MHS News

JQA Twitter Feed Inspires New Font

We are always happy to see new projects that are based on the collections housed at the MHS and are delighted to learn of a new font--aptly named Old Man Eloquent--designed to match the hand of John Quincy Adams. It was on the tails of the first anniversary of John Quincy Adams's tweeting debut that we were introduced to Old Man Eloquent.

Independent type designer Brian Willson, a follower of the Society's John Quincy Adams Twitter feed, found inspiration for his latest font one day while reading the brief journal entry for that day 200 years earlier. Willson realized that plenty of samples of Adams's penmanship must exist and soon found himself on the MHS website. "I spent a long time there that first day, reading journal entries, admiring Adams's bold, no-nonsense script. There were plenty of samples of his alphabets. Plus, I'd yet created no truly bold-weighted penmanship font." He knew that he had found his next project.

As with all such projects, Willson explains, he began by poring over the extant material for just the right alphabets, both upper and lower cases as well as numerals, punctuation, and any other special glyphs (i.e., ampersands, dollar signs, old-style double-s). Once he has chosen all of the available characters, he uses a digital bitmap-graphics program to enlarge them and hand-trace the outlines using vector-graphics tools. The designer uses his own judgment at this stage to determine how raggedy the font will be, how rough or how fine the flourishes.

Once the hand-tracing is complete, each vector graphic is pasted into a font-creation program, and then the real work begins. Many hours go into balancing each character and making sure its optical size matches the others. Each must then be mated with every other character to ensure a perfect cursive alignment. Invariably, several modern marks are missing from old materials (e.g., the Euro symbol), so these must be created from scratch.

Willson estimates that it takes at least 200 hours to create a full-featured historical pen font. In the case of Old Man Eloquent, with its 450-plus characters and both a regular and a bold style, the total was closer to 400. "But," he remarks, "the hours tend to fly by. In part because of the idea that I'm somehow helping connect the modern world to the historical one, somehow spinning a thread across the ages."

Willson, well known for his historical penmanship fonts, began his foray into font design with the simulation of a colleague's handwriting. When he met with success, he turned to handwriting of the 1800s and developed Texas Hero based on the writing of Thomas J. Rusk. This was followed by Houston Pen, Lamar Pen, and Emily Austin. He explains part of the pleasure he finds in creating his historical fonts, "something about the old way of writing--in fact, something about the contents of the old letters and journal entries themselves--placed me in an oddly pleasant paradox, as if I had one foot in the modern, digital world, and one the long-gone world of writing with an inkwell and quill pen." To view and purchase Old Man Eloquent along with Willson's other fonts visit:

Published: Tuesday, 7 September, 2010, 1:51 PM