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Signwriters – part two

Signwriters – part two Posted on 7 December 2022

Ciaran Globel painting a shopfront

In part two of our special feature on signwriting, Neil Braidwood meets Ciarán Glöbel from Glasgow and Mac Hutchison from the Scottish Borders. Both fell into the trade by accident, but business is really booming for these two creatives. 

Signwriter Ciarán Glöbel is a bit of an enigma. I’ve been trying to contact him ever since I heard he had been teaching painting and decorating apprentices at City Building in Glasgow. 

I found a video of him on YouTube and messaged him on Facebook. Nothing. I followed him on Instagram and sent him a direct message. Silence. Sent him an email. Zero. 

Then I noticed he had posted a video of him flicking through a copy of Decorating Matters – one where there was an apprentice on the front cover doing some signpainting. I got in touch again, and bingo! He got back to me. 

We finally meet at a cafe in central Glasgow. I easily recognise Ciarán from his video, and once we order a coffee, we start to chat.

“I got into this whole signwriting thing by accident,” Ciarán laughs. “I was involved in the skateboarding scene in the south side of Glasgow. With that came hip-hop music and graffiti art. I’d be about 15, and me and my mates were just spray painting the shutters on shops. There were bands forming all around me, and they knew I did graffiti, so I was asked to design album covers. My first one was for a group called The February Solution – and I got paid a case of beer!”

Ciarán then started working in the bar at Glasgow School of Art, so he got to know many of the students there, and became inspired by what they were studying and producing.

“Working there made me think, ‘I wanna go there,’ so I applied, and I got a knockback,” he says.

“But getting rejected like that made me even more determined to pursue this dream of doing lettering, signwriting, graffiti.”

Ciarán was still mixing with bands and also tattoo artists, so some of the first shop signs he painted were for tattoo parlours. 

“The old barter economy was back,” he laughs and pulls up his sleeves to reveal tattoos all over his arms
and hands. “I got paid in tattoos. I did a lot of signs!

“I was basically learning on the job,” he continues. “I watched YouTube videos of this guy called Steve Kafka – he’s a legend in the signwriting community in the US. He manufactures brushes and I just got so into it all.


“Then people I didn’t know started asking me to do chalkboards for pubs, because they’d seen my tattoo shop signs. That was when I started charging money for what I was doing. 

“I got on Instagram and that’s where the majority of my work came from – people seeing what I was doing, whether it was shop signs, chalkboards or murals in bedrooms.

“I was hanging around with some bike couriers, and we used to go to a bike shop in West Regent Street in Glasgow. The owner said the upstairs room was up for rent, and I should use it as a studio. It was only £150 a month, and it was a real dump, but it gave me a base, and I stuck a sign in the bike shop window saying ‘I paint signs’. Honestly, I got so much work from being there. Because it was right in the centre of Glasgow, I had guys walking in off the street and asking me to paint their pub sign. It was incredible.

“Some guy from BBC Scotland even saw the sign and asked me if he could do a video. That did a lot for me, as folk got in touch after seeing it online. It kinda went viral. It just keeps on giving.”


Another passion of Ciarán’s is mural painting. Many of these have been done for community groups – just for the sake of it, with little or no money changing hands. 

“The mural work is incredible,” says Ciarán. “I partner up with another guy called Colin (Conzo) Davidson. I’ve known him for years. He’s brilliant at figurative stuff, whereas I’m good at lettering. We make a good team. We’ve been all over the place doing murals – Canada, Norway, Derry, Belfast. There are these mural festivals all around the world, it’s just a great place to meet like-minded people and share skills.”

In 2017, Ciarán was approached by Martyn Reed, founder of Nuart – a street festival of mural art based
in Stavanger, Norway. He had seen the video of Ciarán on YouTube and wanted him to work on a project in Aberdeen. 

“I said to him, ‘if you can give me a wall and some paint, I can do something for you.’”

Martyn let Ciarán have a gable end in Willowbank Road, Aberdeen, along with some students to help. 

“It was so much fun,” Ciarán remembers. “And it led to all these other jobs around the world. Of course, we have our own mural festival right here in Glasgow – Yardworks.

“It’s weird though – there’s all these unwritten rules in the graffiti world, like ‘don’t use masking tape’ or ‘never measure anything’, but I was coming at it from a commercial angle, and I had masking tape and rulers and spirit levels. Then all these other artists were coming over and asking to borrow bits and pieces, and I thought that was funny. I said, ‘no bother, of course you can borrow my stuff, but just bring your own next time.’”


‘That video’ played a part in Ciarán getting his next job – doing a lettering workshop at the Graphic Design Festival Scotland.

“It was my first time doing anything like that, Ciarán says. “I knew the organisers from my days in the bar at Glasgow School of Art, and they asked if I would do it.

“I thought long and hard about what I would want to get out of a workshop like that, and built the day from there. 

