Designing Armitage

This is the doorway to The Claremount, an apartment building in Manhattan. I think that it was built in the 1890s. Those letters over the door just reached out and grabbed me from across the street and I had a typeface coming on.

The Claremount, 229–31 East 12 St, New York.

I had been studying this style of letters on similar buildings in Washington, D.C., and something about them always felt a little dull. But in the Claremount letters I found life in the charming way the awkward proportions and loose spacing came together.

Screenshot of the Claremount font in FontLab.

So I set about designing a Claremount typeface. A few hours later I had drawn what looked like an incompetent attempt to revive Eurostile. I felt the ghost of Aldo Novarese stabbing me in the kidneys every time I looked at it. Clearly these letters would not carry their charm from cast concrete to vectors.

Egyptian Letters from Poilkilographia (1812) by Samuel Coates, from The Nymph and the Grot p. 38

But I still saw potential in those wonky letters. So I stuck them into a lower layer and began drawing something over them. Inculcated with strategies absorbed in life drawing classes I prefer to draw from a model. I did not want to revive any particular typeface, so I put aside my specimen books and looked at the images in The Nymph and the Grot, James Mosley’s history of the early development of sans types.

Engraved by H. Moses for the book Household Furniture (1807), from The Nymph and the Grot p. 36

The “Egyptian Letters” on page 36 and in fig. 28 of The Nymph and the Grot predated any sans type, much less one hundred fifty years of efforts to smooth off every rough edge of the genre. Some of the Egyptian letters were downright weird and they oozed vitality. These images became my model for the Armitage capitals. I drew a matching lowercase without a model, focusing on harmony with the capitals.

Proof of an early version of Armitage
Proof of an early version of Armitage.

I was tempted to release the typeface as an oddball single-weight historical design, but the alphabet just did not work—at least not in a way that suited this century. A mix of odd terminal styles and angles were clashing in a way that looked like Franklin Gothic at war with Stephenson Blake’s Grotesque No. 8. It came together as a messy whole in the way a crowd does at a punk/metalcore doubleheader. Paul Shaw urged me to update the design by harmonizing the terminals of C, G, S, c, g, s, and a.

Proof of Light and Black weights used to reconcile differences.

Somewhere along the way I had also lost interest in the idea of a single weight and drawn a thin version. After it was done I harmonized the two and interpolated a regular weight, which needed a serious overhaul to fix problems caused by interpolating from extremes. By the time I was happy with the roman masters and knew they would interpolate properly it was mid-October, and with designers wrapping up their holiday ad work it seemed like a bad time to release a new typeface. So I started on the italics, and got through January developing the complete twelve-font family.

Note: Images from The Nymph and the Grot were used with the kind permission of James Mosley.

James Puckett left a career in IT to study at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC, where he graduated with honors. While at the Corcoran he developed a passion for typography that resulted in a thesis on versatility in type design. The interest in type design sparked by his thesis led James to pursue commercial type design after graduation. James now resides in Manhattan where he designs type for release through his foundry, Dunwich Type Founders.