January’s font of the month: Roslindale Variable Italic

italic

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of sending out Roslindale Variable Italic to the members of the Font of the Month Club. Try it on v-fonts.com to get a feel for what it does. Here’s a little bit more about the design.

As you may remember from previous months, Roslindale is my take on the style of De Vinne, a typeface attributed to Gustav Schroeder and Nicholas Werner and released by the Central Type Foundry in 1892. The family grew over the following years to include De Vinne Italic, which was essentially a sloped version of the original Roman design.

But I didn’t feel like a sloped Roman was enough for Roslindale. Like De Vinne before it, Roslindale combines a rational structure typical of the Victorian era with echoes of historicized “oldstyle” shapes. And because Roz has a foot in both the “modern” and “oldstyle” worlds, I felt that its Italic should as well. (I should say that I have no problem with sloped Romans in general…in fact, I’m particularly proud of Gimlet’s funky Italics that juxtaposed sloped Roman letters with exuberant swashy forms.)

specimens
De Vinne Italic, as shown in Pacific Coast Blue Book, American Type Founders, 1896

Compared to type family extensions like weights or widths, Italics can have an especially complicated relationship with their companion Romans. This is because they can differ from the Roman not only in slope, but can draw (to varying degrees) on an entirely separate calligraphic tradition of cursive forms with different letter structures, densities, and textures.

The recent(ish) introduction of OpenType Variations has made this complicated relationship more apparent: even though a variable font file can theoretically contain an entire family, it is often more pragmatic to maintain separate variable fonts for Romans and Italics if the designs are just too different to combine.

Variable Fonts also gives us an opportunity to rethink the role that an Italic plays in a type family. Could there, or should there, be a space between Roman and Italic? What would that even look like? Would it actually be useful to fine-tune the “italicness” of a font?

I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions, or if taking the time to explore them makes any practical sense. But there is some precedent for this kind of thinking in families like Auto and Arietta and even Dwiggins’s Electra that were drawn with multiple italics, I figured it was something worth playing with. With a sloped Roman in its DNA, Roslindale seemed like a suitable playground.

Roslindale Variable Italic on v-fonts.com

So, in addition to issuing the self-explanatory Roslindale Display Condensed Bold Italic (which I hope club members find useful, by the way), I also issued an experimental variable font called Roslindale Variable Italic. This font allows you to manipulate Roslindale’s “italicness” independently from its slant. Rather than drawing separate Roman and Italic masters, I drew alternate cursive-style forms in both upright and optically-corrected-oblique configurations. These are available as OpenType Stylistic Sets and also begin to appear (in a somewhat-logical progression, maybe?) as the variable Italic axis gets more and more Italic.

upright

In addition to being able to customize the “italicness” of the Italic, this font also gives you the ability to incorporate Italic forms into the upright Roman as well. I was excited to see this part of the experiment dovetail with the upright cursive forms of ITC Bernase Roman, a 1970s interpretation of the same De Vinne style.

ampersand

Roslindale Variable Italic is available to members of the Font of the Month Club; memberships go for as little as $6/month. If all goes according to plan, I’ll also send out a bonus version of Roslindale Variable that will incorporate all of the extensions that I’ve offered so far (Weight, Optical Size, and Italic), but only to those members who have also received Roslindale’s previous installments. So make sure you grab those back issues on the signup form!

December’s font of the month: Dattilo DJR

envelope

Last summer, I received a big envelope in the mail from Roger Black. You might already know that I worked with him on a revival of Forma, the sans serif published by the Italian type foundry Nebiolo in 1968. But what you might not know is that Nebiolo also produced a slab serif counterpart to Forma in the early 70s called Dattilo. And what Roger’s envelope contained was a handful of original specimens of that design.

specimens

Forma and Dattilo share an interesting history as the product of a committee of eight prominent Italian graphic designers led by Nebiolo’s art director, Aldo Novarese. The struggling foundry assembled this committee to create a new “universal” typeface that would compete with the likes of Helvetica and Univers. Indra Kupferschmid documented this unusual tale of design-by-committee in an article that accompanied Forma DJR’s release, and even more detail can now be found in a pair of recent articles by Alessandro Colizzi. Just like Forma, Roger has admired the design for decades, even commissioning a phototype version from Jim Parkinson for a 1977 cover of Rolling Stone when the original metal was unavailable.

With our revival of Forma published in 2016, a complementary revival of Dattilo seemed like a natural next step for the design system. And this month I’m happy to share with you a preview of the lightest weight of the largest size of the new in-progress family: Dattilo DJR Banner Extra Light.

chiarissimo

Picking up where Forma DJR left off, my interpretation of Dattilo is guided by the things that Roger loved about this era of typesetting: the meeting of lofty ideals of universality and perfection and the realities of working with ink, metal, and paper. Rather than trying to achieve the most beautiful or perfect shapes, I was focused on conveying some of the design’s physicality. So you can see slight variations in stroke contrast, as well as blunted corners and ever-so-slightly tapered serifs…but no tapered stems this time!

