of EL wire, Cool Neon, and …

“Hi, you’ve reached Cool Neon.  Unfortunately, we’re currently out of town for Burning Man.”

Burning Man?  No, guys, get back to your studios, nobody cares about some 60-feet-tall scarecrow and a bunch of dancing naked pyromaniacs.  I need you, I’ve got less than two weeks to prepare this construct!

Oh well… until they get back to their store, I’ll see if there are any other EL wire salespeople out there.

Oh look, here’s an outfit called M2 Lighting Solutions, and they sell EL wire and sequencers.  Let’s give them a call and –

Oh wait.  They’re in Houston.  Crap, they may be in a part of Houston that got clobbered by Hurricane Harvey.

Only one way to find out.  A phone call.

“Yes, sir, we can sell you all the EL wire and sequencers you need.”

“Great, did you guys get hit badly by Hurricane Harvey?”

“There was some damage, but we’re on the west side of Houston, so we weren’t hit as badly as everyone else.  We can get your order shipped immediately, UPS just started guaranteeing shipments again.”

Aces.  I placed my order.

A few minutes later, I received a UPS e-mail saying a package was arriving from Houston to New York by Thursday.

Hopefully the package isn’t Jose Altuve, arriving in a trade with the Mets.  😀

So while I’m waiting for the EL wire, I started perforating my artwork so that I could thread the EL wire quickly once it arrives.

Using a darning needle, and checking the original artwork for the location of the original neon glass tubing, I added holes to the artwork.

The wire should fit through the holes, and once the wire is threaded, I can use clear monofilament fishing line to mold the wire into shape.  I got this.

A few minutes later, I had a perforated artwork, ready for illumination.

As you can see, these would have been the points on the sign where an electrician would have threaded the carefully curved, glass-blown neon piping.  There needs to be two holes for each glass pipe; that’s the way real neon tubes work.

From the photo, I could discern the careful curves and bends and undulations of the original glass pipes.  I needed to replicate those curves as accurately as possible.

And I was running out of time.

September 12, 2017.  11 days before deadline.  The signage on this sign needs to really stand out.  And I went back to a technique I used in a previous Dream Window – wet-transfer decals.

I used wet-transfer decals in my Dream Window construct called An Adirondack Reflection.  I applied the decals on mirrored glass, to replicate the look of reflected water upon a crystal-clear, calm pond.

I checked my stash of transfer paper.  I have two sheets left.


I checked my artwork.  I could print an image of the food menu (the “Steak and Sausage” signage) and an image of the smiling chef.

Here’s the kicker.  Wet transfer decal paper will replicate any color printed upon it – except white.  That’s because inkjet printers and laser printers don’t have a white ink cartridge.  Not unless someone at Epson enters into a strategic partnership with Liquid Paper…

So for the “smiling chef” icon, I digitally changed the chef’s background color to white.  Then I printed the decal.

The picture here shows the “smiling chef” with the digitally enhanced white background.  I swear, he looks just like Governor Andrew Cuomo, doesn’t he?

Next up – I cut a piece of mirrored glass to the same dimensions as the “smiling chef” in the artwork.  This was not easy.  Since I didn’t photograph the original L-Ken’s sign straight on, I was forced to trim parallelograms where I should have been cutting rectangles and squares.

No matter.  This is why one keeps leftover scrap glass.

And after a couple of tries, I was able to get the glass substrate I needed.  I then dipped the wet transfer decal into cold water… let it soak for a couple of minutes … then slowly transferred the decal to the mirror.

And I got this.


I did the same thing for the “Steak and Sausage” signage; trimmed the mirrored glass to match the exact place on the artwork, soaked the decal in cold water, and transferred it to the glass.

Yep.  Worked like a charm.

And just for kicks, I even cut a piece of orange-white stained glass to cover over the gnarly, weathered base of the L-Ken’s sign.  Figured I’d keep this “stained glass” motif going on this piece.

September 13, 2017.  10 days before deadline. I’m not an RC Cola drinker.

And if I leave that RC Cola advertisement in the artwork, it will severely date my art piece.  And I don’t want that to happen.

So I took a piece of glitter-sequinned paper – the kind you would find in a scrapbooking kit – and trimmed a nice parallelogram to cover up the RC Cola branding.

Hey, it was either do this, or rebrand the sign with Pepsi or Coca-Cola or Nehi or something else.

This was easier for me.

September 16, 2017.  Six days before the deadline.  I have to do the wiring.  Five strips of EL wire, threaded through the flashing arrow of the L-Ken’s sign – then threaded through the letters “L” “-K” “E” “N” “‘S” – and then back through the point of the flashing arrow.

Two days of work.

September 18, 2017.  Just enough length of EL wire to finish the project. And I had to test it at every juncture.

Final results. Plug it in.  Turn it on.  Are they flashing?  Yes.

Okay, next step.

Using some E6000 bonding compound, I added the decaled glass mirrors and base panels to the construct.  As an added treat, I added some wooden dowels to the “ice cream” portion of the sign, just for a three-dimensional aesthetic.

Just a few little aesthetic tweaks to finish the project, and …

Time’s running out.  Gotta keep going.  Can’t settle for just good enough.

September 21, 2017.  Less than 24 hours before the deadline.

Two things about this sign have bothered me – the ice cream logo and the rotating hot dog portion of the sign.  I couldn’t wire up the hot dog logo without a second set of EL wire and a second power source.  And try as I might, I couldn’t do anything satisfactory to the ice cream logo other than just leave it there.

Then I came up with an idea.

For the hot dog logo, I reprinted that portion of the sign on glossy photo paper.  Then I trimmed the photo paper to match the curvature of the hot dog sign … essentially creating a “spot gloss” portion of the final construct.

And for the ice cream sign …

I trimmed a flat piece of balsa wood to the dimensions of the original wooden advertising banner.  Then, I trimmed another glossy photo of the ice cream sign, and combined the two with some clear satin Mod Podge.

Once the Mod Podge dried and the applique hardened to a nice toughness, I adhered the applique to the final artwork.

Now I have to add railers and hangers.  Four metal rails, purchased from Arlene’s Art Supply.  Two rails 34 inches in length; two rails 26 inches in length.

Screw in the corners…

Add the spring clips to keep the artwork balanced in the frame…

A little adjustment here and there…

Geez, what time is it?  Oh yeah, it’s almost 6:30 a.m. on the day of the BUILT deadline.

Get some photos to show this piece off… and…

And now … here’s the final result.

And just before I finished this blog post…

I uploaded my three images – including L-Ken’s: Saturday Night Clam Fry – to Historic Albany Foundation’s BUILT charitable trust artist’s submission website.

Entry fee paid.

And …

And …

E-mail inbox dings.  My entries were acknowledged as received.

Whew.  I made the deadline.  And not a moment to spare.

Now I wait until Historic Albany Foundation decides if this piece, as well as my other two entries, will be accepted into this year’s charity auction.

I sure hope they are accepted.

I really do.

Tell you, though, when push comes to shove, I can sure make things happen when I want to, can’t I? 😀