Process: Tarnac

About Tarnac

The roots of Tarnac can be found in a variety of 20th century French Egyptian models, both formal and informal–as featured in posters, newspaper headlines, and the classic French road signs plaques Michelin.


Tarnac Slab

5 weights, 10 total fonts.

Tarnac began as a revival of the Turlot foundry’s 1905 Égyptiennes Penchées Noires (Black Leaning Egyptian). After first encountering the specimen at the Printing Museum in Lyon, designer Marc Rouault was taken by the unexpectedly modern feeling of this style, especially as compared to the rest of Turlot’s Égyptiennes 2e série, which contains a Regular, a Large, and a Grasses (fat) in addition to the Penchées Noires, which, unsurprisingly, has no Roman equivalent.

Egyptiennes Noires, Larges & Grasses, produced by Fonderie Turlot (1910).

This particularly French style of slanted Égyptienne, with its wonky proportions and flat-interior bowl shapes, is an intractable aesthetic element of French culture and even the French countryside itself–featured in many of the Panneaux Michelin road signs. This historic signage, with its hand-painted loose fidelity to the Turlot model, served as a spiritual beacon for the design.

In addition to roadsigns throughout France, Egyptiennes experienced a period of vogue as headline fonts for books and newspapers during the 1950's & 60's. Most prominently in the masthead of France-Soir a French newspaper that prospered in physical format during the 1950s and 1960s, reaching a circulation of 1.5 million.

Shortly after drawing his first draft of Tarnac, roughly adhering to the specifications and feel of Turlot’s original, Marc drew his own Light variant. It became evident over the following weeks and months that the question of contrast was essential. When the thick stems were stripped back almost to the hairline value in the new Light weight, something interesting was happening. Absent the contrast of the thin hairlines with the thick stems, the swelling of form inherent to the signature flat-interior-round-exterior curves became the new threshold of visual contrast. This slight difference in weight between the stems and the bowls in the original version, which made for an extremely subtle effect within the larger system of hairlines and thicks, was now brought to the forefront and the contrast between the bowls and the rest of the forms became the primary tension of the bouma. Thrilled with the effect of this new style, Marc doubled back and drew a new, low-contrast version of the original Bold to match.


Tarnac Sans

5 weights, 10 total fonts.

The development of a Sans serif version became evident as soon as the Slab's contrast disappeared. Slicing off the slabs revealed beginnings for a viable sans serif family. With a few adjustments, especially for the more crowded characters (the diagonal ones) you get a refreshingly wonky monolinear sans, true to the origin of the genre. Telltale formulations like the excessively wide “T” and oversized tidles indicate its origin, and harken back to the methodology employed for the very first san-serif typeface cast by the Caslon foundry in London, 1816.

Tarnac-Sans Source

With a solid basis for both a Slab and Sans, Rouault took the italics as an opportunity to explore an aspect that he had long noticed in painted signs and shop windows of his native country, where the letters are not really slanted, but rotated. Undoubtedly for technical reasons of hand work, it is easier to rotate a model than to skew it. This sensibility informed the imperfect approach to Tarnac’s italics.

Tarnac and Tarnac Sans have these inspirations in common, of hand painted letters, often informal, drawn from models but never really standardized. The Michelin panels for the Slab, the sign painting for the Sans. These sources have a warm naivety, which find a new home in the 21st century through the love and care of a faithful shepherd.

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