Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Create an etching with artist Cathey December

When native Louisiana artist Cathey December shares one of her prints, she’s sharing the results of hours of labor compressed onto a piece of paper. Her limited edition, hand-tinted images depict Southern life and culture with depth and texture. From her home and studio on the banks of a bayou near Slidell, December etches, inks, presses and paints the scenes.

To get to the finished plate, ready to print, December follows a centuries old craft. While she can create nearly any size plate in any image she can visualize, the technique remains consistent.

December coats the plate with ground, the substance that resists erosion by the acid bath. She then removes ground from the areas she wishes the acid to etch. She can influence how much etching takes place by the depth of the ground that she leaves on the plate or removes from it. The plate may make several trips to the acid bath as the image is refined.

Once the plate is ready, it must be inked. The ink is spread across the entire plate, the removed from everything but the etched image. December uses a variety of tools to spread the ink and clear the excess, from an old credit card to soft cloth.

Each etched plate has a template to match, showing the positions of the plate and the paper as well as any additional patterning objects December uses. Here, she adds an alligator footprint to the etching of the alligator.

The inked plate takes its position on the template. By matching the lines on the template, December assures consistency in her prints even though the final hand painting makes each a one-of-a-kind part of the series.

December dampens the paper and blots it before positioning it on the template. She uses paper in sizes that will fit commercial frames to allow her customers to get less expensive framing of her finished prints.

December’s press was custom built for her. The heavy equipment survived Hurricane Katrina and was back in service with some minor clean up and repairs. The white shapes draping the top of the press are special woolen blankets which go over the plate and paper during the printing process.

As the plate and paper go through the press, the ink is forced from the details of the etching onto the paper. The edges of the plate and any decorative items December has added are also embossed onto the paper at the same time.

The page emerges from the blankets and press as a sandwich of sorts, an artistic Panini waiting to be enjoyed as a finished product. The outlines of the plate and the footprint show through the paper in relief.

December then peels the finished print from the plate and template. Now the image must dry for several days before she can hand-tint the final product. Once the drying process is completed, she’ll paint, sign and number the prints. Rows of prints dry on tables in December’s studio, future collectors’ art in an infant stage. Each page must be completely dry before it can be painted, signed and numbered, or the image may smear.

Alligator footprints, mesh work and other decorative backgrounds give additional detail to December’s prints. Her artistic image leads her to experiment with a number of textures in her work.

The dried prints move into December’s house where she hand colors each one. The final print features the name of the image, the print’s number in the limited series and her signature. The “imp” under her name affirms that the print is indeed her work.

The framed finished product adds a touch of Louisiana atmosphere to any household. Her work is available in a number of galleries throughout the South as well as the nation.             

Originally appeared 09/16/2013 at 

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