Meet Inkwell

New from H&Co, Inkwell is a tiny universe of fonts in which handwriting meets formal typography.

Sixteen years ago this week, I was designing my wedding invitations. The invitations were set in my typefaces, and printed by a friend who runs a letterpress shop in Berkeley, and the enclosing envelopes were hand-addressed by a calligrapher. Each kind of letterform served a different purpose: the type was dignified, and the calligraphy was personal. But I never really figured out what to do with the map.

Out-of-town guests would need a sophisticated map of the venue, explaining how to get there by road, rail, and air, where they might park, and some sort of assurance that it really was safe to take the subway. Set in type, this looked too institutional: it didn’t feel like it came from the bride and groom, but rather from someone’s marketing communications department. But rendered in calligraphy, it looked ridiculous. I felt like I was directing my friends and relatives to a wedding in Middle Earth.

My dream was to letter this myself. Not in fussy, mannered calligraphy, but in simple block printing, something that was an extension of my own handwriting. I’d have done this, had I the time, skill, and patience. Instead, I filed away an idea for later, that somewhere there might be a useful intersection of type, calligraphy, and handwriting, that might one day become a typeface. Something with the versatility of type, not only because it could be summoned from the keyboard, but because it would have methodical drawings and spacing, a proper character set, and the kinds of relationships that designers depend on — italics, small caps, and so on. But it would also have the expressive dimension of handwriting, with writing’s ability to fluidly change styles to suit the message. (When something is important, I find myself dropping my longhand script in favor of letterspaced capitals, but still punctuating these with the occasional cursive “of” or “for.”) I imagined that a sufficiently large family of types could do the same thing, so I set to work on a prototype as a proof-of-concept for the idea. After simmering for more than a decade, we picked up the project last year, with H&Co typeface designer Jordan Bell leading the charge, and our Andy Clymer graciously lending an indispensable assist. Today we’re very pleased to introduce the result: Inkwell®, a collection of typefaces for expressive writing.

Not quite a typeface, or even a family of typefaces, Inkwell is more like a family of families, featuring a Serif, a Sans, a Script, a Blackletter, a Tuscan, and a set of Open capitals. While it’s designed for serious content — it can effortlessly dispatch detailed maps, complex reference books, or anything displayed in a digital app — Inkwell wears its attitude lightly. It’s “serious” in the sense of thorough, rather than earnest, speaking in a decidedly personal, authorial voice.

Inkwell explores six different genres of type with which readers already have strong associations. It begins with Inkwell Serif, a book face for text, designed to avoid any obvious typographic style and simply look like “plainly lettered text.” It’s provided in romans and italics, with small caps in both postures, with a few unexpectedly sophisticated touches like tabular figures, fractions, and symbols. These styles feature both swash caps and swash small caps, making it possible to dial up the typography’s whimsy in subtle increments.

Inkwell Sans is the companion sans serif, provided in the same twelve parallel styles, again with small caps and numerics throughout. Its capitals are reminiscent of inscriptional lettering, taking nicely to letterspacing, and its lowercase is again designed to be unmannered in style. Where the sans roman was based on my handwriting (or rather, an idealized version of what I might be able to print with great care), the sans italic is the product of Jordan’s hand, and brings a touch of signpainting to the Inkwell family, especially in its heaviest weights.

Designers have been asking us for a script since we first opened for business in 1989, and we’re very pleased to answer with Inkwell Script. Like the rest of the family, Inkwell Script strives to be informal, avoiding the fussiness of the studied calligrapher, and speaking instead with the confidence and joy of an enthusiastic writer. We’ve included small caps in all of its weights, so that acronyms and abbreviations can be set more easily, something you might appreciate if your name ends with “iii.”

I’ve always had a deep fondness for gothic forms, and couldn’t resist making Inkwell Blackletter a part of the family. It’s tempting to write off the blackletter as an archaic style, but it’s very much alive today, and remains the easiest way to signal gravity in anything you do. It’s ceremonial for weddings and graduations, and adds a dash of tradition to the rustic and highbrow alike. Law journals and heavy metal bands both rely on blackletter typefaces for their gravitas, in admittedly different directions. Inkwell Blackletter is happy to serve both masters.

