Brian Brubaker

Designer & Maker

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4

Herschel

Introduction

For many reasons, the world of type design has been slowly but surely luring me into its realm for the better part of two years.  One reason is because I’m simply human and drawn to those opportunities that challenge me to keep growing personally and professionally.  I thoroughly enjoy healthy doses of both failure and progress in the pursuit of doing what I'm passionate about to provide for my family and to better serve the world around me.

Over these past two years, I've started work on about seven different typeface designs and while I’m excited about each one in their various stages in the pipeline, I’ve only recently been able to afford the time to bring one out of adolescence into adulthood.

With that, I’d like to introduce you to the first of hopefully many of my typefaces: Herschel.

The Name

Whether you’re reading the humorous and intriguing research from the Freakonomics team or turning pages in the Bible (see Proverbs 22:1), one thing is clear: names are incredibly important and should be chosen carefully and thoughtfully.

I’m a deeply nostalgic person and can usually find ways to be sentimental with just about anything.  The reasons for the name and meaning behind my first font design is of course no exception.  That said though, nostalgia alone is hardly good enough reason for making important decisions, so here’s a brief look into the reasons why I chose “Herschel”.

Reason No. 1  – Nostalgia (as I’ve already divulged).

Herschel is the name of my maternal grandfather, Herschel Fike.  He retired from dairy farming just a few years ago and had been doing so since his early twenties.  He's a personal hero of mine, not because he's family and not because of any shallow romanticization of grandfathers as is more common these days, but because he's an incredible man who I've had the privilege of actually knowing and learning from who has countless qualities worth emulating.

Reason No. 2 – Ideal first impressions.

The name “Herschel” employs several of my favorite letters from the typeface that communicate a great deal of its character (pun intended, of course).  Letters like the "H", "R", "S", etc are all good examples of this.

Reason No. 3 – Context.

Whether it’s a typeface or any other kind of design, studying the all-too-often-overlooked history of things almost always leads to a better understanding and more accurate perspective of the work at hand.  Often times, this also brings an element of nuanced harmony and deeper meaning to the things we create by intentionally weaving our work together with the legacy and value of others.  For example, this typeface is an ornate flared serif inspired from various pieces of typography that were most popular and commonly seen in use from the late 19th century on into the early 20th century. So, not coincidentally, I chose the name “Herschel” in part because, according to various sources like this one, it appeared to have peaked in popularity around 1910, making it the perfect contextual ambassador into the 21st century as a modern typeface and font.

Inspiration

Below are just a few images that can serve as a basic cross section of the period aesthetics and technical inspiration behind Herschel.  Some of these examples are from my own collection of miscellaneous ephemera and some are from the Wild Wild Web.

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Initial Sketches

When I started designing Herschel,  it was for part of a branding project I was working on at the time.  We ended up taking that particular project in a different direction, however, my interest in the typeface I had started designing didn’t waver, so I decided to finish it.

Being pretty green in terms of actually constructing a functional font, I started most of the designs in Adobe Illustrator and then as I warmed up to it, began to transfer and perfect the foundational elements into Glyphs.  After the first few characters, I began working almost exclusively in Glyphs.

Below are a few basic illustrations to show some of that earlier construction and demonstrates how I got from one letter to another in some cases.  I also took a screenshot of the mess that is an .AI document with all different kinds of variations and explorations.

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After I got about halfway through the letter designs, I realized some of my widths were off and that everything needed to be more condensed to be a functionally cohesive font.  Of course, the “S”s were/are the toughest to tackle and the “L” and “T” are two examples of the letters that may have looked okay by themselves but when put into the context of the group, needed to be much more condensed (see below).

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I'm also almost finished changing over most of the serifs from the original sharp concave complexion to a slightly more refined and ornate design.  This changes the overall aesthetics of the font from borderline ghoulish horror to more classically 19th century ephemeral aesthetics

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Title Card/Specimen Images

I haven't been able to spend the time I'd like on specimen images but here are some of the directions I've played with so far so you can get an idea of where I'm headed with them.  I've also been playing with varying styles along the way because I want to be able to use the font in varied contexts while still making historical sense in terms of use (see colonial era "join or die" design vs. 20th century style dairy advertisement)

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I am working toward building Herschel out into a family from condensed to extended, light to bold, so I still have a considerable amount of work ahead of me to perfect this version in order to eliminate as many hurdles in that buildout as possible but my goal with this initial version is to start selling it in the next couple of weeks.  I'd like to test the waters before I dive into spending even more time expanding the font into a family.

Current Challenges

Some current challenges and work still to be done for me are:

– Some spacing issues with certain characters like the current “A” in pairs like “LA”, “TA”, etc.  I really like the aesthetic of it as it looks now but I may need to tweak it somehow to get it to play nicer with others in the group.

– Kerning in general…just a lot more technical than I care to endure most days although it’s starting to come a little easier as I log time in Glyphs and its user manual.

– Fine tuning the overall color in characters like "W", "K", etc.

– Numbers, punctuation, some cool stylistic sets/alternate characters, and maybe some ligatures

– Maintaining the original and historical aesthetic vision while also conforming it to a technically viable and usable font.  This is a tough balance for me to strike personally but one that I am endeavoring to rise above with the aid of continued study, feedback from more experienced type designers, and continual immersion into the world of good type design.

A personal note

It has been immensely helpful to me and most likely to plenty of others in similar scenarios to seek access to the patience and experience of a friend or friends who have gone before us in various endeavors.  Friendships that sharpen both the personal and professional edges of life are incredibly rewarding when approached with authenticity and guarded by respect.  I use my own positive experience in type design thus far as a testament to this.  I’ve been fortunate to have the constructive feedback of a good (and very talented) friend, Mattox Shuler, of Fort Foundry.  He was instrumental in these first steps of mine into the world of type design and continues to be so as I’m still waddling around in my "type diapers".  I hope to grow quickly but am nevertheless in debt to his patience and that of others like him as they help beginners like me to learn and grow in the knowledge, respect, and execution of objectively good type design.

I’m excited to keep learning and growing and am looking forward to any helpful feedback on Herschel so far!

UPDATED – March 11th, 2015

After processing some feedback and spending several more hours of tweaking, I've gotten the color of most of the letters more even (see "W" below for example).

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I adjusted all the serifs, sorted out some spacing and kerning issues, and most notably, made changes to some of the letters like "S", "G", and "C" to have a more refined and cohesive curvature and unified serif treatment.  For example:

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Kyle, I took you up on your challenge with the apostrophes/quotes.  What are your thoughts on this?

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Here's the whole alphabet as of today, March 11th 2015:

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I'm currently finishing up the numbers, punctuation, several stylistic alternatives, and putting final touches on kerning as well.  More coming soon!

UPDATE: November 29th, 2016

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I'll be looking forward to filling in more of the details between where I left things off and where things are now ex post, but this is simply an update to say that Herschel is finally finished and available for purchase on MyFonts:

http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/tried-true-supply-co/herschel/

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