An Interview with Charley Lion
Have you ever walked past a coffee shop or bar and admired the creative, unique signage outside?
Have you ever wondered who is responsible for creating this? It’s probably not the girl pulling pints of craft beer behind the bar or the man making your flat white. In fact, this is usually the work of a highly-skilled professional.
Based in Edinburgh, Charley Lion is one of maybe a handful of these professionals, who specialise in creating artwork for shop fronts and signs.
Big Flavour sat down with her to learn more about her job and to find out what she thinks of Edinburgh.
BF: Can you tell us a bit about what you do for a living?
CL: I’m a signwriter and chalkboard artist. I work with a variety of people to help promote their businesses or inform their customers by using hand lettering in a unique and creative way.
BF: A chalk artist and signwriter is quite a niche profession! Can you tell us about your typical day and how this came to be your job?
CL: My days vary hugely, I do quite a lot of on site work so you can never quite predict what will happen there. If I’m not on site I’m usually working from home coming up with ideas and creating designs for upcoming jobs.
I got into signwriting by accident. I first studied lettering when I was doing graphic design at Central Saint Martins but ended up specialising in advertising. I always liked copy led ads and finding creative ways to communicate with people. I then went on to work as a Creative Copywriter in a London ad agency, however it turned out the office environment wasn’t for me so I became freelance instead.
It was during this time that a friend of mine (Josh Harris @theaboarddude) was becoming really well known for his fun and witty a-boards so I asked him if he needed any help. Fortunately he did and that’s where I fell in love with it.
Charley's window signage for Castello Coffee in Bruntsfield
BF: As we have lived and worked in Edinburgh nearly all our lives, we do occasionally take the city for granted. As someone who has moved here, we are interested to know what your experience has been so far and how this compares to where you have lived previously.
CL: Edinburgh is awesome! I’d been in London for about 7 years prior to coming here and for me moving to Edinburgh felt like a breath of fresh air (literally). I’ve had a great time so far; the people are friendly, the prices are reasonable, the city itself is awe inspiring. Sometimes in London I felt more like a number than a person, here it couldn’t be more different. I’m constantly surprised by how friendly, helpful and interested the locals are.
BF: We have been following you on Instagram and admiring your work for quite a while now. How important is social media as a means to promote yourself and your business?
CL: Thank you, nice of you to say. Social media is fantastic for people like me. It gives you the opportunity to communicate really directly with current and potential customers and helps break down barriers. Instagram in particular is super useful as it works really well as a portfolio. I’ve gained quite a few customers through people finding me on social media.
Charley's signage on the backbar at Drygate Brewery in Glasgow.
BF: With the ever-changing weather in Edinburgh, it must be difficult to predict when it will be dry enough to paint. What has been your most challenging project to date?
CL: Ha! Yep the weather can be a challenge, sign writing paint doesn’t flow well in low temperatures. But, for me, the biggest challenge in Edinburgh is the wind. I spend a fair amount of time up ladders and on scaffold platforms; the cobbled streets and hills make that tricky enough but when you get a big gust of wind it’s positively hair raising!
BF: As a marketing agency, a lot of our focus is digital and helping our clients stand out from the crowd online. Interestingly, the marketing service you offer is far more traditional. In your opinion, how important are things like signage and window design for a restaurant or bar to attract business?
CL: This is probably the part of the job I’m most passionate about. Having come from an advertising background I really understand the importance for businesses to communicate with their customers in a clear and friendly way.
I love how the hand drawn nature of what I do is far less invasive than most modern forms of advertising. I also know that my designs work! I’ve stood across the street and watched people consider a place, then take a look at my a-board, smile and walk in.
When you come from a world where it can take months to get an ad out and then never know if it’s actually working, seeing advertising and design really make a difference on the ground is amazing.
BF: What is the most important factor in creating a great a-board? What is your favourite you have worked on to date?
CL: Good question! I think being clear, eye catching and attractive are probably the most important factors. So many a-boards out there are such eyesores that passersby can't even bring themselves to read the message.
In all honesty, I love doing a-boards so it’s hard to choose. Hula on the Grassmarket was a biggie as it was part of a larger project and I had a lot of fun working with them to really make it on brand. An early one for the Camden Watch Co was also good because it was just a quote about time keeping which worked tremendously well at pulling people into the shop. Oh! That one also featured very briefly in the background on The Apprentice.
Hula Juice Café
One of Charley's A-boards for Hula Juice Café in Edinburgh's Grassmarket.
BF: Are there many other signwriters in Edinburgh? Do you ever find yourself travelling outside the city for work?
CL: Yep there are a few of us about, some older, some younger - most very, very good! It’s a nice little community. A wonderful chap called Robin Abbey is a kind of mentor of mine. He took me under his wing when I first came here.
I have travelled outside of the city, I’ve been across to Glasgow and up to Aberdeen as well as a couple of smaller places. I don’t think there are many of us outside of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
BF: Who else's work do you particularly admire?
CL: Of course! So much! But I think the king of hand lettering has to be Dave Smith. He’s very into that Victorian style of glass gilding - his work is mind boggling. Even Robin went down to do one of his courses. I’d love to go see him but I’ll have to get a few more jobs under my belt first!
BF: Edinburgh has a huge number of amazing restaurants, bars and pubs. If you had to choose somewhere to eat and somewhere to drink, where would you go?
CL: Wow, tough question. There’s so much to choose from. My favourite restaurants are probably Civerinos Slice, El Cartel and Fishers in Leith. For drinks… I like Bon Vivant and have a soft spot for Hoot the Redeemer. Oh and of course, my local The Lioness of Leith.
BF: How would someone get in touch with you to find out more about your services?
CL: People can either email me directly at email@example.com or check out my work and contact me via social media. You can view my work on Instagram as @Charleys_chalk and Facebook.com/charleyschalk.
Thanks very much for your time, it’s always really nice when people take the time to support independent artists!