March’s Font of the Month: Warbler Banner

Font of the Month, 2022/03 Try Buy $24 PDF
Warbler Banner Ulc UC2x2

The moment I sent out last month’s mailing about Warbler Text, I started to feel self-conscious. I was happy with how the typeface came out, but I had only tested it in a very specific setting (20px running text, on screen), and I started to wonder about how it would fare in other, larger contexts. 

Scalability is one of the primary attributes of a digital font, but things can get awkward when the desire to make type big bumps up against typefaces that weren’t meant to get big. Feeling a bit mischievous, I hacked around with a variable font that forces Warbler to stay below 15pt. This is a bad idea for the record, and what I should have been doing is channeling that momentum into a true cut of Warbler for large sizes.

This club is all about variety. I like to mix it up and usually I wait six months or a year between sending out variants of the same family. But I hope you’ll bear with me, because this month I’m breaking my own rule! Here is my progress on Warbler Banner.

Warbler Banner caps UC2x2

I’m actually including a few new styles of Warbler: a 96pt Banner cut for massive titles, a 48pt Display cut for headlines, a 24pt Deck cut for subheads, and a variable font that encapsulates all the space between Banner and Text—those point sizes are just suggestions. These are still very much in-progress (as far as I was able to get in the short month of February), and I imagine the design will continue to change as I adapt the small caps and Italics from the Text version and add a Bold in the future.

I’m still on the fence about whether it’s more effective to derive a display cut from a text cut, or vice versa. My own library is split: Roslindale and Forma started as displays, so I had my full range of expression to explore their personality and flavor before taming them for smaller sizes. Meanwhile, Gimlet and Fern began as small-size cuts, so I could focus on making sure they had good bones before spending any time polishing up the fancy little details.

If Forma is my most subtle take on optical size, Warbler is probably my most extreme. The x-height gets noticeably smaller, ascenders and descenders get noticeably longer, proportions get noticeably narrower, and the thick/thin contrast gets not-just-noticeably but dramatically higher.

Warbler Banner sizes

The trouble is, the more contrast I add, the sharper the serifs get and the more I start to lose that lighter touch that I loved so much about the types that William Martin cut in 1790. It starts to feel more like a Modern than a Transitional, so I did what I could to counteract this and preserve Warbler’s delicate nature. It’s a display cut, so I want it to sparkle—the trick is to make it sparkle in a way that’s not flashy.

I played a lot with Warbler’s line quality to “slow down” the typeface so it feels more brittle and elegant than it does forceful or dynamic. Curves and bends don’t go directly where they need to go, but meander a bit instead…see the bottom of e or the shoulder of n. Ball terminals and vertical serifs are a little smaller than I’d usually make them. The proportions are a little irregular, retaining Martin’s wide L and T. And letters like a, g, and t are allowed to lean, adding a little wobble to the “picket fence” of vertical stems.

William Bulmer The Chase 1796 blog

Looking back at William Bulmer’s title pages from the 1700s and 1800s, I saw that the letterforms aren’t the only thing that exercise restraint: the entire typographic palette has a distinctive lightness of touch. Everything is nice and airy, with plenty of margins and letterspacing, and absolutely no sign of borders, ornaments, or even lowercase! (Contrast this with the decorative showings of Benton’s twentieth-century revival.)

In the typographic vacuum of these title pages, size becomes *the* crucial element of the visual hierarchy. So even though the Warbler family is far from complete, I like that there is precedent for achieving great results with a limited palette. Our contemporary typographic environment is far less restrained, but I hope that Warbler can help you find moments of quiet in your typography, and new ways to use optical sizes in your designs.

February’s Font of the Month: Warbler Text

Font of the Month, 2022/02 Try Buy $24 PDF
Warbler main 2000

The first time I ever picked up metal type was in Barry Moser’s letterpress course. The assignment was simply to typeset my name, and the case of type I ended up in front of was Morris Fuller Benton’s 1928 typeface, Bulmer.

The design of Bulmer was based on the types cut by William Martin in 1790, for the English printer William Bulmer. Martin likely trained at Baskerville’s foundry, and as Patricia Cost writes, “Martin’s design seemed to bridge the gap between the Baskerville and Bodoni types—it was more condensed and contrasty than Baskerville, but less mechanical and modern than Bodoni.” (I guess this makes it a transitional Transitional?)

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A page from Poems by Goldsmith & Parnell, 1795. Image © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Since that day in the letterpress shop, I’ve had an affinity for this style. Maybe it was the tactile experience of holding letterforms in my hands, and maybe it was Martin’s gentle (maybe even genteel) approach to the Modern serif. There’s something placid and comforting about this lighter touch, especially when compared to the vigorous, authoritative Scotch Romans that would follow it. 