One of Forma’s defining characteristics is its super-tight spacing, which is a bit harder to achieve in Dattilo with all those serifs in the way. But that additional space endows Dattilo with an interesting rhythm and a typewriter-influenced personality distinct from its sans serif counterpart. And the spacing still prioritizes closeness over a steady rhythm, giving text a 70s vibe.

A few of Dattilo forms diverge from Forma’s design, and instead borrow from Forma’s set of Swiss-style alternates, including the R with a curved leg and the bearded G. And while Dattilo retains Forma’s trademark single-story a, it does come with a two-story alternate.

alternate

Now that I’m sending the Extra Light to you, I’m going to use this as an excuse to spend some more time with the heavier side of the family, which diverges even more from Forma in its look and feel.

Dattilo DJR has already been used to great effect by Roger in the latest issue of Type Magazine (pictured below), as well as by Mark Porter in his recent redesign of Domus, the Italian architecture and design magazine. Now I’m excited to see what you do with it!

Dattilo DJR Banner Extra Light is available this month to members of Font of the Month Club. You can join for as little as $6/month, and gift subscriptions are available!

alphabet

November’s font of the month: Pappardelle Party

Pappardelle Party Font of the Month

It is no secret that I have a soft spot for fonts with horizontal and reverse stress. In fact, I was worried that this affinity would lead me to lean too much on the genre when choosing what I would make you for this club.

So I am celebrating a small milestone this month: I managed to make it a whole year without featuring a horizontal stress face in this collection. What restraint! And what better way to celebrate this milestone than to break that streak and send you one right now?

Pappardelle Party is a stencil version of Pappardelle, a twentieth century take on the French Antique that I released last October. Compared to its wood type predecessors, Pappardelle takes a more modernist approach, interested more in the abstract shapes than in their connection to the ruggedness of the Wild West.

The stencil version further abstracts the design into a geometric grab bag of lines, rectangles, and semicircles. Even though Latin stencil designs tend to have vertical “bridges” that hold the shapes in place, the bridges in Pappardelle Party follow its contrast, creating horizontal bands that cut across a line of text.

specimens

But Pappardelle Party’s true novelty comes from its unconventional combination of chromatic glyphs, Open­Type contextual alt­er­nates, and a variable axis. With a palette of four colors, the font cycles through four different arrangements of colors for each character that is typed.

The starting point of this endless cycle is governed by a variable “Color Spinner” axis. This allows you to vary the “seed” which begins the contextual cycle, and is also great for animation and interaction.

With all the things that Pappardelle Party does, it is also notable for one thing it doesn’t do: interpolate. Unlike other variable fonts out there, there are no changing weights or morphing outlines; the variable axis simply swaps out glyph after glyph (a big thank you to Irene Vlachou for her technical advice on this). I hope this will lead to more exploration of how variable fonts can give users new ways to access alternate glyphs.

There are a few flavors of color fonts out there, each with their own complexities and support issues. I am sending you two: COLR/CPAL, which has a smaller filesize and is supported by most modern web browsers, and SVG-in-OT, which is supported by apps such as Photoshop and Illustrator (Photoshop can be a little finicky though, so you may have to disable and re-enable Contextual Alternates to get it working).

And because alternative color palettes are not supported in apps and browsers quite yet, I now have a new and improved Color Font Customizer, where you can drag on your font, pick your own colors, and download a customized version. Many thanks to Chris Lewis for putting it together!

I fully admit that Pappardelle Party is one of the tackiest things I have ever produced. Try not to do anything too cringeworthy with it, okay? 😉

Pappardelle Party is available to order as a back issue for all members of the Font of the Month Club.

September’s font of the month: Bradley DJR

specimen

A blackletter has been on my Font of the Month Club bucket list since the beginning. So this month I am very happy to cross that off the list and to send the Font of the Month Club a revival of Bradley, an unusual blackletter published in 1895.

I’ll confess to not knowing much about drawing blackletters, so this was an opportunity for me to learn by diving deep into an peculiar design and trying to make some sense of it. I’ve felt a connection to this typeface for a while, which intensified when I learned that its namesake, Will H. Bradley, was living and working in Springfield, Massachusetts at the time of its publication (not so far from where I live now!).

At the time, Bradley had been making a name for himself with work that blended the historicism of the Arts & Crafts movement with the expressive lines of Art Nouveau. In 1894, he illustrated and lettered an incredible series of covers for The Inland Printer, a trade magazine for the printing industry, including the Christmas issue pictured below.

Inland Printer, 1894

The cover for the Christmas 1894 Inland Printer, as reproduced in “Will Bradley: His Graphic Art.”

