Kent Lew’s Whitman

I had the fortune recently to get myself a license for Whitman, a beautifully functional serif family. It’s built on a foundation of classic design structure, with a distinctly modern style. Whitman, named for the poet, is probably best summed up by the designer himself.

“While this design is thoroughly modern in its styling, I tried to instill in Whitman some of the traditional values of classic text types. I sought to create a type which, although hopefully distinctive, might appear somewhat ordinary at first glance and behave itself well in text.”

Lew is right on the money.

Whitman is a pleasure to typeset with. It’s a very sturdy family, not in the sense of being chunky or durable, but in the sense that it sets well without demanding any fidgeting or wrangling on the part of the typographer, even in varying settings. The family comes in the traditional book typographer’s suite of roman, bold, italic, and small capitals, which is plenty for more restrained situations, particularly at the hand of an attentive and knowledgeable typographer. (A marketing situation would demand the presence of a bold italic, and possibly a bold small caps.) Each version has a lining figures set and an old style figures set, so you can design tables and an evenly-textured page without any problems. In fact, I’m using it in a type-centric project right now with great success (which I can’t show here for proprietary reasons). For your own view of Whitman in action in a hi-res, printable format, check out Lew’s own Whitman PDF specimen (112K).

The bold, in particular, performs quite well as a display face, owing to Lew’s use of clean, modern interpretation and blending of Eric Gill’s Joanna and W. A. Dwiggins’ Caledonia (see the aforementioned PDF for examples). The stroke contrast is low, but the stroke itself is solid, allowing the face to proclaim at display sizes, and clearly orate at text sizes. Whitman does not speak with an urgency or insistence out of sync with its placement (provided you understand the fundamentals of page design). It truly rewards the observant and scrutinizing, while guiding the common reader.

Whitman, partially because of its more traditional-sized family, is also quite inexpensive for its quality. It’s available through Font Bureau* and Phil’s Fonts. It’s definitely worth it.

*Font Bureau’s online transaction cart seemed to have a problem with Whitman for myself and another person, so I ended up going through Phil’s Fonts. Just make sure you receive both the lining and the old style versions.

One Response to “Kent Lew’s Whitman”

  1. This comment was moved by chris r from here. It was originally posted on November 28, 2004 07:51 PM


    I stumbled upon your beautifully written review of Whitman* while searching for other info on the face. Our field could use more of your talented writing and if you’d ever like to contribute something similar for Typographica I’d certainly welcome it.

    Upon reaching your main page I was honored to see our site mentioned among your list of links, albeit under our old URL. We’ve moved to due to some unfortunate disagreements with the Canadians: