Emily is a writer and designer who has created Juniper Bespoke. From her new studio in Falmouth, she creates unique, meaningful books for a range of clients.
Why did you decide to start this new venture?
It was always my plan to open my own bindery. I came to the course (MA Illustration & Authorial practice) from running my own business in London. I had learnt how to make books by taking books apart rather than by having any formal training. I was designing books by using Microsoft Office. There was a year when I made 50 books for different clients using Word (& frequently falling out with my desktop inkjet printer) and I thought ‘I can do this better.’ I picked the MA because I felt like it was weighted to writing as much as it was to drawing and graphic design & given my fascination with books I was especially excited by the link with Atlantic Press.
I’ve only now just been in a position where I can do it. I negotiated to go part-time at my job (Cornwall Libraries) and I found this amazing space. My wonderful boss at my previous job (Provedore café) said one morning “Oh, you know you want a studio, there’s a little shop for rent on the high street” and I immediately ran down the hill knocked on the door and said, “Can I have it?”
What is it that you will offer?
Clients will have a consultation with me and we’ll talk about what they want the book for and then I’ll go away and make a few proposals. At this stage it’s a fairly collaborative process, we’ll work together to find a way to approach it. And then once we have a plan I put it all together – I write and illustrate the book, I design it and then I bind it. Previously I’ve done a guy’s marriage proposal as a book: which he gave to his girlfriend under the clock in Grand Central Station. I’ve done commemorative books to explain to a little girl why she doesn’t have a brother anymore. I always have quite intimate relationships with my clients because we’re talking about things which they want to remember forever, communicate.
With the rise of e-books, why do you think physical books remain so popular?
Physical books have had to up their game. I’ve just curated an exhibition at the library on this exact topic. I’ve started noticing different kinds of binding on the shelves, you’ll see lots of recipe books are going with Coptic binding because that’s one that can lie flat. There’s nothing more annoying when you’re trying to follow a recipe and the book slowly falls shut and you lose you place while you have sticky fingers!
Commercial designers are making choices which are more artisan because the cost to print is big in comparison to digital so in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t cost much to choose a beautiful paper, or a coloured thread – you have to show that you’ve thought about why it needs to be a book. I think that because of this new energy put into designing books all those wonderful tangible choices have become more visible; people are more educated about them and are enjoying noticing the changes. When I went on my first bookbinding training it was hard for me to find a course, I was based in London but ended up going to Edinburgh. Whereas now you can pretty much do a weekend bookbinding course anywhere because people are genuinely interested.
What advice would you have for someone thinking about starting their own creative business?
The best advice was given to me by a silversmith at a craft exhibition in the V&A which I did earlier this year and he said “aim to fail as much as possible.” And I laughed and said “But we don’t want to fail, we want to do really really well don’t we?” & he said the more you fail the more you get used to the feeling of not everything working out the way you planned and so you get braver. The braver you are the more risks you take and the further you get. So that’s my advice, stolen from the silversmith, get out there and fail!
Do you have a specific audience for your books?
I assumed when I started it that it would be mainly for children but it has been about 50/50. Certainly, all the clients I have are very literary, and tend towards the sentimental but it’s not mostly men or mostly women or mostly children. It’s a complete mix. I’m primarily a writer so it means I’m always working with completely different stories so that keeps it interesting for me. What’s nice is that each commission is for a particular person, so I get to work on a book that only one person has to love – but it means I have to get to know that person really well.
Asides from your MA in Authorial Illustration what is your background?
My CV is eclectic! I did a literature degree, I trained as an actor – indeed I was an actor for a few years and I have been variously a magician’s assistant, a corporate receptionist, a copy writer, a dancer – I currently work for Cornwall Libraries which is amazing for a bibliophile like me and am also still a playwright & artistic associate of The Faction Theatre in London.
I think the through line has been literature and theatre. With my books, I’m always aiming for them to be performances, so the reader is my audience. The closed book is like the darkened auditorium and opening it to the end paper is like the first stanza from the music score: I want to evoke that same anticipation and magic… I’m thinking about it like an all-encompassing experience. It’s not just the content, it’s the whole experience of reading the book which I think of when planning my work and I am sure that very much stems from the theatre side.
Where do you see yourself going next?
I want to be here, and do this! and do well!
I’m making plans for taking on an apprentice or intern by the end of the year. There is quite a lot to do when you start running your own business. I like researching, making and writing, I don’t like administration. I’m trying really hard with lots of coloured post-it notes to make administration as exciting as possible. But I would quite like to, and in Falmouth, it’s so easy to do, to find someone who’s sympathetic to my ethos who can help me out a bit administratively. Also, I’m setting up a bindery so there’s going to be a lot of great equipment for people to use. At the moment it’s just me, which is good. I’m doing lots of business courses with Cultivator and they’ve been super supportive and they actually offer to fund start-up spaces.
Do you know when you’re opening?
I’m already trading, I’m on my third commission (Wedding stationary which will be featured in Hello magazine) and the fourth is lined up (A window display for Stranger Collective).
I’m plotting my Launch exhibition. ‘Lift it with the Feathers’ to be followed up with a mini residency where myself and a local print maker with make a book ‘live’ in the space with him screen printing and me binding
The space is not really about people coming in and chatting, it’s a focused working environment, it’s about me giving myself time and space to work – The commissions I get take up a lot of mind space and I get very emotionally involved, so it’s important that I have a space I can research and play and get absorbed in each commission so I do my best work.
What I will do is schedule events and exhibitions – and I will be constantly curating the front room so that it can be interesting for the casual passer-by to peek in. Going against all marketing strategies it’s not a clearly defined space – it’s intriguing and open to many interpretations – I quite like it when I see people point at the window and say “what on earth is this place?” while I’m working in the back room.
You can buy Emily Juniper’s Atlantic Press publication here.