Michael Harvey’s aptly-named Mentor font is a superb family of serif and sans serif typefaces that pays tribute to the influence of three great designers. “There are traces of Eric Gill and Reynolds Stone in the roman designs,” says Harvey, “and just a hint of Hermann Zapf in the sans serif faces.“
The story of the Mentor font begins in the early 1960s, when Harvey drew serif and sans serif alphabets to use for illustrations in his book, Lettering Design: Form & Skill in the Design & Use of Letters. They were intended to be typical twentieth-century letterforms, without affectations or idiosyncratic details. Harvey took his inspiration from the work of Gill and Stone, designers he greatly admired.
Twenty years later, he considered turning these alphabets into a typeface. “I scanned and digitized them,” recalls Harvey, “but the results looked too prim, the serifs were too fine; the whole thing lacked character.” The results were filed on his hard drive.
This might have been the end of it, but after some time had passed, Harvey was commissioned to design a book jacket. The lettering he created started him thinking about the typeface idea once more. “The lettering for the jacket was also a classic roman design, but it had more appeal, more life, than the earlier renderings,” says Harvey. “This was when I realized that, as well as Gill and Stone, there was something of Harvey in the characters too.” Re-inspired, he revised the original digitized characters until they had the quality of those he drew for the book jacket.
Harvey looked closely at Reynolds Stone’s distinctive italic script when he drew the italic. While by no means a copy, the final design shares the personality and proportion of the stone carver’s inscriptual letters.
Harvey wanted to create matching sans fonts to complement the roman, but again he found his earlier efforts to be inadequate. “They were too nineteenth-century-cum-Helvetica in design,” says Harvey. The book jacket project provided an answer once more: sans serif letters based on humanistic proportions, like Gill’s sans, with gently flared stems reminiscent of Hermann Zapf’s Optima.
Finally, Harvey had the makings of a comprehensive type family: a twentieth-century English interpretation of the classic roman letter. Concentrated work on the Mentor family began in 1999, shortly before Harvey joined forces with Andy Benedek to found Fine Fonts. Five years later, the Mentor family was completed. Harvey designed the letters while Benedek fine-tuned their shapes, added kerning, and produced the final digital fonts.