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Some of you will recognize this as page 97 of my new book, Le Road Trip:

I’m showing you this page because I want to answer all the questions I’ve received about the note on the copyright page (in the very front of Le Road Trip), the one that reads: The entire text of this book has been typeset by hand by the author.

What I should have mentioned in that note was that in addition to the author’s meticulous cutting and pasting of each and every damn sentence of this book onto a manuscript page was the fact that your author (moi) also designed the type itself that appears on every page of this book.

Thank you, thank you, please hold your applause ’till the end.

I had to draw each and every letter and punctuation mark that appears in the text of Le Road Trip because having hand-lettered my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I did not want to go through that agony again for another book, one in which I expected to be writing a lot more text. So I figured I would design a type in my own handwriting. Which is a lot easier than it sounds.

The type that I designed for Le Road Trip is called VivoScript2, because VivoScript and VivoScript1 sucked. Yes, I had to draw my alphabet three times before I got a satisfactory type. By the way, page 97 (pictured above) combines both VivoScript2 text (in the paragraph about the Celtic mermaids) and hand-lettering (in the captions for the spiffy striped Breton shirts). I’m very proud of how natural my type looks compared to actual hand-lettered writing.

Let me show you what it takes to design a type that mimics your own handwriting. It begins, as you can see from the chart, with a cell for each letter that looks like this:

The only guides you have in this cell is the base line for your type. You have to make sure that each letter lines up hitting this base line at exactlythe right point or else your printed words won’t line up in a nice straight line. I learned that when I drew VivoScript for the first time and neglected to pay minute attention to this fact. I also learned that each letter is uniquely oriented in other directions as well:

To draw a letter is to understand exactly where the center of each letter is, and to know precisely how tall each letter is, and to maintain uniform heights for all your capital and your lower case letters. That’s what I learned when VivoScript1 looked as if a drunkard had designed it. through all this trial and error, I learned that this is the most challenging letter to draw:

Anyone who has ever designed type will be able to tell that this “e” is not centered. The center of a lower case “e” is not where you would think it would be, which you will learn if you ever try to draw one fo type, I’m just saying. If you look carefully at your text in Le Road Trip, you will see that the teeny tiny flaws of spacing and centering that still show up in VivoScript2, especially the “a”. But I left them in because I wanted the type to look natural, and I had no intention of doing a VivoScript3. I mean, enough is enough.

I have the same attitude to illustration as I do to designing type. I try, try again, and again. I’m still stuck on trying to get an Edinburgh garden in the rain in Winter to look right, and it still sucks even though I’ve painted it four times over. So this past week I decided to try another tactic. I skipped ahead in my list of favorite garden spots to Key West:

I figured that maybe I could loosen up on my Edinburgh fixation by doing some tropical flora.

Key West is fun!

Happy!

Colorful!

So. How did this escapade into the southern climate help me re-do Scotland in January?

Let’s go back to the Royal Mile. When I last left you, you were inside Dunbar’s Close, having walked through the tunnel off of Canongate, turned around and looking back at the tenements that loom over the entrance to the first parterre:

This time I only want to take as far as the entrance of the first parterre, looking in the opposite direction towards the abandoned building that used to be a boy’s orphanage and Adam Smith’s Edinburgh home:

What other blog in the world takes you from the coast of Brittany, to the intricacies of the letter “e”, to Key West, to a secret garden in Edinburgh?

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone. Please read about James Malloy, KIA in Normandy France in 1944 (see tab on top of this blog and pages 77 – 79 in Le Road Trip) and remember all our fallen warriors this holiday.

9 comments to If at first you don’t succeed try, try again. And again. And again.

  • I’ve been involved with type all my working life. So as I read the book I kept thinking: this sure looks hand-lettered, but it’s too perfect. I kept looking at the “y’s”. They all looked exactly alike. I tried not to get fixated so I could really read the words. I thought I’d examine the letters more closely after I finished the book. I’ve been savoring the book so I’ve been reading it slowly and looking at each picture. I’ll get into the type later. I was so glad to get up this morning and see your explanation. Once you finished the typeface how did you make it type-able?

  • Deborah

    Well, now I want to go to Key West!

  • mo

    really enjoyed your explanation of your handwriting font. what software program did you use? i’ve been wanting to create my own handwriting font, and i see there are numerous programs to do that. do you have a recommendation, or can you at least point me/us in the right direction for making a decision about which way is the best?

    thanks, vivian ;)

  • You have more talent in you pinky toe, than I have in my entire consciousness. I, too thought the letters were too “perfect” to have hand written the entire text. It is fantastic. Can you patent/copywright that, and sell it to Microsoft for billions of dollars?
    Absolutly love love love the new book. It is so witty, and fantasmagorical. Keep up the good writing, I look forward to your thoughts every week!!!

  • Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, I will have to take A, (or is it LE) road trip to Key West very soon.

  • Mary

    I didn’t realize ALL THIS WORK went into this beautiful book.—BESIDES the lovely artwork.
    And then, the humor , the colors, and delightful musings about what its like to be married to someone soo compatible and intelligent, with a good nature that doesn’t let travel get in the way of having a lovely experience; I cd go on and on.

    Have been enjoying your work for years now. Keep telling us about the new adventure, GARDENS.

    I’ll be on the list as soon as you get there. Meanwhile; I enjoy every step you tell us about.
    (about which you tell us). Whatever.

  • Nadine

    I’m remembering several fallen veterans this weekend, and I’ll include James Malloy in my thoughts.

    BTW: I thought the 2nd Dunbar garden was much better than the 1st one, perspective-wise. You can tell it’s a hidden garden, but the first one made it look like it was in jail.

  • Ha, page 97 is one of my favourites in the whole book. As for Vivoscript, you have the patience of Job ma cherie.

  • I WANT THAT FONT. I obsessed over it while reading the book. I knew it was a font because I looked at the letters and saw that they were identical but I also knew you drew it and read in the front of the book that you typeset the book so I started REALLY wondering how you did it. THANK YOU for solving the mystery!

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