When you say a typeface is horsey, it is rarely a compliment. But in Turnip, I explore the virtues of ruggedness in a text face. Turnip is down-to-earth, rustic, chunky, and uneven; I designed it to do the dirty jobs that prettier fonts could not.
The design that became Turnip took a long time to congeal. It all began when I was living in Lowell, Massachusetts, when I noticed that nearly every sign on a storefront or the side of a truck was set in Bookman. The owner of the local sign shop must have loved it, and it started to grow on me too.
Around that time I was flipping through Alexander Lawson’s book, Anatomy of a Typeface, and came across a reproduction of Pynson Printer’s 1930 edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, set in Monotype Bookman. I had probably seen the image twenty times before and had never given it a second look.
This was a completely different kind of book typography. It did not try to be classic or beautiful, but it was not plainly functional either. It was ruggedly handsome, and it was anchored by Bookman, a design that — despite its name — I can’t recall ever seeing in a book. The text was wide and beefy and a little ungainly, but seemed to fit Tom Sawyer‘s unsophisticated characters and informal dialect better than a classic oldstyle like Garamond or Bembo.
This got me drawing. I looked beyond Bookman to other oldstyle antiques from the second half of the nineteenth century, and also to Cheltenham, which possesses a similar rustic simplicity. Turnip retains many of the features of these faces: it has wide, modern proportions and mostly-vertical stress, but it looks like it is playing dress-up in oldstyle clothing, tacking on blobby terminals, angled vertical serifs, and quaint cursive details. However, Turnip is drawn in a much looser style. The problem with faces like Bookman is that their execution is too hunky-dory, too static, to create any interest in a block of text. While true oldstyles do a calligraphic dance of thicks and thins, these faux oldstyles land with a thud.
While drawing Turnip, I worked to create a different kind of movement. To get Turnip to set dense, punchy paragraphs, I accentuated the tension between round, doughy outer forms and crisp, angular inner counters. With slow motion on the outside working against fast motion on the inside, each shape becomes slightly out of balance. All forms are topheavy, and no stems are entirely vertical. While many text serifs strive for evenness and elegance, I wanted text set in Turnip to have some bite.
Turnip’s hardy features and wide stance made it a good candidate for translation to the screen. As the print-oriented design began to fall into place, I drew four separate styles specifically for onscreen text at small sizes as part of the Reading Edge series. The result is Turnip RE, the typeface that you are reading now.
Two text weights: Turnip has two primary weights for text. The Regular weight is designed to create a heavy, dense block of text. For those who require a lighter touch, the Book weight is closer to most text weights out there, though it is by no means airy. These two closely-graded weights can also help address variations in density that stem from different printing methods. For example, Regular will hold up when reversed against a black background, and will add some needed bulk to text printed on coated paper. On uncoated paper, Book will prevent the type from printing too dark.
Language support: All styles of Turnip contain Font Bureau’s extended Latin character set, which supports all major European languages using the Latin alphabet. Font Bureau provides a complete character set.
Stylistic alternates: Turnip’s stylistic alternates allow the designer to fine-tune the relationship between the Roman and Italic. Sometimes an Italic should shout to accentuate a certain text; other times the Italic should be a quiet, deferential companion.
Drawn in the style of Cheltenham, the playful ball-terminal s in the roman brings it a step closer to the italic. Meanwhile, the Italic single-story g and non-cursive k and p can be employed together or separately to subdue the italic’s voice, making it more of a sidekick. On the other hand, the swashy italic k can add the tiniest bit of quaint exuberance at just the right time.
Short f: This alternate recalls the days of hot metal, when designers drew stubby fs to fit within the spacing constraints of the Linotype machine. While these technical limitations are long gone, Turnip’s short f improves spacing and clarity when f is followed by a dot, accent, or ascender. This means Turnip will set nicely even when ligatures are disabled, be it for technical reasons or as an aesthetic choice.
Text figures: In addition to the default lining figures, Turnip includes a set of figures, currency, and math glyphs designed to feel at home within a block of text. They are not quite oldstyle figures; they are a fair amount taller than the lowercase, with only slight ascenders and descenders.
Small caps: Turnip’s small caps aren’t all that small. I wanted this stocky set of caps to have a distinctive, unrefined look in titles, running heads, and lead-ins. Their large size also allows them to work unobtrusively in text as acronyms, abbreviations, or citations. Turnip also includes a special set of figures and punctuation designed to be used with the small caps.
Tabular figures: Turnip comes with a set of fixed-width numbers, currency, and math characters, which makes for neat and orderly columns of data. There’s also a separate set of tabular sorts and spaces, for those who want that extra degree of control.
And more: Turnip has a whole bunch of other features that you might find handy, from OpenType mainstays like fractions and superiors to text-oriented niceties like case-sensitive punctuation and even a www ligature. For the full run-down, check out the OpenType Feature Guide PDF.
Florets: Towards the end of Turnip’s development, I decided to add some ornaments as a fun little extra for those who venture into the remote corners of the character set. Turnip doesn’t mesh well with all kinds of decoration, so it became a challenge to draw a collection of ornaments that feels more “home sweet home” than it does elegant or ritzy. These florets can be used individually or in combination for decorative accents, edges, and patterns.
Borders: Turnip’s borders are constructed the old-fashioned way: in blocks, with top, bottom, left, and right sides, plus four blocks that join at the corners. Each of these components is built on the em square, so they connect vertically when set solid (without line-spacing). The top edge shares the same vertical center as the individual florets, and can be combined with these to create decorative horizontal bands.
Fancy dashes: Turnip contains two different fancy dashes for creating swelled rules. The dash extender will lengthen the rules one em at a time, and can be horizontally scaled to take care of any incremental space.
Folio curls: These curly ornaments can be used any which way, but they were specifically designed to as decorations for the page numbers. I’ve drawn two versions that will work with all three figure cases, lining, text, and small cap. I included these as a nod to the Pynson Printers edition of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer which contained similar folio decorations.
Print licenses for Turnip are now available from The Font Bureau, and web licenses are available from Webtype. Web licenses for Turnip RE (Reading Edge) are also available from Webtype. You can also contact them regarding e-book or device licenses. Of course, feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.
- Turnip, available for licensing from The Font Bureau
- Turnip RE, available for licensing from WebType
- Turnip & Turnip RE at Fonts In Use
- Showcase of the Reading Edge Series, including Turnip RE
- Webtype: Introducing Turnip & Turnip RE
- Font Bureau Blog: Turnip, new from Font Bureau
- Imprint: Turnip Patch Meets Type Technology, a profile by Ellen Shapiro
- Turnip, Typographica Favorites of 2012, review by Eben Sorkin
Many specimens on this page are based on The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, a short story by Mark Twain.