Alphabet Road Trip | the blog of Iskra Design

Category: Experimental Lettering

The Branded Self: Late Night Improvisations in the Studio

Design provess tissues handlettering by Iskra

Late night improvisations with tissue paper and brushes.


Branding. The hot sting of identity. Do you ever wonder about all this??? It’s a conundrum in so many ways. The self is always changing. Nothing is permanent or fixed. But from the overlays of ambiguity and possibility the world requests we choose. Late night improvisations with tissue paper and brushes.


Fake News in the News, Expressed Through Lettering

Fake News Graphic by Iskra Design

Watercolor,unique lettering and collage © Iskra Johnson

Our meme-maker in chief has ensured that this little word duo remains current. From an abstract design perspective, it is always helpful when words are the same length and lock up with an interesting positive-negative charge. By flipping a few backwards it added even more interest. Watercolor, hand lettering and collage.


Some Experimental Lettering from Coffee Town, Inspired by Balzac

A few years ago I worked on a project for Starbucks with a creative art director who wanted to try something different for a poster design: something with a bohemian flair. He handed me a scribble of a face and a cup on a napkin and said, “go wild.” Ahhhh the golden days of illustration before royalty free pre-fab dingbats had taken over every square inch of the graphic imagination! I drew about fifty faces for the poster, which went into deep focus group and never came back. Later I went back to revisit it as a personal project.

I came across this truly odd quote from Balzac, the original Parisian cool-guy. (How whould he know if somebody was “spiritual” or not? This is the writer who horrified the good ladies of River City in The Music Man with his scandalous prose. Who does he think he is? And how did they translate from the French and come up with the word “grocery store?”) This doesn’t seem right to me. But just because it is so odd, I decided to work with it, in one of my favorite brush styles, “Bohemian Conversational Medium.”*  The face could be Balzac as he imagines he is, or any self-reflective hipster of today, thinking under the influence, at one of our infinite coffee shops.





Coffee Thinker






Experimental writing and illustration using a variety of textures and techniques. Copy and artwork © 2014 Iskra Design.

* No, this is not a font. But it is available as a commissioned style of handwriting. See more examples of expressive handwriting and calligraphy in the portfolios above.

Forget Me Not: A Little Spring Piece Illustrated with Ballpoint Pen

One of favorite drawing tools is the ballpoint pen. Here are two examples of this technique from my sketchbook. "Rosary" is scanned directly and unaltered. "Forgetmenot" has been reversed and colorized.

Illustrated Lettering, "Forgetmenot" © Iskra Johnson

Illustrated Lettering, "Infinity Rosary" © Iskra Johnson

What I love about this technique is its slow meditative quality. And there is no lovelier blue than ballpoint pen ink. I do wish it was archival. If anyone has found a true archival pen please let me know. I have tried all the surrogates, I must have every fine point marker ever made, and they just don't work the same as the ballpoint, with it's little burr of ink and the way it responds to gradual pressure and building up values.

Here's to the inspiration of the garden, where you can find every letter if you look hard enough!

Pause: Personal Typography from my Journal

Last week Christopher Hoff, one of our best plein air painters, passed away far too soon, too young, a huge shock to the community. I had fallen in love with his work, much of which is about the street, and which often featured the Walking Man and other signs that are part of my real and mental landscape. On Facebook and the blogosphere people have posted beautiful tributes, one of which is from Joey Veltcamp which you can read here.

Christopher's passing, and the equally sad passing of the fine calligrapher and font designer Teri Kahan has put me in a reflective mood about life in general. How quickly our days are consumed and how easy it is to lose track of what is important. Typography and lettering design are my job, but also my passion. I pulled out my journal to remind myself to stay on track. From Wayfinding:


STOPSTOP Typography experiments


DoubtAndHopeTypogrpahy Study



© Iskra Johnson

Pages from this journal have been published in Martin Dawber's New Illustration with Type