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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It didn’t take long before I was sketching, and I started the font that would become Zenith DJR on the plane ride home.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
De Vinne is a fresh Victorian take on the traditional oldstyle, with distinctive diagonal stress, open forms, and heavy bracketing in the serifs. Named for the famed nineteenth century printer Theodore Low De Vinne, De Vinne was designed in the 1890s by Gustav Schroeder and Nicholas Werner of the Central Type Foundry. It stands apart from the vast majority of nineteenth century types, which were drawn in the upright “modern” style or one of its myriad variations.
I first became interested in the De Vinne style in 2015, when Indra Kupferschmid invited me to tag along on a visit to the workshop of Patrick Goossens. Patrick is a collector in Antwerp with an amazing array of presses and type, and among the slabs and grots in his wood type collection I found this bizarre ugly duckling. Even though I only emerged with the blurry photo below, I was charmed by its clunkiness and the unforgettable tension between the historicized look of the oldstyle letterforms and the rational mind of the Victorian designer.
This offbeat “Elzevir” type made me wonder: can a typeface be simple and ornate at the same time? The idea sat around for a while, until Nick Sherman suggested that I take another look at De Vinne. Shortly thereafter I found myself in the lovely studio of Okay Type’s Jackson Cavanaugh surrounded by his vast array of specimen books. Examining De Vinne with fresh eyes, I loved what was happening in its narrower styles. And then, sitting in Jackson’s studio, I started to draw.
I’ve already explored the Victorian “faux-oldstyle” with my typeface Turnip, and this time I wanted to do something different. While Turnip embraced its chunkiness, Roslindale is slick and high-contrast, which I think serves to exaggerate its oldstyle attributes: the swooping wedge-like vertical serifs on the E, the round tops of the D and R, the diagonal stress of the e, the blobby terminal of the a, the sharp arches in m.
It’s worth mentioning that Roslindale’s slender forms and high contrast start to relate to 1970s reinterpretations of this style like ITC Bernase. This wasn’t intentional, but I’m kind of into it!
In creating the Font of the Month Club, one of my goals was to push myself to experiment quickly with ideas that could eventually turn into full families. I think Roslindale is a great candidate for that, and I’m already playing with a text version.
Earlier this month, I sent Roslindale Condensed to Font of the Month Club members, and they are already starting to put it to use. It is still available to new members until the end of June — just one more week — so sign up now!
Thank you to Slanted Magazine for featuring Font of the Month Club! (in German)
Last week, I had the pleasure of attending An Event Apart Boston, where I got to hear some great talks, chat with some interesting designers about type on the web, and meet web standards pioneer and Forma-user Jeffrey Zeldman.
On the final day of the conference, Jen Simmons led an incredible workshop on CSS Grid, where she not only explained the new syntax but the concepts behind it. Even though I spend more time designing type than I do designing websites, I was blown away at the potential for designing on a new level with this technology, and I could not wait to try it out myself.
So, as a first test of how I could use CSS grid, I created this colorful and responsive character showing of Nickel, May’s Font of the Month.
That shaded style that you see is Nickel Open Face, now available as a bonus offering for those who join my Font of the Month Club in May!