I don’t see Bulmer often in current use, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used onscreen. I suppose that makes sense: social media tends to reward eye-catching display designs, and this style’s delicacy doesn’t pack much of a punch if you’re just scrolling by it quickly. But Martin’s types are filled with small, subtle gestures that will grow on you after a while, and that’s what I tried to tap into in my interpretation, Warbler Text. Don’t get me wrong—I love a sharp, expressive serif as much as the next designer—but my hope is that this little throwback can help remind us of their softer side.

Warbler parts 2000

I spent a lot of time debating how to make Warbler’s small gestures big enough to telegraph at text sizes (à la Dwiggins’s M Formula), without becoming so big that they felt like a caricature. I’m talking about the swing of the a, and how its bowl rises a little before it falls. About the low waist on the k, how the g leans back a little, and how the weight of the t and e sags a bit in the lower-left.  

And I’m thinking about more systemic things too: the slightly-too-heavy capitals, the slightly-too-small small caps, the slightly-too-spaced-out numbers. How the different angles of the italic lowercase make it dance a little, and how even a handful of the Italic caps (J/K/N/T) get cursive forms. And I finally got to use the life-hack of flipping the Italic J to make a pound sign (£)—so satisfying!

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Overriding my browser’s fonts with custom stylesheets and Type-X.

My goal with Warbler Text was to spend more time using it than I spent making it. To narrow my focus, I decided that 20 pixels would be the onscreen target size for this font, and used a custom stylesheet to override my browser fonts so I could do all my reading in it. There were periods where I was regenerating a new version every five minutes or so, just to see how my small changes would play out at the target size.

Watching how my computer rendered the shapes helped me measure the effects of my changes. I took screenshots and zoomed in on the pixelated letters to see if my moves were enough to flip a pixel from black to grey. This helped me take general, unanswerable questions (“Is this noticeable enough?”) and turn them into specific, achievable goals (“Does the spine of the a swing enough to flip some pixels from black to grey when set at 20px on my MacBook Pro Retina Display?”).

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A screenshot of Warbler Text at 20px (enlarged)

It has been a while since I’ve drawn a new text face for the club, and I’m grateful to the members I corresponded with who encouraged me to work on one. I will admit that even with all the small gestures I mentioned, I’m worried that you might think this typeface is too conservative…and maybe it is! I wonder if the next step might be to move to the opposite end of the spectrum and work on the display side of things (below is a sketch I did a few years back). In the meantime, I hope you find the time to spelunk around what I hope is a quite usable text face, both onscreen and elsewhere!

Warbler display preview 2000

January’s Font of the Month: Klooster Thin Lowercase

Font of the Month, 2022/01 Try Buy $24 PDF
Klooster thin lc 513 2000

This month I’ve made a pretty straightforward update to a far-from-straightforward typeface. Exactly one year ago, I sent out Klooster Thin, a set of spry uncialesque capitals with energy to spare. This time, I’ve gone ahead and added a brand new lowercase, which I hope will open up possibilities for using this relatively niche design.

Klooster is based on the uncial hand, a script that was popularized many centuries before the existence of the lowercase we use today. So the entire concept of a “lowercase uncial” is anachronistic at best, and this expansion is in some ways a work of historical fiction.

Klooster thin lc text 2000

Klooster is far from the first typeface to explore a bicameral uncial. As demonstrated in Dan Reynolds’s excellent piece on Victor Hammer, uncials often functioned as a “lowercase” intended for running text that would be paired with Roman capitals or even enlarged initials (to be used as versals or drop caps). But unlike American Uncial, Klooster leans more towards uppercase already, so this precedent didn’t feel quite right.

Without the burden of historical authenticity, I had the freedom to think of uppercase and lowercase not as two distinct alphabets but as a single sliding scale. Instead of going back in time to Roman capitals for Klooster’s second case, I turned the dial a few notches forward to a fully-evolved lowercase.

Klooster alpha 2000

Klooster’s lowercase preserves the extremely long serifs and snappy, elastic curves of the original caps, and it introduces new proportions, prominent ascenders and descenders, and even more rounded forms. 

Some forms had to change radically; b/d/p/q took on “ball-and-stick” constructions with flat joins and large apertures that give them a bit of a Blue Island vibe. But because Klooster’s “uppercase” already incorporated so many lowercase elements, the construction of most letters didn’t need to change very much at all. If O/o and Z/z can have the same form in both cases, why can’t H/h or M/m work that way too?

I’m especially happy with how a, e, and g came out; they sit on a weird precipice where you can see both lowercase and uppercase in them at the same time, almost as if it is an optical illusion.

