Reviving Crayonette

Crayonette DJR

Crayonette, was designed by Henry Brehmer in 1889 and first issued by Philadelphia’s Keystone Type Foundry. It is a weird and wonderful Victorian design that, to my knowledge, had never received a suitable digital revival.

I have come across this face time and time again, always appreciating it but never knowing what to do with it. When I encountered it again recently in the type collection of Bowne Printers, I was convinced that a digital revival needed to happen.

An usual design

Crayonette in Keystone Specimen

Crayonette in Keystone Type Foundry’s 1906 Abridged Specimen Book

I distributed my version of Crayonette as August’s Font of the Month. And I quickly got to see that others shared an enthusiasm for the design, even if they also didn’t know what to do with it.

PYTE Foundry creator Ellmer Stefan informed me that Crayonette actually had roots in a different design:

And thanks to research by Indra Kupferschmid, I also found out that Crayonette came in an Inline version as well, and also appeared under various other names such as Almah, Columbian Italic, Fantaisie, Italienne Cursiv, and Zierschrift.

No matter what you call it, Crayonette is a charmer. The unique texture of the lowercase is created by the combination of a strong horizontal stress, tons of swashy serifs, and wavy curves. I found some phototype interpretations as well as a autotraced digital version, but nothing that I felt did justice to the design.

The original design was spaced in a way that allowed it to succeed without kerning. My revival tightens and regularizes the spacing a bit, and tames a few of the more-offbeat letterforms that I thought might be objectionable to contemporary eyes (I assume letters such as F and j were drawn that way to avoid kerning issues). All of the originals exist as alternates, and I appreciate mixing them in.

Crayonette DJR alts

While my revival of Forma involved a great deal of interpretation, I took a much more hands-off approach with Crayonette. The goal of this revival was just to let Crayonette be Crayonette.

I realize that Crayonette might not be the easiest font to imagine in any given design, but I’m hoping that club members will find some interesting and unexpected ways to put it to use. Today is the final day of August, so it is the last day to pick up Crayonette DJR by joining the Font of the Month Club!

Crayonette DJR

Bonus! More Italics with Horizontal Stress

Since Crayonette DJR is a straight-up revival, I want to close this post by giving a shout out to three amazing contemporary designs that not only carry on the tradition of the horizontally-stressed italic, but actually are breaking new ground. Temeraire draws inspiration from Crayonette as well as nineteenth century English gravestones, while Chimera and Salvaje seem to evolve from the personal drawing styles of their creators. These designs are not yet released, but they are certainly worth checking out:

Temeraire by Quentin Schmerber

Temeraire

Chimera by Maria Doreuli

Chimera

Salvaje by Cristian Vargas

Salvaje

Foomann Architects uses Forma DJR

Foomann Architects

Melbourne-based Foomann Architects recently redesigned their website using Forma DJR for text and display. The website was designed by Ross Paxman and developed by Finn Robertson.

Foomann Architects

I love how Foong and Sormann’s names are fused together in the introduction, and how that side-by-side partnership plays out in the two-column layout and even in the navigation.

On a site like this with such gorgeous imagery, the job of the type is to get out of the way and let the photos shine. I think Forma does this, while also serving as the glue that holds it all together.

Foomann Architects

Turnip in Seven Thousnd Things

My friend and colleague André Mora started a blog called Seven Thousand Things to document his growing interest in gardening and horticulture.

Seven Thousand Things

I have always admired how André can combine typefaces in unexpected ways. Here, he uses a very simple layout with the extra-gritty Turnip RE styles in text and Turnip Regular for post headlines. Vulf Mono takes care of metadata, and the home page is decked out in the leafy Hobeaux Rococeaux.

Seven Thousand Things

Between TypeCon and ATypI

As a resident of Western Massachusetts, I am fortunate enough to have two type conferences happening just around the corner: TypeCon in Boston and ATypI in Montreal.

I’ve posted so many photos of signage in L.A. that folks often forget that I’ve spent the better part of a decade in the swath of New England that lies between these two great cities.

If you are traveling to either of these conferences, I encourage you to see the sights! Of course there is lots to do in Boston and Montreal themselves, but if you have the opportunity I also encourage you to venture outside the city centers. In case it is helpful, here are some points of typographic interest (or at least design interest) that I have enjoyed in the area roughly between Boston and Montreal:

Map

Museums

Shelburne Museum: This might be my favorite museum ever. This place defies description with an eccentric and diverse collection of folk art, textiles, and objects from rural New England and the globe. You can spend an entire day wandering its many buildings. There is a functioning print shop, and oh yeah also a steamboat parked in the middle of the museum’s vast grounds. Plus, it is not far from the world’s tallest filing cabinet, and directly on the way from Boston to Montreal (about two hours by car from the latter).

Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art: This museum is dedicated to the art of children’s books, with permanent exhibits with the work of Eric Carle (famous for The Hungry Little Caterpillar) as well as rotating exhibits on other authors/illustrators. Like the Yiddish Book Center (see below), this is on the campus of the college that I attended. Two hours by car from Boston.

