Color fonts or chromatic type are not new. The first production types appeared in the 1840s,1 reaching a peak of precision and complexity a few decades later as efficiencies in printing enabled greater creative freedom. In 1874 William H. Page of Greeneville, Connecticut, published his 100-page Specimens of Chromatic Type & Borders2 that still has the power to mesmerize designers today.
In my experience, life presents a fascinating series of opportunities, decisions and challenges, each of which impact us in different ways. Pushing and pulling us in various directions, and introducing new opportunities, decisions and challenges along the way. Of these experiences, one of the most special was my time at TypeParis.
The concept behind Thesaurus goes back to 2014, when I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in visual communications at the Haute École d’Art et Design, Geneva. My final project, ‘Genèva’, was to be a type family inspired by the city of Geneva itself, an attempt to answer the question ‘If Geneva were a typeface, what would it look like?’ My research into Geneva’s typographical history led me to the fascinating work of the Estiennes, Robert (1503–1559), printer to King Francis I and later to the reformer John Calvin, and his son Henri (1528?–1598), the printer, editor and publisher of the famous Thesaurus Græcæ Linguæ.
In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg entered into an agreement with one Johann Fust, a Mainzer goldsmith and guildsman, to borrow a staggering 800 Rheingulden at 6 percent interest. Gutenberg’s sales pitch must have been convincing, for Fust would later testify that he himself had borrowed money in order to fund the loan. Gutenberg sank the money into his workshop and promptly defaulted upon the interest payments. Fust must have been incandescent in his rage, and yet, two years later, as recorded in the inevitable court judgment, he would go on to lend Gutenberg another 800 Rheingulden on the condition that Gutenberg take on Fust’s adopted son, Peter Schöffer, as his foreman. Gutenberg assented, Schöffer was hired, and Fust paid out the second loan.
When I started the development of Proza, I didn’t want to deal with the limitations of a low-resolution rasterizer. As a result, Proza is completely stuffed with diagonal and curved lines, and tiny details that help to bring the texture alive in print, but that are something of a nightmare for a low-resolution rasterizer. As soon as Proza was done, however, I felt the need to make a version that would work well on digital screens, so I simply converted it to a web font, and made my own web test page to see how it would look. It looked as terrible as I expected, so I opened up the font and began editing; hesitantly at first, trying to keep as much of its character alive as possible, but more vigorously with every update. By the time I was done, only the skeleton of Proza remained. The result, Proza Libre, is released on Google Fonts, freely available to use for anybody under an open source license.
Grifo, the Portuguese word for griffin, a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. We can imagine how threatening this creature might appear, and would probably want to stay well clear of its sharp claws and beak. Grifo the typeface also has sharp serifs and terminals. It’s full of talon shapes, like the c, e, the bottom curve of the t, and, most obviously, in the commas and quotes. The name of such a hybrid creature like the griffin felt appropriate for a typeface that is itself a hybrid, both in terms of its letterforms and function. Grifo’s design draws on the rationality and extreme high stroke contrast of the neoclassic types, but has bracketed serifs and sharp triangular terminals, instead of ball terminals. Some serifs in the lowercase letters were removed, therefore a, d, and u are a mix of sans serif and serif forms. Moreover, because Grifo comprises different optical sizes, its suitable for both display and text settings.
The Renaissance affected change in every sphere of life, but perhaps one of its most enduring legacies are the letterforms it bequeathed to us. But their heritage reaches far beyond the Italian Renaissance to antiquity. In ancient Rome, the Republican and Imperial capitals were joined by rustic capitals, square capitals (Imperial Roman capitals written with a brush), uncials, and half-uncials, in addition to a more rapidly penned cursive for everyday use. From those uncial and half-uncial forms evolved a new formal book-hand practiced in France, that spread rapidly throughout medieval Europe.
Brim Narrow is a chromatic typeface. It has eight type styles, designed to stack together. Combining particular styles and assigning each a color produces a huge variety of visual effects.
The book in its present form is a product of evolution, serendipity, and design. Its size and proportions accommodations to the human form: the length of our arms; the type size a concession to our visual acuity. Ostensibly, the form of the book has changed little in the past 500 years. The very first printed or typographic books resembled their manuscript forebears, but as printing spread rapidly throughout Europe in the fifteenth century, the printed book took on its own, unique characteristics. Page numbers, running heads, indices, colophons, printing in color – some unknown to manuscript book production – soon became commonplace.