October’s font of the month: Clavichord

clavichord djr sample

In my worldview, typography has always lived at this fascinating intersection of history, technology and problem-solving/design, and I often approach my work through one or more of those lenses. But recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how type can also work on a visceral level, designed to evoke an emotional response rather than a historical connotation or general sense of elegance or craftsmanship.

There seems to a moment happening right now for this kind of expressive type design. I had the privilege of attending Les Rencontres de Lure this summer and was able to discuss this topic with a number of boundary-pushing French designers (including several members of Velvetyne Type Foundry). It is also a recurring theme in this recent interview with Jules Durand.

All of this led me to unearth a spindly blackletter that I started a couple years ago and abandoned shortly thereafter. I didn’t return to the design because I love the style or because think it is particularly useful. I returned to it because it makes my skin crawl.

clavichord specimen

This month, I’m sending you that spindly blackletter, which I’ve called Clavichord. I found its jumping-off point back in 2017 while browsing the private library of a friend here is Western Massachusetts. (Fun fact: this was actually the same day that I encountered the book that led to the creation of Klooster, December 2017’s Font of the Month.)

I spent a bunch of time with an 1860 tome called The History of Ink, published by one of the largest ink manufacturers at the time. Thanks in large part to the help of Florian Hardwig and the Fonts in Use moderators, there is now a post on Fonts in Use that showcases many of the typefaces used in this over-the-top book.

Cuneiform in use
Italian Text / Cuneiform, as used in The History of Ink, 1860.

Of course, Madisonian steals the show as the book’s main text face, but my attention quickly turned to the bony, frail textura at the top of the first page. Called Italian Text or Cuneiform, depending on where you look, this typeface isn’t even the most beautiful American blackletter of that era. I guess what I appreciated about it was its ability to be both beautiful and a little icky at the same time.

This dichotomy is something that I tried to push even further in my interpretation of the design. Unlike the straightforward revival I took on last month, Clavichord takes many more liberties with the concepts set forth in the source material.

It is anchored by a distinctive “sparkle” shape, an abstraction of the diamond-like form made by a broadnib pen held at 45°. (It is certainly not alone in adopting something like this; recent examples include this striking piece by Wei Huang and Frida Medrano’s Jabin typeface.)

But Clavichord’s connection to the broadnib pen ends there; the rest of the typeface descends into lavish Victorian excess, with spirals, decorative ball terminals, and hairlines so razor-thin that they virtually disappear.

In the end, I added a variable Optical Size axis that allows you to control the hairlines thickness, keeping them at 0.5pt from 76pt to 332pt!

Clavichord variable font

I’ll admit that this was a hard typeface to draw, and it might prove to be an even harder typeface to use. But I hope you can find a place in your designs to add a little “ick factor,” even if it’s just a drop cap or some words on top of a big photo. Happy Halloween!

Clavichord is October’s installment of Font of the Month Club. As always, you can sign up for as little as $24!

Clavichord variable font

DJR Open Studio 2

Group

Photo taken by Angela, courtesy of Matthew

I can’t thank everyone enough for participating in my Open Studio earlier this month! I am so happy with the group we had...there wasn’t a bad apple in the bunch. 🍎

We had a great group of speakers on Saturday afternoon. We heard about everything from lettering to machine learning, from responsive design to font licensing, from impostor syndrome to augmented reality. I’m sorry I don’t have photos of all the speakers...as the sun went down, the photos got blurrier, but hopefully this will give you an idea!

I am so bad at taking photos, and I’m even worse when there are so many cool people around and so much cool stuff going on. I’m grateful to those who contributed their snapshots so that I could have some documentation of the event here on the blog.

