Beatrice Display.

Name: Beatrice
Designer: Lucas Sharp
Foundry: Sharp Type
Release Date: June 2018

Back Story: “I’m not big on digging through the ancient tomes and finding something to revive,” says Lucas Sharp, from his studio in Granada, Spain. While many within the type industry are looking back through history to find fonts worth resuscitating for modern use, Sharp Type, the foundry Sharp runs with co-founder Chantra Malee, is more interested in the opposite mode of operation. 

“Originality in type design is something that we’ve been grappling with a bit,” he says. Yet for a discipline predicated on precision, creating something that is both original and functional is not always easy. Type typically falls into specific genres, each with its own fundamental system that defines it. Generally speaking, the more you stray from those systems, the less actually useful—and the more of a quirky novelty—your typeface becomes.

With Beatrice, the latest release from the four-person type foundry, Sharp sought to strive for a one-of-a-kind typeface that designers will actually use. “Every typeface is its own universe with its own set of physics and rules,” he says. “In our universe, we have gravity, space, time; within a typeface you have stroke, depth, serif behavior. So there’s a set of abstract rules you apply to whatever script you’re working in. We wanted to take that idea, and create a typeface that has its own system.”

Beatrice poster, courtesy of Sharp Type.

What are its distinguishing characteristics? Being original doesn’t mean being without references and influences, however. Sharp built Beatrice on the foundation of a traditional American Gothic, but applied a new system he’s termed “internal contrast,” which determines the thickness of the strokes.

Every typeface is its own universe with its own set of physics and rules.”

Every letterform has an inside and an outside: with Beatrice, the emphasis is on the outside letter-shapes, which are large and fat, while the inside is thinned to a hairline. “This, combined with the classic sans-serif convention of pinching at the intersections of strokes and bowls creates a texture of thicks and thins that behave functionally in much the same way as a standard high-contrast expansionist sans-serif, even though aesthetically it is wildly different,” the studio explains. Though aesthetically unrestrained and unconventional, Beatrice is actually built on a very rationalized system that’s all its own.

Why’s it called Beatrice? Sharp names the type after his mom, who he describes as funny, strong, and forever a non-conformist. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom recently, and what a formative person she is in my life,” he says. “She rejected a stodgy West Palm Beach upbringing and moved to San Francisco. She’s wildly talented and passed on some of her art genes to me.” 

What should I use it for? The Beatrice superfamily spans a robust set of weights and includes two optical sizes: a super high-contrast, tightly packed Display cut and a much more subtle, standard low-contrast cut. The latter is designed to function in a wide range of optical sizes, and can be used essentially as you would any other grotesque. Beatrice Display, on the other hand, is “super weird,” says Sharp. “I hope people use it for crazy stuff.”

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Beatrice and Beatrice Display were designed together as their own a self-contained system, so Sharp recommends using them together. But pairing the Display with an American Gothic or Grotesque works, too.