The best part of releasing the new version of Glyptic DJR this week is that I can get rid of the custom stylesheet I use to test it 😅

Wiki glyptic web

January’s Font of the Month: Glyptic DJR Lowercase

Font of the Month, 2022/08 PDF Try
Glyptic U diagram 01 2000

This month’s update started with a sneaky little change I made in August. I love Herman Ihlenburg’s Glyptic, but its U felt off to me. There’s something stilted and overly-mechanical about the squared-off left edges of the vertical stem, and I didn’t like how all the serifs seemed to push out from the letter’s center. 

So in my revival, I tweaked it. I removed the bottom serif and replaced it with a vertical spike—simpler and still sharp. I did the same thing to G, which already has a lot going on and could afford to be less busy. Then I added a bilateral serif to the top of U, echoing the bilateral serifs you see in the rest of the typeface. 

At the time, these seemed like such insignificant tweaks that I didn’t bother to mention them in my write-up. But as I set out to expand Glyptic, I quickly found myself in the middle of a butterfly effect. The new vertical spike, a change I wasn’t even sure was right, became the cornerstone of the update I am sending you today: Glyptic DJR Lowercase.

Glyptic DJR Lowercase 01 2000

Ihlenburg didn’t design a lowercase for Glyptic (at least that I know of). Fortunately, he was a prolific designer, so there’s no shortage of lowercases for me to reference as source material for the piece of historical fiction I was about to create. 

I noticed that Ihlenburg would often use Uncialesque forms in his lowercase, even if they weren’t prevalent in the uppercase. I saw them in softer, more flowing designs like Campanile (see the h, m, and n below) and in more daring designs like Ringlet (see the alternate n in this cover). And I couldn’t help but remember this exact same inwardly-bent curve in Glyptic’s U.

Campanile 2000

Campanile, as shown in Franklin Type Foundry’s Convenient Book of Type Specimens, 1889.

 So, I made Glyptic’s U the starting point for the lowercase, and everything else cascaded from there. Lowercase u follows uppercase U, n is a 180° rotation of u, m is a horizontal mirroring of n, and w is a vertical mirroring of m. And every step of the way, the little vertical spike I added (and the serif I omitted) became a bigger and bigger part of the design.

The result is a kind of semi-serif, where serifs are in some places you’d expect but not in others. The vertical asymmetry made this a tricky design to space—I had to treat letters like p, d, b, and q as if they were sans-serifs for spacing purposes since none of their serifs occur within the x-height. Of the letters with vertical stems, only i and l use a conventional serif arrangement.

Glyptic DJR Lowercase 02 2000

 Glyptic gets its chaotic energy by mixing spikes and curls—it’s a strange heightening of the same juxtaposition of sharps and rounds found in Roslindale. So I wanted to ensure that I passed up no opportunity to incorporate my favorite details from the caps: the elongated, scroll-like vertical serifs and the spiral-y curlicues. In a and e, I blended the wedge vertical serifs with a open crossbar / interior ball terminal combo that I borrowed from Campanile…the resulting letterforms are open where they should be enclosed, and enclosed where they should be open!

The pair of letters that vexed me most were f and t, where I felt that it was necessary to include the vertical serif even though it made the letters unusually wide and difficult to read. I tried dozens of variations before landing on a pair that has a ball terminal on the left-hand side too, and an alternate that doesn’t.

Glyptic djr f t

 Do I think that this is the lowercase Ihlenburg would have made for Glyptic? Definitely not. But I do think it honors the original design in its own way, preserving Glyptic’s rigidity as well as its eclecticism and whimsy.

I also took this opportunity to add lining figures and decorative borders. If I keep on adding, can I still call it a revival? I’m feeling out where that line is. I get excited when a project stops being a digitization and feels like a conversation… an asynchronous exchange of visual ideas between a thing 145 years old and a thing that is just taking shape.

My 2022 in variable fonts

As posted here regarding recent discussions about variable fonts, I offer these personal stats.

In 2022, I published or co-published five variable fonts.

Three through Font of the Month Club, currently starting at $24:

Two co-published multi-script variable expansions:

In 2021, the count was six.

I can only speak for myself, but not much of a slowdown over here, not too many “toy fonts” (aside from Fit), and hopefully accessibly priced (discounted licenses are also available).

Also, all of my major families are available as variable fonts, except for Turnip and Input which are hopefully coming in 2023.

