In the spring of 2021 I followed the “From the Lettering to the Font” course on Domestika by Type-Ø-Tones. The aim is to create your own alphabet based on found lettering. I used an old Crisco advert as the basis for Apium.
The lettering on the advert appealed because it had a serif font. I have a love/hate relationship with serif fonts. They are tricky. Lovely when used by others, but I struggle with them. I figured that if I create a serif font it might help with my appreciation for them. Or at least figure out what it is I find tricky.
The first draft of Apium follows the original lettering. Letters not in the advert take direction from existing letters. I used modular shapes in Illustrator to create the glyphs. Then transferred the character set to Glyphs and cleaned up the shapes. The result is a very rigid looking font. Compared with the advert I find it misses the vibe the advert has. Serif fonts are still tricky.
In the autumn of 2021 I joined the Practica type design course led by Nicole Dotin and Sol Matas. The course is a fast track dive into type design, covering the history, the mechanics and the practice. I chose Apium as my font to improve and expand on. One of the first things we did was to write a brief.
Inspired by an old Crisco advert, Apium is a bold serif display typeface. Like shortening it has a solid feel, but contains softer elements to give a more tender texture. Apium will be suitable for headlines, posters and packaging. Best used at large sizes, but also fine for body text that needs to make an impact. It will work both for print and online use with Latin extended language support.
Evolution during the course
Practica taught me about workflow, curves, contrast, metrics, optics, axes, expansion and spacing. Apium transformed into a serif typeface I can live with.
Increasing the x-height gives the letters more space to breathe.
Adjusting the vertical counters of o, e and g to match the counters of a and n.
Better contrast distribution for the digits 2, 4, 5 and 7.
The serifs were a battle all the way through. The shape changed from hard lines to something softer. In the end I settled on hard lines for the thin master and slight slanted lines for the black master.
Expanding to a thin master was challenging. It was a case of trial and error to find the right level of contrast in the thin weight to match the black.
Adding Latin Plus support with diacritics and non-English characters, symbols, currency and all the rest.
Some letters have a reputation to be tricky. The s for example. I found that during the course every single glyph went through a tricky phase. But none so more than the lowercase g.
... and spacing. Main takeaway from Practica: “Always Be Spacing”.
Result at the end of the course
At the end of the course Apium had five weights and a much better appearance.
Reflection after the course
Practica gave me a different perspective on type design. A typeface is more than a collection of glyphs. It starts with an idea and becomes a typeface by applying a huge amount of meticulous craft. Like spinning several plates at the same time, where each plate spins in unison with the other ones.
I discovered what I find tricky about serif typefaces: capitals. Especially words or sentences in all caps. But all in all I am now more comfortable with serif typefaces. They will never be my first love, but I have come to appreciate their peculiarities.
I also revisited the brief for Apium.
Inspired by an old Crisco advert, Apium is a serif typeface with a classic vibe. Like shortening it has a solid feel, but contains softer elements to give a more tender texture. The typeface has five weights.
The light and black weights work best at large sizes – 16pt and above. Use them for headlines, short standout text paragraphs, posters, packaging, etc . The middle weights, Regular, Medium and Bold, are suitable for longer text.
Apium works for screen and print. It has Latin extended language support, tabular and old style numbers, basic maths, currency symbols and some ligatures.
Adding the italic
One of the guest lectures during Practica was Hendrik Weber with a lecture about true italics. The glyphs of a true italic are more than slanted versions of the roman. Instead they follow the line of handwriting without outshining the roman characters.
Diving into italics opened up a whole new world of discoveries. Characters are narrower. Not all the serifs on a glyph are the same, some are straight and some are round to reflect the movement of the pen. And italics on the whole have fewer serifs. Hurrah! (sorry)
At some point I got intrigued by variable fonts. I thought it would be cool to have a variable font transitioning from roman to italic. It is possible, but if you want a smooth transition it requires an awful lot of extra nodes in the roman master. So I let that one go on this occasion.
Two other Practica guest lecturers were Maria Doreuli and Krista Radoeva. Earlier this year I joined their Cyrillicsly courses to expand Apium with cyrillic. I did both the Roman and Italic course.
I was keen to learn about other scripts besides latin. Turns out cyrillic is pretty complex. The basic character set is 33 letters covering the Russian language. Other cyrillic languages have extra characters and different versions for the base ones. To add to the fun some characters are completely different when written in italic.
I enjoyed the experience, but it is hard to learn when you do not speak a cyrillic language. Proofing text in a language you don’t understand helps to focus on the shapes of the glyphs without the distraction of reading the words. But with latin script you can use real words to view particular letters in context. Much harder to do with a script you don’t know.
It’s live! You can buy it on a well know font selling platform if you want. The cyrillic is not yet released. One day I will revisit it again to create a companion sans serif.