Group
Friday hike, Rainbow over the antiques barn
Group
Friday hike, cemetery stop (Khánh is busy posting great instagram stories of the event)
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Stop at the Historical Society
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Dinner, drinks, and music at the Conway Inn
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
On our way to Apple picking
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Apple picking
Group
Sooo many apples
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Group
Micah hanging out at the orchard
Group
Maple soft serve at Hager’s
Photo by Gor Jihanian
Group
Hanging out
Group
Browsing the bookshelves
Photo by Khánh Pham
Group
Gor speaking
Photo by Khánh Pham
Group
Lynne speaking
Photo by Khánh Pham
Group
Marie, Cem, and Nic speaking
Group
Mirko splits wood
Group
Joyce tells campfire horror stories (about font licensing, of course)
Group
Dinner
Group
Sunday morning view
Group
Hanging out at Elmer’s Store

Sketch supports variable fonts!

I’m very happy to share that my variable fonts are now supported in Sketch! Here’s a sneak peek of my in-progress Condor Variable working in the latest version.

sketch supports variable fonts

Announced this week on the Sketch blog, Sketch 59 also has improved support for OpenType features. Variable axis sliders can be found right next to the Font Style menu, just like in Illustrator.

Between this news and other design apps making strides to support OpenType features, I am very excited to see support and enthusiasm for variable fonts from the makers of the latest UI design tools. I hope this helps everyone use my variable fonts to their full potential!

September’s font of the month: Lautsprecher DJR

Lautsprecher DJR is September’s installment of Font of the Month Club. Sign up this month to get this revival as well as two mystery fonts for as little as $24!

lautsprecher djr sample

This club has explored many typographic genres in the past couple years, but there is one that I have conspicuously neglected: cursive scripts. I don’t have a lot of experience working in this genre, and I’m honestly not sure I’d be any good at it.

I mention this only to acknowledge that this month’s revival of Lautsprecher is the ultimate connected script cop-out. The typeface fills the role of a connected script, but is actually a curious hybrid of cursive capitals and an italic sans-serif lowercase.

lautsprecher specimen
Lautsprecher specimen, Ludwig & Mayer, 1931. Image courtesy of Letterform Archive.

Lautsprecher (German for “loudspeaker”) was created by Jakob Erbar, a German professor and designer active in the early part of the 20th century. He is best known for his eponymous Erbar-Grotesk, a prototypical geometric sans published by Ludwig & Mayer in 1926 and recently reimagined as Dunbar by CJ Dunn in 2016. (CJ is also the person who taught me how to skateboard, but that is a whole other story!)

Ludwig & Mayer published Lautsprecher in 1931, and unfortunately, I don’t know much about the life of the design after that. Erbar died in 1935, and Ludwig & Mayer’s foundry in Frankfurt was destroyed in 1943 during World War II. When the company re-emerged after the war, Lautsprecher was nowhere to be found in its catalog.

lautsprecher djr

In 2015, a specimen for this funky pseudo-script made its way to Letterform Archive in San Francisco as a part of the Tholenaar Collection. And thanks to some cheerleading from Stephen Coles, that is where it caught my attention.

It has been said that not every typeface needs to be revived, and I don’t disagree. Even though Lautsprecher may not be the greatest typeface of all time, I think is just too damn charming too ignore.

I love its details, like the itty-bitty serifs, the hooks on the L and J, and the distinctive diamond terminal on the r. I love its subtle bottom-heaviness and how it incorporates both geometric and organic forms. And I love how Erbar dealt with the constraint of the metal block, chopping off letters like S so that they did not need to hang over the following letter.

I am someone who was taught that a typeface is “a beautiful collection of letters, not a collection of beautiful letters.” But Lautsprecher’s little idiosyncrasies are a helpful reminder that there is some flexibility in how systematic a typeface needs to be.

DJR at Letterform Archive
Me at Letterform Archive, checking stuff in front of bookshelves (sorry, I couldn’t resist!)

After Crayonette in 2017 and Bradley in 2018, Lautsprecher is the third summertime revival I’ve done for the club. I’m thinking about making it a tradition!

Of course, many thanks to Stephen and Letterform Archive for providing these resources and for encouraging me to take on the revival. I encourage you to pay them a visit the next time you are in the Bay Area, and if you have a few bucks to spare, you can consider donating to their new home so they can continue preserving and sharing great design.