Because written letters can often take a turn for the fancy, we’ve designed Inkwell Tuscan as the decorative member of the family. Tuscan faces are nineteenth century inventions that feature fishtailed serifs, an idea that we’ve implemented in an unusual way to ensure that even serif-free letters like O can be fully embellished. As it progresses from light to dark, Inkwell Tuscan takes on very different flavors, from sweet and bucolic to boisterously burlesque.

The final style is Inkwell Open, a set of capitals inspired by the sorts of letters used by engineers. My father was a theatrical set designer, and I remember his titling his shop drawings in a style like this. I’ve since seen letters like these on blueprints, patent applications, and technical drawings, and even reduced to geometry on a lettering stencil. Open capitals are a useful way to identify something as a heading, or to indicate that something is otherwise elevated above the text.

The entire Inkwell family is designed to be used interchangeably, which opens up some interesting opportunities for designers. At the scale of the paragraph, it means that designers who are accustomed to shifting roman type to italic or bold will have new options, and can move from serif to sans, or script, or swash small caps, or blackletter, to achieve different distances from the center. At the scale of the word, it means that letterforms from different styles can be juxtaposed in unexpected ways — sometimes invisibly, other times with great flourish — making Inkwell a powerful tool for creating logotypes. Included in the Inkwell gallery you’ll find artwork that mixes blackletter capitals with the roman lowercase (and vice versa), script capitals with sans serif roman small caps, blackletter caps with tuscan caps, roman swash caps with the blackletter lowercase, and more. Each of Inkwell’s styles is provided in the same six weights, from Thin to Ultra, yielding a total of 48 font styles, which today we’re introducing at a special price, for those designers looking add something new to their stables. On behalf of everyone at H&Co, I hope you’ll find a place for Inkwell in your collection, and I look forward to seeing how it serves you! —JH

Introducing Obsidian

I’ve always wanted to create a decorative display face in the Regency style, one of those stout, industrial alphabets enlivened by bright, detailed illumination. Toward the end of our Surveyor project, a deep exploration of engraved map lettering, this idea started to feel especially relevant: engraved maps were often badged with elaborate title pieces, and the more time we spent with these hatched and shadowed letters, the more we could imagine how some of their visual qualities could be successfully interpreted in a contemporary typeface — and one that would be useful and relevant to designers today. But then there was the matter of draftsmanship: how do you do it? Type design is still largely a manual art, and the thought of devoting years of our lives to drawing tiny curlicues was a bleak prospect indeed. Like the best of dead ends, this was where things started to become interesting.

I’d been discussing this puzzle with Andy Clymer, a senior typeface designer at H&Co. As part of the Surveyor design team, Andy had spent a lot of time with the heaviest members of that family, the ones most closely connected with the Regency style. An accomplished programmer and a procedural thinker generally, Andy had taken a short sabbatical in 2013 to attend the first class of the School for Poetic Computation, an artist-run school in New York that explores the intersections of code, design, and theory. Returning with some fresh ideas about particle studies and 3D modeling, Andy and I met to reframe the project: what sorts of rapid prototyping tools could we build to help explore different options, and how might these help us execute our ideas across the massive scale demanded by a contemporary typeface? Not content to be a mere set of decorated capitals, our typeface would need 1,400 glyphs spanning both roman and italic styles, bringing its esprit to the most esoteric of punctuation marks and accents.

Ultimately, Andy’s scripts would become an entire suite of proprietary tools for interpreting two-dimensional letterforms as three-dimensional objects, through the application of virtual light sources that vary in position, angle, and intensity. Like the best projects at H&Co, the typeface was shaped not only by exchanges between designer and editor, but by the iterative cycle of what the tools can do, what we need the tools to do, and what the tools turn out to be able to do that we didn’t foresee going in. After 53 weeks in development, I’m proud to present a project that seemed unattainable just 54 weeks ago: the new Obsidian® typeface, from the designers at H&Co.

Introducing Landmark

In 1999, we received an irresistible commission from Michael Bierut at Pentagram: to design a typeface for Lever House, one of New York’s most significant architectural landmarks. In a neighborhood of skyscrapers designed simply to warehouse the maximum amount of rentable real estate, Lever House is a rare building with thoughtful urban values, featuring a grand public colonnade, a welcoming sculpture garden, and an enormous setback that showcases that rarest of midtown luxuries: the sky.