Mass MOCA: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art might be my favorite of all contemporary art museums…take that, MoMA! Located in an old mill complex, this museum hosts exhibitions of all kinds, from twentieth century art to contemporary sculpture and installation. For anyone that deals with shapes, the Sol LeWitt exhibit will be mind-blowing. Three hours by car from Boston.

Peabody Essex Museum: An art museum with a diverse and fascinating collection, including a 19th century Chinese house. How much lettering and type you will see will really depend on what is on display. One hour from Boston, accessible by Commuter Rail on the Newbury/Rockport line.

Museum of Printing: TypeCon will have a workshop day here, but I feel compelled to recommend it anyway. Frank Romano has put together an excellent collection of printing machinery and ephemera from the cold metal, hot metal, and phototypesetting eras. Roughly an hour north of Boston, it is about two miles from the last Commuter Rail stop on the Haverhill Line.

Libraries

Yiddish Book Center: This is a massive collection of Yiddish-language books, including lots of old type and lettering in the Hebrew script. This isn’t like a rare book room; you can just pull stuff from the shelves and look at it. I am reminded that there is also metal type and a Yiddish Linotype machine on exhibit! Located very close to the Eric Carle Museum on Hampshire College’s campus (my first dorm room was just across the field), two hours by car from Boston.

Rauner Special Collections Library: Located in the middle of Dartmouth College’s picturesque ivy league campus, this special collections library includes the archive of type designer Rudolph Ruzicka, as well as materials from famous graphic arts historian Ray Nash. Three hours by car from Montreal, two from Boston; Dartmouth Coach has a direct bus from Boston to Hanover. Call ahead.

Mortimer Rare Book Room: The rare book room I visited most in college, located on the beautiful campus of Smith College in Northampton. There is a special book arts collection, records from many of New England’s private presses, and lots of cool old books from the Incunabula. Two hours by car from Boston; there is also bus service from Boston to Northampton. Closed until September 5; call ahead.

Historic Deerfield Library: Historic Deerfield is a collection of museums located throughout the village of Old Deerfield that capture 18th-century New England life. This is not really an attraction for designers, but I mention it because I enjoyed visiting its Flynt Library and perusing books such as Bickham’s Universal Penman, other writing manuals, and even the type specimen book used by Deerfield’s printer in the 19th century. Two hours by car from Boston, call ahead.

Other recommendations

These are places that I haven’t been to personally, but have on good authority that they are worth checking out:

Brimfield Antiques Market: This large Antiques Market will be held September 5–10 in the small town of Brimfield, Massachusetts. One and a half hours by car from Boston. Recommended by Jill Pichotta.

Chapin Library: On the campus of Williams College, this rare book room has a copy of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, a Baskerville Bible, as well as an extensive collection of 19th and 20th century fine press work. Three hours by car from Boston; not far from MassMOCA. Recommended by Kent Lew.

DeCordova Sculpture Park: The largest sculpture park in New England, the DeCordova focuses on contemporary art and installation. 30 minutes by car from Boston, or two miles from the Lincoln Commuter Rail stop on the Fitchburg/South Acton Line. Recommended by Jenn Contois.

Madsonian Design Museum: A small museum between Montpelier and Burlington, Vermont, dedicated to industrial design (“from cars to toasters, and from toys to canoes,” says their website). I’ve never been but this seems cute. Open Fri, Sat, and Sun. Two and a half hours by car from Montreal.

American Antiquarian Society: An independent research library located in Worcester, Massachusetts, the AAS houses “the largest and most accessible collection of books, pamphlets, broadsides, newspapers, periodicals, music, and graphic arts material printed through 1876 in what is now the United States,” according to their website. Public tours are closed, but visitors and researchers (like us!) are still welcome. Recommended by Nick Sherman, who told me that they have a copy of Page’s Specimen of Chromatic Wood Type, which is reason enough for me to go. One hour by car from Boston; bus options available. Call ahead.

Letterpress Things: A letterpress shop with type, plates, and and printing equipment. Closed until August 5; open dates include August 19 and September 2 and 16, check website for latest information. Also open during the week by appointment. One and a half hours from Boston; bus options to nearby Holyoke and Springfield (the latter’s bus terminal has a noteworthy sign). Recommended by Nick Sherman.

And more…

This is an incomplete and somewhat arbitrary list. There are also plenty of eating, hiking, camping, and swimming opportunities; old cemeteries with funky lettering; TONS of independent bookstores (including the Montague Bookmill, offering “books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”); and all sorts of other local flavor to be found (or at least cider donuts).

Plus, I didn’t even attempt to cover the urban areas of Boston and Montreal themselves, not to mention Southern New England where you can find gems such as the Providence Public Library and the Yale Art Gallery.

Remember to check websites or call ahead for hours, and please holler if I’ve left out your favorite stop! Many, many thanks to Jenn Contois, Alexandre Saumier Demers, Kent Lew, Jill Pichotta, Nick Sherman, and Eben Sorkin for their feedback on this list.

Finally, if you are coming to the area, enjoy yourself! If I can provide any recommendations for you, please let me know.