“It was a real success, with about 20 people, mainly designers, coming along to give signwriting a try. I did the workshop for four years in a row, so I must have been doing something right. 

“Some of my mates were saying, ‘stop teaching folk how to do this stuff – there will be too many signwriters out there soon’. But the reality is that most people just want to try it once, but never take it any further.” 

Graham Chatham, Senior Lecturer in painting and decorating at City Building, had also seen ‘that video’ and got in touch to ask Ciaran to teach some of the apprentices his signwriting skills.

“It’s part of their training anyway,” says Ciarán, “and I had the confidence from doing the workshop at the design festival, so I said yes.

“It was great working with the apprentices, and I think they got a lot out of it too.”

Ciarán’s latest project is another workshop, this time in Arbroath for members of the Scottish Artists Union. 

“I’ve done a couple of these already,” Ciarán tells me. “Hayley Maxwell from the GMB Union talks about the history of union banners – you know, the kind of things you would take on a march or a protest. Then we spend time creating new banners with the attendees – some of whom might not be artists at all. The results are often surprising, but also very inspiring.

“I’ve been very blessed to have been able to do this job for so long,” Ciarán says. “To be your own boss, pick and choose the jobs you want to do, it’s great. I like to get my hands dirty and feel tired at the end of my working day. It can be a lonely job at times, but I honestly love it.”

Mac Hutchison painting a sign

Mac & Brush

Mac Hutchison never thought she’d be a signwriter, but when she was furloughed from her job in hospitality during the pandemic, she was looking for something to fill her days. 

“I just started watching YouTube videos of guys painting lettering,” she tells me. “The best one was by Joby Carter, who runs an old-fashioned steam funfair. All the rides are elaborately painted and he does it all himself. He ran an online course which I did and after about three months I started getting better.

“I was always quite good at art at school, but I never thought I could make a career out of it.”

Mac started to paint little one-off signs for friends and family and the word got around. 

“I started off using cheap synthetic brushes and water-based acrylic, before moving onto Paint Man coach enamel, which my other half Graham Archibald kept in stock at his workshop for painting rebuilt engines and classic cars. It wasn’t until doing Joby Carter’s online courses that I discovered companies like AS Handover, for better quality brushes, signwriting paint and various other materials. 

“I was born and brought up in the borders,” says Mac. “News travels fast here. Plus, there are no other signwriters in this area that still do it for a living. There are maybe only a handful that used to do it, or just do it as a hobby now.

“Before buying our current workshop, which is based in Gordon, my other half Graham rented a wee workshop in Selkirk, where he ran his business restoring classic cars. That’s where I got most of my early  commissions.”

Scaling up

Mac got her first big commission from a joinery yard next door to the new workshop. 

“The sign was 10’ x 6’,” she laughs. “It took me a week to do and was so different from the small-scale projects I’d been doing before.

“The next commission was to paint 12 shipping containers for a storage company in Selkirk. The surface was completely uneven, so it was a huge challenge. I’ve also had to overcome my fear of heights, as I am often up ladders and scaffolding.

“When Covid restrictions eased off a bit, I finally got the chance to meet up with some other signwriters to watch them work and develop my technique,” says Mac. “There’s a young guy called Ross Hastie in Alloa who I learned a lot from. He started signwriting when he was 12 years old! I also had the opportunity last year to work with Thomas Payne, which was the first time I had worked on a job with another signwriter. He is very good at hiring other people to help him with bigger projects. I got to do some gold leaf work with him for a bar in Edinburgh. I offer that service to clients now.”

Mac admits that she wasn’t sure what to charge to paint a sign when she started, but asked others in the business to get a better idea. 

“Sometimes clients don’t know what they want – especially if the shop or business is new. But often you’re given a logo and a corporate colour scheme to stick to, which can make things simpler in the long run. I’ve been doing some work for an outfitters in Kelso that started in 1929. They just had their branding redesigned by a local design agency, but they asked me to play around with it to backdate their shop front for a more traditional look.

“I use Adobe Illustrator on my computer to work up the designs and show the client. Once they confirm that’s what they want, then I can get going. Luckily, Graham is pretty handy on the woodworking side of things, so if we need a new fascia board or a hanging sign, he can help. We plan to extend the workshop here to incorporate woodworking so we can do that more easily.

“I still draw out my designs by hand and use a hand pouncing wheel to prick through the letter shapes on the paper mask. Then I use chalk to mark the letter forms through the holes. It’s a tradition that goes back hundreds of years and it still does the job. I don’t feel the need to upgrade to a digital plotter just yet.” 

Mac and Graham have also just launched their very own signwriting paint, called Mac & Brush, developed in-house and going head-to-head with some of the major brands out there. Read more about their venture in the spring issue of Decorating Matters  

Read part one of our special feature on the rise of signwriting here.