The typeface we created was an airy sans serif, patterned after the existing lettering on the building’s Park Avenue window, and related to the style of its cornerstone inscription. The project revealed some interesting discoveries about the way architects use capital letters, and how a typeface designed specifically for architecture could serve designers especially well. A decade after completing the project, we set about creating a collection of decorative variations inspired the material and environmental qualities of buildings: the interplay of structure and surface, the effects of shadow and light, and the transformative power of perspective. Bringing typographic qualities to mechanical forms turned out to be a formidable challenge, but a fascinating one, ultimately absorbing our designers for more than a year. The result is the family of four new typefaces that we’re delighted to introduce: Landmark Regular, Inline, Shadow, and Dimensional.

For Immediate Release

October 25 has been designated World Pasta Day, and as part of typography’s contribution to this important initiative, we’re pleased to share the following: an excerpt from the typeface “Nr. 941. Dubbelmittel (corps 28),” as it appears in Berlingska Stilguteriet Stilprof, a type specimen book from the Berlingska type foundry of Lund, Sweden, circa 1900. It is a dimensionally extruded ring accent, shaped like a piece of rigatoni.

This concludes our contribution to World Pasta Day. See you in 2011. —JH

An Enchanted Alphabet

I have a special affection for decorated letters, especially the ornamented designs of the nineteenth century. You know the kind: they're chubby Regency typefaces, slab serifs or high-contrast ‘Fat Faces,’ mostly, whose surfaces are emblazoned with intricate patterns or pastoral scenes. The collection of L. J. Pouchée contains some genuine masterpieces that I’ve long admired, letters festooned with grapevines or peonies or cobblestones, or illuminated with bucolic vignettes of farmer at the plough. “We should really do something in this vein,” I once said to one of our designers. “Covered in fax machines, or pigeons?” he quipped. I dropped the topic.

Designer Jeanie Nelson has picked it up. On her blog Jeanie & Jewell, she’s exhibiting a wonderful collection of ornamented capitals of her own invention, and they are absolutely enchanting. There are so many things to love about these that I hardly know where to begin: the cheery colors whose roles change from letter to letter, the witty imagery that conceals more than a few oblique puns, the whimsical way she tweaks the nose of typographic convention whenever the spirit moves her. (Most type designers start with the sober letter H that serves as a template for the rest of the design; Jeanie Nelson’s H, right now, is having more fun than any H that’s ever lived.) I’m delighted by this design not only because of its squirrels, dragons, pineapples and ice cream cones, but because it pays homage to a potent and beloved historical style without ever becoming a stuffy museum piece in period dress. That the koala bear in the K is climbing a letter made of wood just makes it doubly fantastic. —JH

Sham Rock

I have for exactly one year been waiting to open up the monumental copy of Ornamented Types of L. J. Pouchée that we have in the office, to find the example of the delicately curlicued shamrock type that historian James Mosley attributed to an unknown punchcutter he designated “Master of the Creeping Tendril,” and to post it here.

This is not that type. It turns out that Pouchée never made a shamrock type: what I was remembering was this, the Eight Lines Pica Egyptian Ornamented No. 2 of Bower & Bacon (1826), illustrated in Nicolete Gray’s Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces. It is surely not the work of any Master, though perhaps it lends credence to the widely-circulated tale which holds that Mrs. Gray illustrated parts of her book by hand, rather than reproducing the work photographically. I’ve never heard an explanation for why this should be so, but there’s no denying that the bluntness of these forms suggests the pen more than the graver.


Wearable Rococo

Look up and you’ll see the floriated, ornamented, shaded letters of our logo (l. gravura tuscana), as well as an italic cousin used for the News, Notes & Observations nameplate. I have a special fondness for these kinds of letters, which reflect a synthesis of traditions from both typemaking and engraving. Is it therefore any wonder that I love these alphabet brooches from Bena Clothing, spotted by our friends at Design Sponge? They’re made from laser-etched cheery veneer over mahogany, thoughtfully offered as set of 53 pieces with duplicates of popular letters. (I wonder how the frequency distribution of initials differs from that of other kinds of words: extra Js, I imagine?) —JH

Heavy Metal

Photos: Left: Johan de Zoete, Stichting Museum Enschedé; Right: James Mosley

Four hundred years after Gutenberg’s death, “metal type” was still being made the way he made it. Using files and gravers, a steel rod was cajoled into the shape of a backwards letter; this steel ‘punch’ was struck into a brass blank, called a ‘matrix,’ which would serve as a mold for the casting of individual pieces of lead type. (The term ‘lead type’ is a convenience: the material of printing type is more accurately called ‘type metal,’ as it contains a special typefounders’ blend of lead, tin, and antimony.)

