The distinctive style of Sir Quentin Blake, acclaimed illustrator of Roald Dahl’s novels, is surely inimitable.
But now graphic designers have created a special font which captures the spiky spontaneity and joy of his etchings for future generations.
Still in demand at 83, Sir Quentin, who brought Dahl classics The Twits and The BFG to visual life, is too busy to meet every request from film and computer games for handcrafted work.
Collaborating with Monotype, a font design agency, Sir Quentin has approved a new typeface, based on his handwriting, which incorporates chance elements to capture his anarchic approach to lettering.
Working from handwritten samples, Monotype type designer Toshi Omagari has constructed a typeface that he believes accurately reflects the playfulness and whimsy of a Blake original.
The typeface will be used in publishing, apps based on Dahl’s stories and merchandise which will continue to preserve Sir Quentin’s humorous design style, long after he is unable to craft his own work.
For Omagari’s typeface to appear authentic, it had to mimic Blake’s own handwriting idiosyncrasies - the “small and varying lowercase height, the unpredictable stroke thickness, the exaggerated crossbars and tails.”
Quentin Blake knighted, February 2013
It also had to capture the rhythm and spacing Sir Quentin would use when laying out a piece of lettering by hand, and be sufficiently flexible for translation into foreign languages.
After redrawing individual letters, numbers and symbols provided by Sir Quentin, the designer found a balance between variety and regularity. “It had to look random, and it had to hide the fact that it’s not his actual handwriting,” Omagari said. “Without variants, handwriting fonts run the risk of looking unnatural; too many and the process can become unmanageable.”
“Quentin’s writing is anything but regular but it’s not totally random either. There’s something you can find in it to say that it’s his - just as no single cloud is identical to another and has no definite shape, when you find one in the sky you can still tell it’s a cloud.”
The typeface offers users options which Sir Quentin only enjoys subconsciously – as each letter is typed, one of four variants appears in an order that avoids repetition of the same shape, making it appear random.
In pictures: Roald Dahl's most enduring characters
In pictures: Roald Dahl's most enduring characters
1/12 Willy Wonka from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'
Willy Wonka (pictured being played by Gene Wilder in 1967) is a bizarre and slightly unsettling man but who can say no to that delicious chocolate?
2/12 The Oompa Loompas from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'
Despite the characters' questionable evolution from being African pygmies in early editions of the novel, the Oompa Loompas were so fantastical they captured the imagination of generations. The first film's version of the characters are still a popular fancy dress theme.
3/12 Veruca Salt from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'
The girl who "wants it now" is so incredibly vile she ended up in the rubbish after being judged a bad nut by Willy Wonka's squirrels. An American alternative rock band even took her name.
4/12 The Twits from 'The Twits'
Mr and Mrs Twit are horrible, hideous and hateful, coating trees with glue to catch birds to at. But the Roly-Poly Bird and Muggle-Wumps teach them a lesson in the end.
Quentin Blake/House of Illustration
5/12 James from 'James and the Giant Peach'
James is beaten and starved by his cruel aunts after his parents are eaten by an escaped rhino but eventually gets to go on an adventure with the friends he has always waited for on his magic peach, ending up on the top of the Empire State Building.
6/12 Matilda from 'Matilda'
Every little girl who read 'Matilda' wondered what it would be like to be the main character. Apart from th abusive family, the telekinesis must be endless fun.
7/12 Miss Trunchbull from 'Matilda'
Miss Trunchbull, played by Pam Ferris in the 1996 film, is the aunt and headmistress of every child's worst nightmares. Just think of poor Bruce Bogtrotter and that cake.
8/12 The Big Friendly Giant from 'The BFG'
A 24-foot-tall BFG works giving out good dreams to children and saves them all from people-eating giants. Shame about the snozzcumbers.
9/12 The Grand High Witch from 'The Witches'
The Grand High Witch, seen here in the film, must be one of Dahl's most terrifying creations. Turning children into slugs and squishing them, she wanted to destroy them all, she had no hair or toes and claws for hands.
10/12 Mr Fox from 'Fantastic Mr Fox'
Mr Fox outsmarts those silly farmers, feeding his family by killing their chickens and avoiding starvation.
11/12 George from 'George's Marvellous Medicine'
Some people would say that swapping your gran's medicine with poison isn't ok but that isn't the point here.
12/12 Grandma from 'George's Marvellous Medicine'
Grandma was quite a character until she vanished: 'She was selfish grumpy old woman. She had pale brown teeth and a small pucker-up mouth like a dog's bottom.'
Sir Quentin has approved the typeface for use in a Dahl-inspired app called Twit or Miss, a television programme Britain’s Favourite Children’s Books, and a series of new mugs for sale on his website. It will ultimately be used in screen and stage titles, captions and graphics.
Omagari, who did not meet the illustrator during the process, said Sir Quentin’s electronic imprint could translate into Russian or Greek.
However one design critic claimed on Twitter that the typeface “looks clunky and lifeless beside the handwriting. It evidently shows the limitations of emulating handwriting in a font.” Sir Quentin responded: “No typeface could capture the thought & skill that goes into hand-lettering; but it’s very good when the ‘real thing’ not available.”
Sir Quentin, who is to publish a new picture book, Three Little Monkeys, said: “I have been impressed by the way that Monotype interpreted my handwriting in various forms, so that it has the distinctive characteristics but at the same time is eminently usable as a typeface in any number of situations.”
Popular celebrity fonts for public use include digital replica signatures of English Monarchs (“from Richard II through Elizabeth II including Stuart pretenders” for £12.99), American Presidents and Hollywood Stars, a collection of autographs of famous actors, including Marilyn Monroe and Al Pacino, which can be used to “sign” a card or email. Copyright protection does not cover type fonts and unique typographical designs in the US, boosting a typeface industry.
A Kickstarter campaign launched by a typographer in Germany recently raised the money to develop a computer typeface mimicking the handwriting of Albert Einstein.