About face: Chaparral
August 15, 2011
In our latest installment of About Face we take a look at Carol Twombly’s masterful slab serif Chaparral. I call it a slab serif, but it’s actually more of a hybrid of a classic roman book serif and a slab. “Roman” generally means “upright” when it comes to type, the best of which (usually serif faces) we’ve read for centuries in books. You can identify a slab serif due to the widths of the serif strokes (generally, when serifs are equal or greater in thickness to the normal stroke weight, you’ve got a slab).
Conventional wisdom says to avoid hybrids; often, in trying to do multiple things, a hybrid will miss the mark at everything. Unlike your old TV/VCR combo, however, Chaparral is a wonderful exception to this rule. It combines the legibility of a nice roman serif with the distinctive authority of a slab serif, and does so with a grace that most typefaces can’t touch.
The key to Chaparral’s beauty is in its combination of flowing curves and powerful angularity. While some slabs can feel a bit more beefy and boxy, Chaparral takes a cue from book types of yore by keeping the contrast low; as a result, it works exceptionally well in running text, by varying the stroke widths only when necessary.
By combining those qualities, Chaparral makes for a great text face. But it comes in a variety of weights to keep things interesting. The lights are delicate and wispy (making for some really stunning headlines) and the heavier weights bulk up while still retaining a soft look (perfect for emphasis that doesn’t need to shout). When used large, some of the details really shine. Look at the subtle angularity of some of the letterforms.
Chaparral is a good meat and potatoes typeface, providing flexibility for use at most any size and subject matter. It really shines as a text face, but doesn’t knock you over the head. It’s professional, but more playful than stuffy, like a nice suit with a bright red tie and sneakers. And it really stands apart from the serifs most folks are used to seeing. You can see it used very well for running text over at Stories & Novels.
Plus the italics are really lovely, especially in the middle weights like the semibold. Even the heavy italics have a surprising charm to them.
And Chaparral comes in a variety of optical sizes including Subhead, Display, and Caption to help you really tailor your typography for the appropriate size. If you’ve never used optical sizes before, the names should give you a pretty good idea of their intended use. The designs of each optical size is adjusted for the best possible display at that size. For example, Chaparral Display has slightly more decorative lines and higher contrast, as is appropriate for shorter bursts of text at larger sizes.
Because Chaparral is a hybrid (roman book meets slab serif), some good options for pairings can be found by taking those siblings and finding typefaces that embody them fully. Play off of those slabs with something boxy and geometric like CamingoDos.
Chaparral is one of those quiet typefaces that you could easily miss at first blush, but it will win you over with its beauty and high versatility. It’s quickly become one of my favorite typefaces.