Remastering Rock Bottom

In Fall 2017, I was contacted by the Rock Bottom Brewing company to help fix their logo. They were planning to use it at large sizes and discovered that the quality of the logo is not sufficient for such use cases.

Surprisingly, the font is in vector format, but has significant issues.

In this example, you can see that straight serifs have curving elements and curved elements have notches and sharp points. Clearly the logo needed to be fully remastered and optimized. In the following examples, the red version is the original, and the black, the new version.

In rebuilding this design, I wanted to bring consistency and evenness to the logo. I started with the stem and serif, defining their weights, length, etc.

From there, it became an exercise in applying the design language throughout the overall design, respacing, and overall re-mastering the design—including the hop in the middle!

This was a really fun project to work on and help revitalize an existing logo, and I’m glad to see that it is making its way out into the world!

Air America

“Who can I talk to about having a font made for me?”

In December 2016, Cliff Sherman posted to the Typography subreddit asking for help in producing a font designed by his father, William G. Sherman, and based on the Air America logo.

Air America was a passenger and cargo airline that operated from the 1950s through the 1970s and was covertly owned by the US government. Masquerading as a civilian airline, it facilitated CIA operations and was able to go where the US military could not. That famous photo of the last helicopter leaving Saigon? That was Air America.

In the mid 1960s, William G. Sherman was a cargo ‘kicker’ in SE Asia—his job to fling loads out of the airplane window. After his discharge, he took courses in topographic drafting and Cartography and worked for the Arlington County Surveys Division—creating maps for the official county land records. All line work and lettering was done by hand! It was one of his favorite jobs.

After he joined the Air America Association, Mr. Sherman was surprised to see that all the different documents associated with Association used different fonts, and none had any connection with the original Air America logo—and it seemed no one was particularly interested in an “Air America” font. Frustrated by the situation, he decided to apply his skills as a draftsman to build out the alphabet himself.

After 10 years of working on the project on and off, Mr. Sherman completed the canonical version of “Air America”.

When Cliff posted, seeking help for the project, I thought it sounded like a really interesting project and I was really happy to help bring the font to life after so many years!

Getting started on the project, my role was to digitize the original drawings and master the letterforms to create the final font. The drawings were quite precise, which made my job relatively straightforward, but I made some recommendations to help improve consistency and balance in the design.

For example, I changed the design of the ‘V’ to make it less dark.

Second, the numbers ended up being modified more significantly. Using ideas present in other letterforms, I suggested alternate versions for the numbers. In the following image you can see the original drawings above, and the final versions below.

Finally, I extended the font to add a full range of symbols, punctuation, and extended Latin (black base forms, red added).

It was an absolute pleasure to work with William and Cliff Sherman on this project. We’re hopeful to see that the font will gain widespread use and keep alive the memory of Air America.

The finalized font is now available for free on Font Squirrel, licensed under the OFL 1.1 and is open source on Github. The name “Air America” is used with approval from the Air America Association.

I hope you enjoy using it!




In July 2016, I attended the Wells Book Arts Summer Institute to participate in Stan Nelson’s “Understanding the Typographical Punch” course. Having studied the process of punchcutting as part of my MA Typeface Design education at the University of Reading, I jumped at the opportunity to create punches myself.

At the start of the workshop, Stan kindly provided lots of great materials from his studies for us to reference. The benches, too, were really great.

Files, lots and lots of files—we needed all of them! The largest were used first to remove the excessive steel from around the desired letterform, then we’d use ever smaller files to get the right curves. The pointed pen at the bottom was used for marking guides in the steel to visualize the letter.

To start, we carved counter punches. These are punches that are used to create the counters in punches. The one on the left would be used for creating the crossbar of a ‘H’. The one on the right could be used for creating the counters in the ‘A’.

To prep the completed punches (and counter punches), we needed to temper the steel properly. Using propane torches, the punches were heated to bright red, then rapidly dropped in a bucket of cold water. This hardens the punches, enabling them to dent non-hardened steel.

Here Stan is driving a counter punch into steel.

Here we see the counters for the letter ‘A’ in the steel (as seen through the magnifier).

Filing away to create the perfect forms!

To test the letterform, we created smoke proofs. Soot from the flame is gathered on the punch, which is pressed into a piece of paper to evaluate.

The letter ‘A’ punch, and smoke proof.

In addition to the use of counter-punches, we also practiced the use of gravers. Le Imprimerie Nationale in Paris uses this method for digging out counter forms. I found it to be a really frustrating and difficult method of creating counters—having the graver slip and scratch the surface of the punch was common, and required filing the letter back to a smooth surface.

Like with the files, there were many kinds of gravers, each serving a different purpose.

Here are the three punches I created during the workshop. That ‘G’ in the back was particularly frustrating—I think I spent a full day just trying to get the counters right using the gravers.

My workbench at the end of the class. Hard to keep things clean and organized!

Our class’ exhibit of punches from the week.

Creating punches is definitely not an easy task. And apparently it is made more difficult by the fact that the steel we use today is not as soft as steel used traditionally. But to have had the opportunity to study it is something I will always value. Furthermore, I found the class forced me to look at letterforms in new ways, and pay closer attention than I had before.

One thing that amazed me was the importance of rotating letters. I feel that too often one just looks at letters straight up, or upside down, but rarely in a full circle. By rotating them around, curves are seen in a new way and it is much easier to see their flaws. To that end, I wrote a little plugin called RotateView, which allows you to twirl around a glyph as if you are holding it in your hand. It has already proved quite handy!

If you’d like to learn more about Punchcutting, I strongly recommend watching the following two videos:

The last punchcutter is a beautifully-shot film that shows the process of cutting a punch. It features the use of gravers rather than counter punches.

Gravers & Files is a fabulous film about the famous Enschedé type foundry. It was filmed by Carl Dair, one of the last students at the foundry and is narrated by Matthew Carter, who also studied at Enchedé just before Dair.

If you ever get the chance to cut your own metal type, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot!

Letters from Sri Lanka, Pt. 2

Last time, we looked at letters historical from my adventures around Sri Lanka. This time, let’s look at some more ‘contemporary’ examples.

Travel Letters
As a tourist in Sri Lanka, it felt like travel is a major part of life. With very cheap train and bus tickets available, it is easy to travel from one side of the country to the other—we took a train ride for 9 hours that cost less per ticket than the rickshaw to the train station in the morning! Crazy!

While riding the train, these station sign boards are a common sight.

All of them have the same style of lettering, even down to that really chunky ‘E’. And also note the reversed W. Really quite endearing. I found it particularly interesting how the sign painter clearly used the same tool as for the Tamil above it, resulting in the particular character of the Latin—though aspects like that ‘E’ are clearly special!

On occasion, train stations would also have their name written in more unusual places, like this lettering for the “Great Western” station on the fence beside it.   I rather liked these letters—not only for their Gothic style, but also in that they’ve made the letters slightly wider than tall, which helps make them larger and more readable at distance.

On to bus travel. Buses are one of the most common ways of getting around because while the train is cheap, it has to follow the rails. Buses on the other hand can go everywhere! I’m sure you’ll notice what caught my eye about the buses.

That’s right, many of them feature these crazy condensed letters just above the windows. Now, I thought to myself, “Surely there’s a good reason for collapsing the letters so much. Does it help with reading at extreme angles?” And then decided it must just be a case of wanting to put the company name on the bus and that was the space available. I can just imagine someone saying, “Here’s our logo, make it fit”. Makes me wish they’d just used a super wide font instead! Here’s another fun example:

In this case, it works a wee bit better—I mean, at least it is more or less readable! But the type choice is not super legible, which is unfortunate (did you read “Traders” there?).

City letters
Moving on from the travel type, let’s look at some letterforms from around town.

This first example is, well, not exactly “new”, but dates from the early 1900s. I found it at the hotel we were staying at in Galle.

Check out those little curls! And the flexing ‘T’ in the middle. Not to mention the extensive decoration. Really a lovely little piece!

Also from Galle, the ‘R’ and ‘K’ demanded that I take a picture. Looking at the picture now, I realized that they were probably trying to replicate the logo (seen on the side of the building), but this hand-rendered version just has so much more personality than the type!

Speaking of character:

This was a cafe outside of the Ella train station. How can you look at this and not feel happy? Gotta love that ‘H’. And the ‘I’ staring up at it. Also note the cute use of a heart in ‘love’ behind it!

While take a rickshaw through Colombo, this restaurant jumped out to me. I’ve no idea what font it is, but what craziness! The super-decorative capital letters are just off-the-hook.

Now, of course I didn’t just take pictures of Latin letters :). In Sinhalese, I found the hand-written signs to be really interesting.

Now, just a few months before our visit, there was a massive outbreak of Dengue fever in Sri Lanka due to heavy rains and lots of standing water. So we had to wear lots of mosquito repellant. This sign, from Ella, I assume is in relation to that outbreak. There’s a lot of different styles of Sinhalese on this sign, which I found really interesting. You have the ‘cracked’ form (red, left side), a monolinear form (black, left side), a bottom heavy form (red, right side), and a hand-written style form (next to the mosquito image).

Given the different styles of Sinhalese, I thought it was interesting to see how it is hand-written. Given use of a pen or pencil, I fully expected the monolinear form to be the most common, but the heavy-bottomed form is actually quite common, even when the weighting needs to be added by hand!

In this first example, it feels like the person wasn’t totally sure where / how to add the weighting, so just added it where it felt right to do so. The end result is a bit inconsistent, but an interesting insight into what is perceived as the right place for weight.

In this last example, the writer (or painter?) made a more concerted effort to add weighting to the bottom of the letterforms. I really liked the super-heavy look that these letters have! And also note the oblique letters below it. Sinhalese italic anyone? 😉

I hope you enjoyed this little typographic journey through Sri Lanka with me!


Letters from Sri Lanka, Pt. 1

I recently returned from an extended trip through Sri Lanka and found all sorts of wonderful, and odd, letterforms. In this two-part blog post series, we will explore letterforms, old and new! Let’s start with the old.

Located on the eastern side of the country, Polonnaruwa was the second capital of the Sri Lankan kingdoms, from the 11th century until 1310 CE. Unfortunately, it was particularly vulnerable to attack by invaders from India and eventually was abandoned in favor of a more defensible location. Happily, much of the stonework of the city remains, including some stunning inscriptions.

The Velikkara Inscription is a mix of Grantha Tamil and Sinhala scripts. In the 12th Century CE, Velikkara Soldiers were engaged to protect major sacred relics—the Tooth and Bowl of the Buddha—during a period of unrest. This inscription states assurances by the Velikkaras to protect these relics no matter what.

Sinhalese inscriptions in the central religious areas.

Galpota (Stone Book). This thing is amazing. Not only is it 9 meters long and 1.5 meters wide and weighs 25 tonnes, but was dragged by elephant some 100km to this location! It is shaped in the form of a palm-leaf manuscript, and includes three pages describing the genealogy and deeds of King Nissankamalla (1187–1196 CE). As you might expect, it is the largest such inscription in Sri Lanka. Sadly, I didn’t get a better picture of the text itself, but the object alone is stunning.

Dutch Reformed Church – Galle
Formerly controlled by the Portuguese, Galle was captured in 1640 by Dutch forces in partnership with King Rajasinhe II. Unfortunately, their alliance fell apart as King Rajasinhe II determined that the Dutch were no better than the Portuguese, leading to years of conflict. Galle, however, remained a Dutch stronghold on the island.

The current Dutch Reformed Church was completed in 1755 and stands at the highest point of the Galle Fort. It contains many, many grave stones both from the time of Dutch control and British control.

There’s so much to love in that AR ligature. And the happiness of the R tail.

This stone was fascinating to me. It is clearly two separate grave stones that have been put together since they have a similar top.

Note the interesting low crossbar on the E. Some really lovely forms!

I loved these embossed letters. Very common of the early Dutch examples at the church.

Unfortunately, because this church was quite small, many of the grave stones were covered with tables, chairs, pews, etc. Made it hard to photograph!

One of the most unusual stones in the church was this one, written in Tamil. Unfortunately, it is quite worn and hard to make out, but I thought to include it as it is quite special. [Edit] Apparently this is the grave of the first Tamil convert to Christianity (thanks Ben)!

Almost all the gravestones outside were completely worn down due to the annual rainstorms and wind. This one has survived better, but it is still fun to see how it is slowly falling apart.


Also while in Galle, the hotel we stayed at had a rather intriguing framed piece on the wall.

Not recognizing the language, I asked my friend Ben Mitchell (who knows much about South East Asian scripts). He identified it as a Buddhist Kammavaca manuscript usually produced for the ordination of monks. These documents were highly sacred texts usually commissioned by lay-people when a son entered a Buddhist monastery. The language is Pali (used for the scriptures of Theravada Buddhism) but the script is a Burmese square script often called Magyi-zi, or “tamarind seed script”.

How could such a document have ended up in Sri Lanka? As I began to investigate, I was surprised to discover that Sri Lanka had, at times, close religious ties with other countries in South East Asia and in particular Myanmar. For example, in 1070 CE, after a period of particularly difficult warfare, the King in Polonnaruwa invited eminent monks from Myanmar to help re-establish Buddhist practice in Sri Lanka.

One particularly interesting example happened in the 1600s. By that time, Buddhism was somewhat on decline in Sri Lanka and Portuguese priests were working hard to convert the local population to Catholicism. To combat their efforts, the Dutch helped the Sinhalese king organize religious missions to come to Sri Lanka from the Buddhist Kingdom of Rakhaing on the west coast of Myanmar. The first, in 1684, included 40 monks (and their collection of religious texts), and helped to re-establish Buddhism as the dominant faith on the island.

For more history of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, check out this great article.

That’s it for today! Check out Part 2 for more contemporary samples!

Talking Tiki Type

As mentioned on the Tiki Type page, my wife and I became interested in the world of Tiki and rum cocktails in early 2017. With the purchase of Martin Cate’s “Smuggler’s Cove” and a couple of tiki mugs, we had all the tools necessary to explore!

I wanted to go more into depth about two of the designs—“Never Forget to get Drunk” and “Octopus”.

“Never Forget to get Drunk” is a drunken pink elephant holding a tiki mug in his hand. In the original design, the name of the mug is embossed on the back of the elephant’s head using a font. I thought that I could come up with something more unique.

Given that space was somewhat limited on the back of the head, I liked the idea of stacking the letters to keep them close together. However, that prevented some flexibility in the design in terms of how wild a given letter could become.

Still, I wanted to bring fun and energy into the letterforms. My initial sketches were too hard, using full uppercase with sharp points and angles and didn’t carry the feeling I saw in the mug itself. Switching to rounder forms helped change the feeling of the letters to something fun—like a happy memory of the night. As a result, the lettering became unicase (mixing of upper and lowercase letterforms).

The extended descenders on the R and K originated from a (slightly) misguided attempt to bring in the elephant’s trunk into the design. It looked too much like an ’S’, but I liked the feel of the long descenders to further give that fun and friendly character to the lettering.

As you’ll note, the final version became even rounder and more playful in the digitization process as I refined the design.

“Octopus” is a very different creature. The original bottom of the mug did not mention the name of the mug—just “Munktiki imports” and “Designed by Tattiki” stamped onto the bottom using a monospaced font. Here was another great opportunity to give character to the mug, even in a rarely-seen spot!

Most importantly, I needed to consider the space available on the bottom of the mug. My lettering would need to fit into that space and not feel tightly constrained by it. From fairly early on I knew I wanted to create a design that felt like the legs of an octopus flowing around rather than just letters. From that point, it was more a question of figuring out where the tentacles would go, where they can overlap, and where they shouldn’t.

For a while, too, I thought I would bring in an element of the eye of the octopus into the design, but it was a bit too heavy-handed, and created a dark spot in the middle of the word. Instead, I settled for adding the suction cups to the leg of the ‘p’ to bring that element of the octopus into the design.

For the remaining text, I used a pre-existing tiki-style font to mention the publisher (“Munktiki”) and the designer “Tattiki”.

Arirang TV

In November 2016, I travelled to South Korea to film a tv show on the history and modern use of Hangeul. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet many folks in the Korean design community and share interest in Hangeul.

As part of the program, I was asked to produce a piece of lettering of Hangeul. While it is shown in the film (and part of the process of production as well), here is the finalized piece:

I really enjoyed taking part in this program and would definitely love to do another someday!