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Juniper Press

We chat to Kenneth Burnley, Sue Mclaren and Elizabeth Willow of Juniper Press, an exciting venture bringing traditional letterpress printing back into Liverpool. Learn how to Letterpress with this quick tutorial by Ken

KEN: People enjoy letterpress for many reasons, one being that they can produce a print without a computer. They feel the ink on their hands, and are happy they’ve made contact with something which is so beautiful and yet so simple. Our main aim is to encourage people to acquire these disappearing skills.

Computers are making everything the same, rather bland and rather stereotypical. But you come here, you set some type and print it, and the results are unique, very individualistic; it’s like baking, sewing and all those handicrafts which are coming back as an antidote to the blandness of mass-production.

SUE: We’re hoping to appeal to contemporary artists and designers, students, young people, public artists, and that’s my interest in it really; as well as it being a tool for contemporary design.

K: Yes – we’re using traditional processes to produce traditional results but also to bring a breath of fresh air into traditionalism; it’s quite a nice blend of the old and new.

We’ve had this studio for over six months now. Juniper Press began as a result of my first workshop in the Bluecoat about three years ago, which was very well received despite me having to bring in much of my own type and equipment.

Elizabeth is a book artist and she was on that first workshop. She contacted me shortly after and asked if she could come over to my own pressroom to learn more about letterpress. I could tell that she was really passionate about it. She’s wonderful, she comes up with these beautiful concepts of books – not traditional books, but she has wonderful ideas about the printed word in the form of a book, which meets all the demands in a book but
which looks so contemporary and yet so different.

Sue has a long-standing interest in typography and is primarily a printmaker. She sees letterpress as a way of extending and supplementing her current artistic practice.

Eventually we realised that we needed to set up a dedicated studio for letterpress in the Bluecoat, and so we found this lovely room. We had very little equipment at first. I had donated some type but we had little else apart from a small proofing press.

Last year we contacted Liverpool Museums to enquire about the loan of printing equipment; they agreed and we now have two lovely presses. We have a full working studio which needs to pay its way; but we’ve done all our sums and we know that we can make it work. We intend to start regular workshops and maybe internships to help Juniper Press pay its way.

ELIZABETH: We want people to be involved – people who are interested in learning and to become part of Juniper Press.

S: We are going to run workshops – and we hope to have a future membership group. We don’t quite know how it’s going to work just yet but we do want members, and we do want people to be part of the setup. Just to get involved in some way, contribute to it and learn at the same time. 

E: What we are envisioning is that people can come and do a course or workshop and they can pay a small subscription fee to become a member so they’ll get news on what’s happening, get a reduced fee for courses and be able to hire the studio for a session with technical support in the same way that people do with the other print studios. We think that’s a model we’re going to use.

People can do letterpress at home; they tend to use smaller presses like our red Adana in the corner, but it’s lovely to use a traditional press for large pieces. It’s delightful. So people can do it at home, but we hope we provide more training or equipment so they can learn to do it better, and they can come and try it here.

We can produce posters and cards, artists’ books, business cards, relief prints. We can print on fabric also. A lot of it is experimentation, and that’s exciting. 

K: But let’s talk about the passion we feel for this: that’s what it’s all about. Letterpress virtually died in the 70s and 80s when high-street printers were throwing traditional equipment away and putting Apple Macs on their desks. But in the past ten years people have realised that there’s something here which is so different and special that it’s worthwhile resurrecting, and we are the first in Liverpool to do this.  It’s exciting to be in at the birth of a new venture based on an ancient craft.


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