Notes on Zenith DJR, July’s Font of the Month

Zenith DJR

In April, I had the opportunity to visit Charlotte, North Carolina (my first time!) to attend the excellent Society for News Design conference (also my first time!).

On the final day of the conference, I found myself walking up South Blvd with Caren Litherland and Claire Linsdey after a delicious lunch (yes, grits were involved). We passed this old firehouse with a fantastic Art Deco inscription, and felt compelled to cross the street to take a closer look.

Charlotte Fire Department

It didn’t take long before I was sketching, and I started the font that would become Zenith DJR on the plane ride home.

Style

I’ve always been a sucker for Art Deco, and this inscription struck me as being a particularly elegant example of the style of contrasted sans serif typified by Morris Fuller Benton’s Broadway. But unlike Broadway, Zenith avoids any hint of glitz and glam, instead finding its voice in the stoic optimism of Art Deco geometry.

The most distinctive element of this design is the heavy stems, which usually appear once per letter, and sometimes not in places where you might have expected them. The sporadic appearance of these thick strokes makes for a funny, uneven texture. Even though Zenith DJR is a display face, my favorite uses of it are in short passages of text that where there enough room for that texture to come alive.

I decided to push that texture further and create an inline style where the thick strokes are split into two. By layering these two styles, designers can use color to punctuate that texture, really making those thick strokes pop. Cyan is my favorite!

Layers

Alternates

I started to notice similar signs in other places, and began to have a bit of fun with the alphabet, especially letters that were not present on the original sign in Charlotte.

A pointed S in Greenfield, MA
A pointed S in Greenfield, Massachusetts

I ended up with three versions of the S: the default, the Escalator S (borrowing a term I heard from Thomas Rinaldi, who I think heard it from Paul Shaw), and the Pointed S.

S

I was also captivated by the sharpness and peculiarity of the fire station’s M and N and the overly wide and low-waisted A. It’s pretty rare that diagonal letters are my among favorites, and I tried my hardest to capture those qualities in this design.

As I examined the diagonals I began to wonder: why is M and N thick on the left side while A is thick on the right? I drew alternate forms for these characters where the thick strokes are shifted to a different part of the character, and realized that shifting the position of the thicks could help designers finesse that uneven texture that I mentioned before.

Diagonals

For example, if two thick strokes appear right in a row, the designer can employ an alternate to add some space between them. I considered writing OpenType substitutions to automatically reduce instances where two thick strokes appear side by side, but in the end I decided that these were better implemented solely at the designer’s discretion. Fortunately the effect is subtle enough that both versions can even happen in the same word.

Going further

These diagonals made me curious about how this design might play out in other scripts, especially the triangular forms of the Greek Δ (Delta) and Λ (Lambda). George Triantafyllakos, who drew Walter in this style, was kind enough to offer feedback on the design.

Zenith DJR, Greek

In turn, these Greek letters made me curious about what would happen to their counterparts in Cyrillic: Д (De) and Л (El). While triangular forms of these letters are typical in Bulgaria, they are much less common in Russia and other places that use the Cyrillic script.

Gostiny Dvor
A rare triangular Д that I found in the Gostiny Dvor subway station, St. Petersburg, Russia

Speaking with Ilya Ruderman at the Typographics festival in June, I learned that these triangular forms can easily look dated in contemporary Russian text. But, since Zenith DJR specifically calls to Art Deco influences from the 1920s and 1930s, we decided that the triangular forms would be a good fit after all. I am very happy with them!

Zenith DJR, Russian

One week left!

Zenith DJR has come a long way since that fire station in North Carolina, and I hope you find it to be a worthy take on the Art Deco sans. The typeface is available until July 31 at fontofthemonth.club – that’s just one week away, so I encourage you to sign up today!

Zenith DJR

Typographica’s Typefaces of 2016

If you use fonts, make fonts, or just like fonts, I think it is worth browsing Typographica’s incredible collection of reviews featuring typefaces from last year.

I got to write about Bely, an excellent typeface by Roxane Gataud. Her work on this typeface is worth checking out.

I am also especially grateful to three reviewers who took the time to review my work. Thanks to Eben Sorkin for his comprehensive listing of Bungee’s features large and small, from verticality and color to Chris Lewis’s Javascript implementation. Thanks to Nina Stössinger for her thoughtful review of how Roger Black and I approached our revival of Forma. And thanks to Rob Keller for his delightful take on Gimlet, exploring its relationship with Schadow and also the recently-released Algebra.

Because this is not a curated list, there are always some personal favorites that don’t get reviewed. But overall I am impressed with this year’s selection, and would love to see more frequent writing on new and interesting type. I am grateful to Stephen Coles and Caren Litherland for all the hard work they put into compiling and editing this valuable resource.

Fontribute dives deep into Input’s design

In this edition of Fontribute, Thomas Jockin and Erin McLaughlin do a deep dive into the designs of Input Mono and Input Serif, comparing and contrasting them to elucidate the thinking.

I was a bit nervous when I saw that they had chosen to analyze an intentionally unsophisticated design (it was based on a pixel font after all), but I thought they did a great job uncovering the thinking behind many of my decisions.