Isla Script Process Diary | #01

An ongoing series of posts documenting the discoveries made and challenges faced as I develop Isla Script, an upright script typeface.

A little over a year ago I began playing around with my first script typeface. I named it Isla Script, after my newborn daughter, and attempted to echo her squishy curves and sweet nature in the shapes. Whilst close to my heart, Isla Script received sporadic attention over that year. This was due to various work commitments and a brief respite from type design, during which I was able to clear my head and refocus.

Eager to pick up a type design project again, I have resumed work on Isla Script. I’ve decided to keep a diary of my process, to force me to really think about what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, and to invite critique from anyone reading along.

Revisiting Isla Script

Diving back into old proofs this week, I felt the direction I’d been pursuing lacked energy. Isla (the person) is now a rambunctious 16-month-old, and her new-found cognition and cheekiness is missing from the old design.

The most recent iteration of the original Isla Script. Apart from the obvious WIP spacing/connection/weight issues, there’s a stiffness and restraint to the shapes that I’m eager to address.

Whilst it’s obvious that I was trying to evoke shapes produced by a brush, the overall construction of the letterforms looks mechanical. The stems of glyphs such as /n, /m, /p, /v, /w etc are unnaturally identical, as are the shoulders of glyphs such as /h, /n and /m. This level of uniformity isn’t wrong in and of itself, and is of course quite appropriate for a design with a roman construction (a serif or sans serif), or more formal scripts such as Riley Cran’s Escafina, or Jessica Hische’s Tilda. As it happens, when I first began work on Isla Script I do recall wanting to do something different, by playing with this mechanical, almost systematic feel. Seeing the design with fresh eyes, however, I believe it teeters uncertainly between two opposing camps; half expressively painted, half carefully considered.

Making it more human

A sample of some initial rough sketches.

My gut reaction was to pull the design way back into hand drawn territory. I started producing rough sketches with a soft lead, playing with upright, connected letterforms, letting my hand skip around and watching for anything that I was drawn to. I chose pencil over brush and paint, as at this point—as much as I may wish otherwise!—I’m simply more confident producing the shapes I want with a hard tip. I’m happy enough taking cues from the contrast and stroke modulation coming from the soft lead to help me put the thicks and thins in the right place.

I was happy with these shapes, however I was conscious of just how far I’d strayed from anything that resembled the original Isla Script.

Once I had a few pages of rough sketches, I used tracing paper to begin creating more carefully composed drawings over the top of the sketches. I searched for interesting moments, amplifying shapes that worked and avoiding shapes that didn’t. I arrived at the result above, and decided to bring it into Glyphs to see how it looked rendered using Béziers.

A hasty digitisation, but stable enough for the purpose of prototyping.

At this point I decided to send a quick update to Riley Cran, the founder of LostType, the foundry through which I’d released Buffon (Fun fact: Buffon’s specimen site contains an appearance by an early prototype of Isla Script). Riley’s feedback proved invaluable during the development of not only Buffon, but also Keller Script, a script released in June 2016. I’m always incredibly grateful to receive his advice and input.

In the email to Riley, I acknowledged how far removed this new design was from the old vision. It’s not the same typeface. I wasn’t sure how to feel about that; all I knew is there were things I disliked about the old design, and many things I liked about the new. I hit send, curious to know what Riley would have to say. True to form, he didn’t pander to what he thought I’d want to hear (for which I’m grateful), and urged me to try sketching a combination of the two ideas. There were elements of the original design that he felt were positives: the ink traps, heavier weight, swelling out-strokes. Perhaps I could work the strengths of these new ideas—such as the dancing baseline and the more natural and energetic forms—into the old vision, and come up with something new.

A round of sketches produced after reading Riley’s feedback.

With this in mind, I continued sketching. The image above shows my efforts to keep the interesting swells of contrast found in the original, and introduce more expression. This is still dramatically different to the original, so my next task is to find the right point on the scale between old and new.

Next steps

For now it’s back to the drawing board! I’m eager to keep sketching, ponder Riley’s suggestions, find a middle ground between the two designs, and decide for myself the direction I will take. It’s been interesting to ask the question; at what point does making improvements to a design turn it into a completely new design? The passage of time seems to play a fascinating role in the design process. So much changes in and around us every single day, so the longer you allow a project to sit, the more wildly different its environment will be when it next emerges.

I’ll leave you with a video that Riley sent to me. He said that Isla Script is dancing to this song. I think I agree with him!


Hope you got something out of the first instalment of this process diary. I’m looking forward to both writing more, and progressing further with Isla Script—so I actually have more to write about. If you have any feedback on this project, or are working on something similar and just want to compare notes, I’d genuinely love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a public response below, or email me at hello@dvclmn.com.

—Dave