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Roald Dahl’s Iconic Illustrator Inspired This New Font

Quentin Blake’s handwriting has elements of spontaneity and joy

(Monotype)
smithsonian.com

By definition, it can be tough to turn handwriting into a standardized font without losing some signature style quirks. Graphic designers at the firm Monotype, however have developed a new font based on the handwriting of iconic illustrator Quentin Blake that almost does the trick. The font, "Quentin Blake," incorporates an element of chance into its character selection, in order to better evoke Blake's individual style.

Blake’s illustration is instantly recognizable—a longtime collaborator of celebrated author Roald Dahl, Blake brought to life many of Dahl’s most beloved books, having worked on everything from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The BFG. Like his scratchy style of drawing, Blake’s handwriting has elements of spontaneity and joy that makes it both distinct and difficult to replicate, Eva Recinos reports for PSFK.

Blake is 83 years old now, but his work remains in high demand. With television shows, movies and even mobile games based on his collaborations, Dahl is often asked to help with designs.

“Requests for different languages can be quite difficult if he’s not familiar with them,” Blake’s archivist Liz Williams tells Monotype for a case study on the new font. “He has to consider each letter carefully to make sure it’s right and that can detract from the natural flow.”

While Blake’s handwriting has been turned into a font before, the results didn’t quite mimic his natural flow. So, to incorporate some element of chance into the bespoke font, Monotype designer Toshi Omagari decided to use four slightly different versions of Blake’s writing in his model, making it so that a letter from one of the versions will be chosen at random for every keystroke, according to Blake's website.

“I didn’t want anything to look too unique, especially in the vowels which appear more frequently, because people would notice the ones that stand out, notice them repeated, and realise it’s a font,” Omagari tells Monotype. “It had to look random, and it had to hide the fact that it’s not his actual handwriting.”

The final effect is a font that looks less rigid and captures a bit more of Blake’s personality. The font can also be adjusted for where Blake’s writing will appear, adding a roughness filter if it is destined for print, or making it cleaner and smaller for the web or in an app.

Monotype’s new font is already being used in the Twit or Miss app game based on Dahl’s book The Twits, and features art based on Blake’s original illustrations, Recinos reports. But while this font gets pretty close to Blake's iconic penmanship, it still can't fully capture the charm and specificity of the imaginative illustrator's own playful hand.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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