At the age of 10, he was apprenticed for seven years to a house painter and decorator named Gavin Beugo, his fellow apprentice being David Ramsay Hay, who became a lifelong friend.During this time he studied art in the evenings. After his apprenticeship was complete, Robertss first paid job came in the summer 1815, when he moved to Perth to serve as foreman for the redecoration of Scone Palace. Roberts returned in the spring of 1816 and lived with his parents while looking for work.
His next job was to paint scenery for James Bannisters circus on North College Street. This was the beginning of his career as a painter and designer of stage scenery. Bannister liked Robertss set designs and on 10 April 1816 engaged him at a salary of 25 shillings per week to travel with the circus on a tour or England. Roberts departed Edinburgh with the circus later the same month and travelled to Carlisle, Newcastle, Hull and York, returning to Edinburgh in January 1817. During his time with the circus, Roberts was called on to take several minor stage roles as a foil for the clowns skits.