The unusual blackletter on that cover must have caught the eye of someone at the recently-formed American Type Founders Company and they promptly licensed the design. Most sources point to Hermann Ihlenburg as the person responsible for transforming it from a piece of lettering into a full-fledged type design. (Longtime club members might remember Ihlenburg as the as the designer of Crayon, the precursor to my last revival, Crayonette.)

As we type designers tend to do, Ihlenburg regularized the shapes in Bradley’s lettering, and the choices I made in my digitization certainly continue that trend. The simplified, unadorned letterforms made it more accessible to American readers unaccustomed to blackletter. And Bradley’s style has a vibe that is quite distinct from other blackletters: it is more antique store than heavy metal album, more fantasy storybook than medieval manuscript…after all, it was the choice for the Sleeping Beauty storybook in Disneyland’s famous castle! 🏰

lines of Bradley DJR

I should point out that I’m not the only person to attempt a digitization of this typeface, but the others weren’t quite doing it for me. They were drawn with super-crisp edges and the result just felt too digital (in the direction of Emigre’s Totally Gothic). To me, the paradox of a blackletter like this one is that it can have so many corners but it somehow never feels sharp.

Following the strategy that Roger Black and I employed in our revival of Forma, I drew Bradley DJR with subtle rounding that gives some more substance to those corners, not exactly mimicking the blotting of printed foundry type but certainly paying homage to it. I also tried my hand at a variable Optical Size axis that spans ATF’s original range of sizes, from 60pt headlines to teensy 6pt text (a Micro version is a rarity for digital blackletters).

text

One other feature I’ll call your attention to are the special German characters, which ATF issued a few years later under the name Ihlenburg. This includes some digraphs such as ch and ck, a long s and tailed z, and of course the ß that joins them together.

German Ihlenburg alts

For those of you who have admired Bradley in the old specimen books, I hope you think this little revival does it justice. And I’m excited for everyone else to get to know the design. A fairytale blackletter might not be among your usual go-to typefaces, but it can’t hurt to have one in your back pocket! 😃

You can see more examples of Bradley DJR in the PDF specimen, and you can get your copy today by joining the Font of the Month Club!

Special thanks to Stephen Coles, Kent Lew, Dan Reynolds, Laura Serra, and Nick Sherman for providing information and advice on this project.

August’s font of the month: Map Roman

Map Roman is a great replacement for titling fonts like Perpetua Titling or Trajan, and is available for as little as $6 with a yearlong membership, but just for three more days! Sign up for the Font of the Month Club today to get your copy. Here’s a bit more about the design:

specimen

A while ago, on my way from Los Angeles to visit my brother in San Diego, I made a quick stop at the Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla. It’s in an unassuming spot in an outdoor mall, but the collection was impressive and spanned many centuries of mapmaking. I spent much of my short time there admiring the illustrated maps of a twentieth century British graphic artist named MacDonald (Max) Gill, but I was in a bit of a rush and didn’t really have time to read the blurbs or make anything of his name.

photo of Max Gill’s lettering

One of the shots I took of Gill’s maps at the Map and Atlas Museum of La Jolla.

It wasn’t until recently that I decided to work on a titling font in this style, so I dug up the photos that I took at the museum and tried to learn more about these maps and and the artist behind them. And it was only then that I found out what some of you might already know: MacDonald Gill (known as Max) was the younger brother of Eric Gill, famous for his stone carvings and type designs but a problematic figure today due to the sexual abuse that he committed during his lifetime.

Knowing this, it is easy to see the clear similarities between the lettering on Max’s maps and Eric’s work, not to mention he similarities to the calligraphy of their mutual friend Edward Johnston. And while this relationship certainly remains in the font I sent to the club, I deliberately chose not to refer to work by other artists, relying only on the maps and my own intuition.

lines of Map Roman

Map Roman is my attempt to distill this elegant lettering style into a typeface for titling. It is characterized by classic proportions and end strokes on the vertical serifs that extend below the baseline and above the cap height. The drawing style is a bit on the loose side for me; I left inconsistencies in stem weights and serif lengths and tried to draw the curves so that they snapped with elasticity.

details

Map Roman does not try to simulate hand lettering, but it does borrow a few tricks of the trade. Here you can see how the font elongates K, R, and L to subtly fill space next to gappy letters.

Map titling requires that words are sometimes squeezed into crowded spaces, and Max caps adapted to a variety of different widths. So I was especially excited to make Map Roman a bit squeezable, and to overcome the tension of classic letter proportions (where letters occupy the space they need to occupy) and realities of narrower titles (where words have to fit in a certain space). And if you all like what I’ve got so far, I’d be interested in taking it even narrower in the future…

Map Roman widths

I’ve also learned that the exhibit I saw is part of a larger trend of renewed interest in Max Gill’s work. My hope is that this typeface can continue this trend in some small way, inviting you to incorporate a bit of the charm of Max’s maps into your own work.

M

See more examples in the PDF specimen!