ROBIN ABBEY – Signwriter

“Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”

 Robin Abbey. Born near Beaminster, Dorset, England, October 1948.  Brought up in Cannington near Bridgwater in Somerset. Attended the local Grammar School, and Somerset College of Art in Taunton.  There he took a course in typographic design, and followed his interest in traditional signwriting.  The course involved learning about lead and wooden type letterpress printing, which was critical in understanding shapes of individual letters He was able to watch the local signwriters (of which there were far more than there are now), but received most of his practical training from Mr Bev Blackmore, now of Milverton. Robin has since had several jobs involving lettering in printing or signwriting, but after moving to Edinburgh decided that he would commit himself to signwriting full-time. That was seventeen years ago, and during that time interest in painted signs, including gilding and glass-gilding, has increased among a younger generation.   

Robin started his business with a few signs presented on the mantelpiece in his home at Albert Place. His current workshop can be found in Coburg House Art Studios at Edinburgh’s Leith. It is a small yet busy place, with an impressive wall of numerous shades of paints, projects in various stages of completion and samples of past work. Robin is an artist and tradesman. He offers a wide range of signwriting services, including glass gilding, traditional lettering, typefaces while being open to special projects such as lettering boats and painting decorative figures. Robin’s projects became an integral part of the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh World Heritage Site’s streetscape where visual integrity is one of the key reasons behind this prestigious inscription. The best manifestation of that are traditional shopfronts, decorative fascias and frontages of public houses that contribute to Edinburgh’s historic atmosphere. However, they require regular maintenance and appropriate restoration, which can only happen when traditional skills are involved.

Although signwriting as a discipline became recognised in the second half of XVIII century it is fair to say that it has lost its primacy in the second half of the previous century when advertising, new technologies and materials became more accessible. In the recent years signwriting started to come back in parallel to an increasing need for placemaking and maintenance of historic assets. Therefore Robin trains and works with younger professionals who often try to pursue careers in signwriting after having experience in advertising. His approach to the discipline is authentic as he uses traditional methods and tools while leaving enough space for a competent creativity. Signwriting requires personal touch, patience and attention to details, which Robin describes accurately in economic terms: “quality is remembered long after price is forgotten”.


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