One to Watch with Eric Tieng

We’ve become quite adept at linking the idea of design with the digital realm, but design doesn’t only just live there. Like with many things graphic design began in the physical world with roots and history in letterpress printing and layouts and ty­pography being laid out by hand. There are few of us now who have taken on the role of learning about these forgotten phys­ical techniques. Eric Tieng, a designer who grad­uated from Billy Blue College of Design (BBCD), is one of the few and we’ve taken this op­portunity to learn more about his journey to becoming a luxury letterpress printer.

Eric was lost and confused after fin­ishing college and it would be his creative pastime that eventually steered him towards his current career path. Hand-lettering began as a hobby that led to chalkboard lettering, learning how to sign paint, letter­ing large scale murals and eventually his first paid gig. When he learned about what letterpress printing was and eventually fell in love with it, it felt only natural to incorporate it into what he was already doing. In 2017 he took the leap and pur­chased a Heidel­berg Platen letterpress with passion in his heart but knowing next to nothing about how to work it. Now in 2020 he’s running his own workshop with two letterpresses and a focus on luxury printing.

It was always something I wanted to do to complement my lettering designs. As a person who loves to try any-thing new and interesting, I just went for it. I attended a business course about 6 months before I bought my first press—it was always in the back of my mind to get into this, I just didn’t know where to start. A big part of the course was about finding a purpose and passion for something I loved doing. Helping people achieve the best in their business and branding was mine and that’s the main reason why I got into letterpress printing. It complements my branding work, but I also wanted to bring this age-old craft into the modern day to keep its history alive.

As outsiders we’re not privy to the early processes that someone goes through to get to where they are but for Eric, we’ve managed to catch him at the beginning and now we get to take a peek behind the curtains and the road hasn’t always been smooth.

One of the reasons why I went into freelance was because of major social anxiety issues I had. I was always scared and worried about interacting with clients and anyone I haven’t met in general. I would get super anxious and nauseous all the time! Because of this I didn’t go looking for a junior role in design, I decided to build my own pathway instead… well I kind of had to because I had nothing else…

For some of you out there this is your reality and to see someone else go through something similar—it’s your light at the end of the tunnel. Most of the time you already have the main ingredients to get to where you want but what’s needed is the drive to bring it all together. In spite of all his struggles Eric wouldn’t change a thing about his journey so far.

I don’t think I would change it for the world. I kind of knew what I wanted, and I took the leap and just did it. I knew what was in store for me and I knew what I needed to back myself for this journey. I knew it was going to be super hard, but I just had to tell myself if I put in the hard work, I would get to where I wanted to be. I am lucky to have family and friends supporting me as well which I am super grateful of. The one thing I’d probably change from back then is to network a bit more. As of today, I didn’t really keep in touch with many of my designer friends. It’s always great to have someone to critique and bounce ideas about your work—it’s better than getting feedback from your sister.

With a newfound direction and growing client base, Eric has had the opportunity to work on various projects and one particular one came to mind when we asked him about his favourite. In 2019, Eric was approached by design studio Handle Branding to print an invitation for the grand opening of The Paper Mill Liverpool—Australia’s first paper mill. This project consisted of a custom hand folded origami envelope that opened to reveal a double-sided letterpress invitation printed on 600 gsm GMUND cotton stock paper featuring 24kt gold hand gilded edges. Eric still regards this as one of the most fun and enjoyable projects he’s worked on to date. Keeping ideas fresh and staying inspired is quite important when it comes to delivering successful outcomes for clients. One way Eric does this is by experimenting with different materials and textures, to think outside the box and break boundaries. This is what keeps him going to find more inspiration and trends but of course sometimes this is easier said than done.

I get an exciting rush when I find out something new or if I have a new idea to try out.

Eric may still be in the early stages of his career but we’re already seeing an amazing drive to do great things. There are thoughts of long-term plans for KOPO Studio including opening up a print shop and design studio and becoming a hub for designers and non-designers to learn about letterpress printing. People tend to under­estimate the power of print but to Eric print is an art form and not just another piece of printed paper. When done right printed material can be an incredibly powerful and rewarding experience. There is no greater joy than being able to do what you love and call it work and for those of you just starting out, Eric has a few nuggets of wisdom for you—

Find what you love and find your niche. I think that’s super important for a designer. If you have something you love doing as a designer, bring it into your work and personal projects. Don’t just make work for yourself and designer friends, make it interesting for your clients as well because that’s who you are going to work with. Don’t be scared to push boundaries. Be different, bring out your personality and your unique­ness into your designs.


You can find Eric Tieng on Instagram at @ericssoncreative and @kopostudio.

This article first appeared in the print edition of Ligature Journal issue 9.

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