Ciaran Glöbel recently starred in a BBC Arts short about his life as a signwriter. The top comments on Facebook were unanimously female, unanimously inquisitive about his relationship status – take from that what you will. Besides that appeal, he’s actually really good at what he does.
Glasgow lad Ciaran is a newbie to signwriting, but he’s smart. His company is called Glöbel Bros Signs, so where’s the other one? “It’s a suffix I used to sound more established that I was” Nicely done. You’d think that would be a secret, and it kind of is, he assured me that it was “just between you, me and everyone reading this interview”.
Signwriting is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment. There seems to be two main avenues into the career – either it runs in your family or you painted graffiti as a kid. Ciaran was the latter a notes the irony between years spent trying to make letters as illegible as possible and now doing the opposite – trying to create crisp perfectly-formed letters.
The term ‘hipster’ has gone from being slightly derogotary to a full-blown putdown now. What it means is ‘no credibility’ or ‘only here to be cool’, but that doesn’t sit right with Ciaran. I wondered what he attributed the catalyst to signwriting to be, what it was that allowed him to make that transition from graffiti into painstakingly draughting letterforms – he saw it as the rise of the hipster. A few years ago barmen were seen as drunks, barbers as a lower form of hairdressing and tattoo artists as punks or bikers. That’s all changed now, not the occupations, but our perceptions of them.
The longing for authenticity and good quality craftsmanship was born from this tidal-shift in our viewpoints, “young people from all walks of life managed to chisel out a niche for themselves, more power to them” is Ciaran’s view on it. That kind of openness is what helps people grow and develop, rather that the elitism that isolates people who might have otherwise given something a shot.
You can see this sort of Scottish humbleness reflected in how he sees himself. Having not had a traditional apprenticeship, but instead teaching himself and learning from people where he could, he struggles to actually see himself as a ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan’, although that’s how we might see him. His unconventional entry into the craft turned his life around. Not expected to amount to much, “I lived up to those expectations until I turned 30.” Clearly born with a gift, Ciaran finally harnessed it into something productive.
Being a signwriter in Glasgow, a city with an intense duality, has been a significant and formative rite-of-passage for him. He experienced this duality through his interaction with customers, some of whom were pacifistic, relaxed and thoughtful. Others were more rough and quick-tempered. Both were essential is moulding his work ethic and outlook towards the city and his place in it.
Signwriting is demanding. It takes a lot out of your body, drawing perfect lines, holding brushes for hours on end and navigating scaffolding. This means that there is a timeline to the job – your body simply won’t put up with it forever. Ciaran would like his future to behold more time in his studio working there. Scottish weather is harsh, the cold goes deep into your bones – who can blame him? The other option for him would be “being done with it all and dying at age 50.” Job done then, well not before he adds that it would “ideally be the former”. Phew.
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