December’s Font of the Month: Pappardelle v2

Font of the Month, 2022/12 Try Buy $24
Skyline restaurant

Skyline Restaurant, Marlboro, Vermont

This summer, my wife Emily and I were passing through Southern Vermont and we stumbled upon this A+ sign on the side of the road. The forest was starting to overtake it, and we almost missed it. We quickly pulled into the brewery that now occupies the Skyline Restaurant building, placed an order for pizza and beer, and walked back a quarter mile to get a closer look.

Unsurprisingly, my first thought was, “I should make a font like that.” But then I realized, I already have a font like that! Pappardelle, released October 2017, was my take on the 20th Century French Antique, directly inspired by Herbert Matter’s midcentury logotype for Knoll furniture.

When I first drew it in 2017, Pappardelle was my jam—I even used it in the Font of the Month Club’s original logo. But it always felt like it was more fun for me to make than it was for anyone else to use; even though it’s ostensibly a Display font, it felt too straight-down-the-middle and throwbacky to have any freshness or spark. I typically try to put a damper on “look at me” energy in my typefaces, but Pappardelle needed exactly that. So this month I’m sending you Pappardelle v2, a top-to-bottom overhaul of my beloved little French Antique.

Pappardelle v2 Ulc

 

The first thing I did was bump up the x-height and make the thick horizontals a whole lot thicker. In the caps, they went from roughly a quarter of the cap height to a third. These new proportions and increased density feel closer to the Condensed French Antiques made by Wood Type manufacturers in the second half of the nineteenth century. The thin vertical strokes and geometric curves are closer to Pappardelle Party, the stencil color variable experiment I made in 2018. And like Pappardelle Party, the curves are now less organic and more geometric; it’s easier to see the point at which straight segments become curves. 

I also decided that I didn’t need to stick so close to historical precedent. I made the vertical serifs in L, T, etc. as long as I could, and let the crossbars of E and F extend out to the outermost edge of the letterform. I also separated serifs from curves by adding elongated inktrap-like divots to a majority of the lowercase and a handful of the uppercase (C, G, S). Not only do these divots make the letters more readable, they make them feel even more elongated than they actually are. Letters like M and N get their own type of divot when slab serifs collide with their diagonal strokes.

Pappardelle v2 compare

 

Horizontal stress is always a bit of an awkward fit with the Latin script, and tension arises when some letters (like H) get overrun with super-thick serifs and others (like O) don’t. The serifs in this style carry so much weight that everything is thrown off balance, especially in letters like E or p which have serifs on one side but not the other. 

One solution would be to reduce the serif length. But it’s a Slab Serif font...the serifs are kinda the point! The old Pappardelle used judicious letterspacing to alleviate some of this tension, following typographic convention by letting the serifs pack closer together and giving more breathing room to the round characters (compare man and ese in the image above.) This tracked-out feeling was nice in logos (like Matter’s logo for Knoll), but caused the headlines to lose some punch.

Now, the new Pappardelle packs tight. You can still track it out if you want to, but by default it will set taut, frenetic headlines. I only cared about one thing when spacing this typeface: making as many 8-unit gaps between serifs as possible, balanced letterspacing be damned. The result is so simple it’s essentially spaced like wood type: the H sidebearing is 4 units, the O sidebearing is 4 units, and pretty much every other letter follows suit.

Pappardelle v2 UC

In the uppercase, this creates dense bands and the top and bottom of each line, something I’ve seen referred to as “the railroad track effect.” The 8-unit gaps between letters creates a rhythm that punctuates these bands, which is further reinforced by the 8-unit divots and 8-unit gaps within the letters. As you can see in the samples above, I’ve been having fun with drop shades and stroking the outside of the letters at 0.65% of the font size, which ends up being just enough to fill those gaps.

What happens in the lowercase is much more complex…there’s a lot more asymmetry and you really start to feel the push and pull between serifed and unserifed shapes. Serifs ascend and descend to disrupt the railroad track effect, and overhanging/underhanging serifs jut out into the space of the next letter and disrupt the spacing.

Mostly, I decided that this is a feature, not a bug—the imbalance only adds to the typeface’s newfound frenetic energy—but I did take some small steps to mitigate these disruptions. I tweaked serif lengths slightly to compensate for asymmetry, and employed contextual alternates to help minimize spacing in especially tricky letter combinations. And I added stylistic alternates with short descenders that help out when you want to pack lines closer together. (You can also let lines overlap…the nice thing about horizontal stress is that the tops and bottoms of letters are not necessary for legibility!)

This didn’t turn out anything like that sign I found in Vermont, but I did throw in a straight-sided alternate A in its honor. Enjoy it, and have a wonderful December! 🤠

Pappardelle v2 alts