This elaborate pas de cinque requires five different materials, each chosen for a different metallurgical property. Steel’s tensile strength helps it hold small details and resist the blow of the hammer; the malleability of brass makes it a good candidate for receiving the steel; lead, cheap and abundant, has a low melting point; tin is more fluid than lead when molten (yet more durable than lead when it hardens); and antimony is highly crystalline, giving printing types more crisply defined edges.

The few typefaces that have departed from this process have done so for very good reason. Common were large typefaces that would have been impractical to cut in steel (and impossible to strike into brass) which were instead made as wood forms, which were pressed into sand molds from which metal type was cast. But a lingering mystery are the Chalcographia in the collection of the Enschedé foundry in Haarlem, said to have been made with ‘brass punches.’ James Mosley corrects the record on his Typefoundry blog, explaining the types’ unusual gestation through a convoluted five-part process. The photographs, like the types themselves, are marvelous. —JH

Fantasy League Typography

One of the things I most love about the design of the late nineteenth century is its unpredictability. Across all of the decorative arts there was a strong emphasis on novelty, and a succession of new technologies made it easier than ever to execute these strange and untested ideas. (You can see this in the terra cotta work of architect Louis Sullivan, or the elaborate inlays of furniture designer Gustav Herter.) The period was a riot of ornament, and to be sure, much of the work was awful: most of what we remember today is hopelessly cliché, or cloyingly overwrought. But then there are moments like these.

Above is a piece of nineteenth century engraving, which looks as if it might have been the product of a CalArts group project by Wim Crouwel and Louise Fili. (The rest of my fantasy league is no less oddball; images after the jump evoke Jonathan Barnbrook vs. John Downer, and Max Kisman vs. Marian Bantjes.) These excerpts come from an incredible collection of American sheet music from the period 1850-1920, currently being exhibited online by Duke University. The documents from the 1870s are my favorites, many of which are from the hand of an engraver named Reed (note his signature hiding in the fourth image below.) His stylistic pairings are among the more remarkable — above, the constructed sans serif and swelled rules are unexpected bedfellows. But some of my favorite moments are those in which unrelated visual agendas collide in the letterforms themselves. Is there anything more fabulous than the monoline blackletter of “Mazurka Elegante” below, or the squared-off shapes of the final line, “Tiny Birdlings of the Air?” Will you check out that lowercase g? —JH

An Early Snowtype

The snow-themed alphabets below all belong to the world of lettering rather than typography, but typefounders have made their share of snow-covered fonts as well. Some of these go back quite a bit further than I imagined, as I learned this afternoon: at lunch, Tobias mentioned offhandedly that he remembered being surprised to see a snow-covered typeface in a specimen book from Weimar Germany. “I don’t remember which book it was,” he added, a sure-fire way of triggering a typographic wild goose chase at the office.

Half an hour later, and covered in dusty fragments of brittle yellow paper, we found it. Naturally it was in none of the specimen books that we thought to check first, from the Bauer, Berthold, Klingspor, Ludwig and Mayer, Schelter & Giesecke, Schriftguss, Klinkhardt, C. E. Weber, or Flinsch foundries. It was lurking on page 120p of Die Haupt Probe, otherwise known as The Behemoth: the 1,478-page, six-kilogram, scanner-breaking type specimen of the Stempel Foundry, issued in 1925, and thought to be the largest typefoundry specimen book ever produced. Behold Schneekönigin, a snow-capped adaptation of the Fette Teutonia typeface. Like the book that contained it, it is equal parts delightful and menacing. —JH

My Big Fat Grecian Lettering

Greek Week Continues!

Making good on his standing promise to rid the world of enamel signs, and warehouse them in the office for our personal amusement, Tobias came across this little bit of heaven in a local antique shop. The full image features a stalwart gent in lederhosen hoisting a beer stein, but for typophiles, this is where all the action is: cousin to the Grecian italic, it’s a (1) faceted (2) chromatic (3) blackletter that would have made a nice auxiliary to our Knox typeface. Three great tastes that taste great together! — JH

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