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Typeface Review


Reviewed by Hrant Papazian  on March 13, 2013

Fenland is a very polarizing typeface — you either admire it, or you think it’s pretentious art or just plain ugly.

But Fenland doesn’t care. Fenland doesn’t care, because when it needs to prove itself by setting running text, it performs with aplomb. But it really gets the lead out stylistically when set large — flaunting its ideology, not being sneaky about it. That ‘f’ is so in-your-face, and the uppercase is so different from the lowercase.

As designer Jeremy Tankard likes to emphasize, Fenland really does have “its own way of talking”. But this face is no flight of fancy: sober proportions, seven weights with italics, five flavors of numerals, comprehensive fractions…

From day one, Tankard has been an inventive designer (see FF Disturbance), and even an innovative one (see Blue Island); with Fenland, he has crossed over into the murky yet rewarding territory of subtle innovation. As this reviewer is wont to extoll, the noteworthy innovation here involves the application of stroke contrast in oblivion of the handwritten basis of virtually all typefaces. Tankard thickens and thins the letterforms as he thinks they need to function, not as what would occur when writing by hand using a broad-nib pen (something notably absent from contemporary life).

Tankard’s stated intention is to evoke a modern, “manufactured” feel. But since Design is not Art, we must ask: What is the point of violating an established norm? The answer might very well be: What is the point of not doing so? Unlike almost any other usable font out there, Fenland makes us ask such questions. It is exactly what we need.

Hrant Papazian is an Armenian native of Lebanon; his perspective on written communication was formed at the crossroads of three competing visual cultures. He now lives in Los Angeles. A recipient of type design awards from Critique magazine, Granshan and Creative Review, Hrant has delivered numerous presentations at international typographic conferences from Boston to Bangkok.


  1. Tim Ahrens says:

    Are there any examples of Fenland in use? I’d be curious to see how it feels and works in a real-world application.

  2. Hrant says:

    Carolyn Puzzovio was one of Fenland’s earliest users, and I have a booklet that she designed for an exhibition. Of course an image can’t do it justice – hopefully you can get a copy of it somehow. You could also request the nice little specimen booklet from Tankard and/or print the PDF from his site.

    BTW, further reading.

  3. AHA! I love this in all its weirdness. It might be just the thing I’m looking for …

  4. Hrant says:

    Tim, here’s something Jeremy just alerted me to: Suburban Odyssey. But I don’t know how text-heavy it is.

  5. Hrant says:

    Sorry, stuff trickling in now…

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles with Caren Litherland and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

Set in Bureau Grot by Font Bureau, Nocturno Display by Nikola Djurek, Fern (unreleased) by David Jonathan Ross, and JAF Bernini Sans by Tim Ahrens.

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