Klooster thin lc 763 2000

The last little family of letters that I’ll call out is f/j/r/t, which gave me the most trouble by far. In typefaces, these letters are often drawn narrower than you’d expect, in order to avoid spacing problems. Helvetica, for example, slices f/j/r/t on the vertical despite having horizontal terminals everywhere else.

I initially took the same approach in Klooster, shortening the vertical serifs significantly so that letters would tuck underneath f and pop over j. But in the end, I decided that the elongated vertical serifs are such a crucial part of this particular design that I could not part with them...to hell with even spacing! I think the width and distinctive swing of these four letters contributes a lot to Klooster’s off-kilter rhythm, which I hope goes to show that uneven spacing is not always the same as bad spacing.

The last three months here at the club have featured a Roman rustic, a blackletter, and an uncial: three styles that I like to think are as vital today as they were in antiquity. And I’m always happy to hear if there are any other families you’d like to see updated in 2022, or any new styles you’d like to see explored. I hope your new year is already off to an excellent start! — DJR

Klooster thin ornament 2000

December’s Font of the Month: Bradley Initials DJR

Font of the Month, 2021/12 Try Buy $24 PDF
W 2000

Without a doubt, I am a sucker for a nice drop cap. I’ve always been charmed by them in print layouts, and Jessica Hische’s Daily Drop Cap demonstrated that they can be equally powerful onscreen. They offer the reader a hearty typographic welcome and invite them in to a block of text. Plenty of my club fonts would make for great drop caps, but until now, none of them were designed explicitly for that purpose.

This month I’m sending you my revival of Bradley Initials, a set of ornate drop caps designed as a companion to Bradley, the “fairytale blackletter” that I revived for the club in September 2018. It was based on lettering by renowned illustrator and designer Will H. Bradley, and published by American Type Founders in 1895. (As its Fonts in Use entry points out, this is not to be confused with Bradley Ultra Modern Initials, which was designed by Bradley in the 1930s and later digitized and expanded by Glenda de Guzman, a.k.a. Maria Glenda Bellarosa.)

These Bradley Initials really drive home the typeface’s storybook vibes, and it bugged me that they weren’t a part of my revival. So each year since 2018, as December approached, I would always think, “This would make a fun December font!” But then I would try to wrap my head around the quietly intricate linework in these initials, get overwhelmed, and proceed to work on something else.

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Bradley and Bradley Initials, as seen in the American Type Founders Specimen of Printing Types, 1897

The intricate linework is what sets this font apart from being just a bunch of letters in boxes. It walks the line between abstract and horticultural, with spiralesque stems and heart-shaped leaves. But unlike the Fern Ornaments I sent you earlier this year, these leafy brambles were not built around a typographic system. Instead, they take a calligraphic approach: each letter is really its own little illustration, and each line is improvised in order to fill the available space. What unifies them as a system is a consistency in stroke weight and tapering that would come from a writing implement.

A reasonable person might have started digitizing Bradley Initials by autotracing it, but that would have left me thinking about these lines as shapes rather than as strokes. I tried using computer-generated vector spirals as a starting point, but they ended up looking too precise and not handmade enough. So in the end, I accepted that the only way out is through. I set up my own digital “writing implement” using a plugin called LTTR/INK and drew each little squiggle myself (by my last count, A–Z contained 842 of them). 

The process was somewhat mind-numbing but there is something strangely relaxing about doing a task that requires 1% thinking and 99% doing. And spending so much time with each letter led me to appreciate the variations in the original; Some are more curly, others are more swirly. What I ended up with is a hybrid of the 54pt and 42pt sizes that were shown in the 1912 ATF Specimen Book.

Drop2 2000

This was also an opportunity to play with my old friend Color Fonts, which I’ve neglected this entire year. The default palette is based on the colors in the aforementioned ATF specimen, and I’m sending you a handful of alternative palettes as well (since font-palette support is still in its infancy, I’m sending these as separate fonts as well.) Of course, you can always use my Color Font Customizer to roll your own, and if you want even more flexibility, you can assemble it layer-by-layer using the Bradley Initials DJR Layers variant...the Frills layer is kinda fun to use on its own!

The last thing I’ve included in this mailing is a color font in the next-generation COLR v1 format, which allows for SVG-like features such as gradients, but without the inflexibility and large file size of images embedded into the font. Support for it is still very limited, and my proof-of-concept is still very rough, but it’s exciting to think about color fonts being more flexible and easier to use in the future!

Gradients 2000

Bradley Initials will complement my Bradley revival for sure, but I’m hopeful that you’ll find these versatile versals will work with a wide array of styles, spicing up your editorial spreads and greeting cards for Decembers to come!

Palettes

Bradley’s alternate preset color palettes: Black and White, Royal Purple, Bumble Bee, Classic Red, Lilac Blossom, and Seafoam.

November’s Font of the Month: Rustique

Font of the Month, 2021/11 Try Buy $24 PDF
Rustique 1 blog

Sending the club monthly fonts has taught me a lot about the ebb and flow of my own productivity. Some months, I have tons of energy, everything flows smoothly, and projects just click into place. Other months, like this one, I’m hardly able to focus on making new fonts, the gears start to grind, and all of the previous momentum evaporates. It’s hard not to panic when this happens, but I’ve been through enough cycles of this that I’ve come to accept it as a natural part of the way I work.

My focus has definitely been elsewhere recently: life stuff, teaching, a little custom typeface design, and a lot of strumming my mandolin in outdoor music jams. Sensing that I’m in an ebb time with no energy to start something fresh, I paid a visit to my “bottom drawer,” the folder of half-baked typefaces that I’ve discarded over the years. And at the very bottom of my bottom drawer, I uncovered one of my first typeface designs (from 2007!), an abstracted take on Capitalis Rustica that I call Rustique.

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Rustic capitals in the Vergilius Vaticanus, from the collection of the Louisiana Digital Library.

I think of typefaces on a spectrum ranging between figurative and abstract, from marks that feel like they were made with a certain tool to those that feel like they were simply imagined (I say “feel like” because, as Matthew Carter points out, they’re all just a bunch of digital outlines regardless 🙃). 

There are plenty of typefaces that play across this spectrum, taking the the pen-formed shapes of historical calligraphic styles (say, blackletter) and translating them into “raw” typographic shapes (Totally Gothic/Glyphic, Fakir, and Blaktur come to mind). But you won’t find nearly as many contemporary designs revisiting the distinctive Rustic capitals that were used in Rome during the first several centuries of the common era. 

At first glance, these Rustic capitals felt shockingly dissimilar to their predecessor, the Roman Square Capital of Trajan’s Column fame. But upon closer inspection, I learned how calligraphic efficiency transformed these letters: their simplified structures were quicker and easier to write with a pen, and a steep pen angle led to narrower letterforms that took up less space on expensive writing materials like parchment or vellum. (This steep pen angle also made Rustic caps the original use of horizontal stress in the Latin alphabet!)

Orig design blog

My original drawing of Rustique, c. 2007.

I drew Rustique during my final year in college to be used on the poster for a sci-fi-infused production of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, staged by the theater department at my school (no, I can’t find an image of the poster I designed, and yes, that’s probably for the best 🙃). The unfamiliarity of the Rustic style seemed like a good fit for this retrofuturistic production; it somehow feels stuck in the past and the future at the same time. But like all of the other typefaces I designed in school, I abandoned it as I went on to pursue more practical designs and begin my career at Font Bureau (from that year, only Manicotti made it out after it was cleaned up and released in 2010).

My original design for Rustique stayed fairly close to the rhythms of Rustic calligraphy, with modest thick/thin contrast, a high waistline, and generous spacing between each letter. In the image above, you can also see small inconsistencies, where I was experimenting with sharp corners (as opposed to blunted ones), a flatter baseline, and tall caps, all of which I adopted in the version I’m sending you today. I was happy with letters like H and E that were made up of all straight lines and tapered gently from bottom to top, but they felt disjointed from any letter with curves like O and B and diagonals like A and V that weren’t allowed to taper as much.

Picking up the design again this month, I tried as hard as I could to unify these elements and minimize the tension between curved and straight forms. The diagonals proved to be an especially tough nut to crack; with the theoretical pen held at such a steep angle, they are the only elements of this hand that get very heavy for a very long time. Of course, this is a feature that makes Captialis Rustica distinct, but it also makes them stick out like a sore thumb when you’re looking at more than a few words at a time.

Rustique 2 blog

In the past few weeks, I made some last-minute changes in order to make it better suited for contemporary display typography. First, I amped up the horizontal weights so it is now less of Regular weight and more of a Bold. I also tightened up the letter spacing significantly and introduced more “swing” into the curves, imbuing the design with more chaotic energy. It’s amazing how much of a difference spacing makes: if you add some tracking (+25–50, maybe?), you’ll chill things out and give the design more of a historical flavor.

This might go without saying, but I have absolutely no idea what you’re going to do with this typeface! I hope it at least piques your interest in Rustic capitals, and makes you think about how you can somehow incorporate their unique flavor into your designs. This is one of the trickiest designs I’ve worked on in a while, and I could probably keep tweaking it forever...we’ll see what it looks like in another 14 years!

Rustique 3 blog