If there’s one thing Kay Newell knows, it’s light bulbs.
The owner of Sunlan Lighting (3901 N Mississippi Ave., sunlanlighting.com) has been known as the Light Bulb Lady of Portland for three decades, ever since she opened her specialty light-fixture shop.
And as someone with a niche business that’s managed to survive on a street that’s changed drastically over the years, the other thing Newell knows better than most is the power of a good advertisement.
Newell has been drawing her own almost from the beginning, and for longtime readers of this newspaper and many others in town, they’re nearly as distinctive—and odd—as her storefront.
“Advertising is a funny field,” she says. “You see it once or twice and tuck it in your brain but never look at it again. I want people to remember my ad.”
She’s done that by creating ads that look more like a recurring single-panel comic strip about the secret life of light bulbs—charming doodles accompanied by simple messages, alongside the store’s address.
In one, a bulb drinks a beer while handing its car keys to another bulb. Another ad features a father and son at the grave of a loved one, with a line reading, “Your light is remembered.” Once, she turned the captain of the Portland Spirit into a cartoon bulb. When one piece turned out crooked, she couldn’t bear to start over—so she put a bandage on its head and made it look sick.
Newell, who says she’s been drawing as long as she can remember, keeps all the ads she’s done in books behind the counter. She even gives prints to customers at the register.
“It’s a very unusual technique, and few people would be able re-create it,” Newell says. “Fortunately, it doesn’t cost me anything.”