BIOGRAPHY: Elsa Catelin

Elsa Catelin was born in Coutances, France on 20 November 1975. She grew up surrounded by the artistic activities of both her parents who dabbled in wood sculpting and music. From a very early age, Elsa loved to draw and design things. It was her favourite pastime whenever she got bored.

With her local school in Cotances not offering any artistic courses, Catelin first studied literature. She then studied Fine Art at the University of Upper Brittany where she graduated in 1997. During this course she became acquainted with a fellow pupil who had been to the Ecole Estienne. Her passion stirred and with boundless enthusiasm she subsequently went to the Ecole Estienne. During her years there, Catelin was taught many art forms but it was engraving which attracted her most.

After graduating with honours in the year 2000, Catelin took up a number of jobs in the field of engraving. That way she was introduced to letterpress engraving at the state printers, artistic serigraphy  Eric Seydoux's workshop and embossing and other techniques at the Parisian printers Intaglio. In 2003, she sent an open job application letter to the French state printers. A few months later she was asked for an interview, when the printers were looking for a new engraver. Catelin became employed by the printers in January 2004 and during the following two years was taught the art of engraving by Claude Jumelet and Jacky Larrivière.

A perfect way to learn the art of stamp engraving was to translate non-recessed stamp designs into engravings, which would be used for philatelic documents and special sheetlets called gravures. Catelin's first one was the 2004 French 'Anniversaire' greetings stamp. Two more engravings for philatelic documents followed that year, for the Ouistreham Lighthouse stamp and the Seasons Greetings issue. In 2005, Catelin engraved the Sicile stamp from the Art series for the philatelic documents, again based on a non-recessed stamp.

Catelin's first engraving for Monaco also dates from 2004, when she engraved the non-postal label with the monogram of Princess Grace of the miniature sheet issued to mark her 75th birth anniversary.

Catelin's first actual stamp engraving was the 'Rutile' stamp for the annual mineral series issued in the French Southern and Antarctic Territories. Until 2006, the series was the brainchild of engraver Pierre Forget, but after his death, the postal authorities asked Catelin if she wanted to submit a design, which was quickly accepted. Working for and at the French state printers, Catelin found it of enormous advantage being able to closely follow the whole printing process. It meant she could quickly learn what worked and what didn't, how to solve engraving problems, how to choose the best colours, etc. Five years long Catelin would engrave the annual addition to this long-running series.

In 2006, Catelin engraved her first stamp for France: a stamp depicting Thionville, as part of the annual Tourism series. The stamp was also available as a monochrome 'gravure'. A large number of stamps have since followed. In particular, that of Villeneuve sur Lot, issued in 2010, is worth mentioning because of the superb quality of the engraving of the reflection in the water. Catelin’s masterpiece of 2012, the organ at Lunéville’s church of St Jacques is among her most celebrated work, with not just the stamps, but the whole sheet being engraved.

In 2013, only six years after having started engraving French stamps, Catelin was given the honour to engrave the new Marianne, a controversial design by the Ciappa & Kawena design duo. Catelin engraved two dies for this series. The first one is the standard version with children playing in the bottom right corner. It is used for the stamps with denominations and the stamps with permanent validity. The second die is for the green rates and includes a tree in the bottom right corner. As an extra green detail, Marianne's hair is brightened up with leaves.

There is also a version with an @ in the bottom right corner, which is an on line stamp which will be printed if you pay for your postage on line. This would normally therefore not be a recess-printed stamp, but you may find a recess-printed version on the Marianne miniature sheet, which also has an engraved and recess-printed postmark-like first day illustration. Then there's the ecopli rate stamp which has its background filled in.

The Marianne design sometimes gets used on commemorative stamps as well, and the first stamp to include the Marianne et la Jeunesse design was a stamp marking the Paris stamp show of November 2013. It is the green version but now used as a normally denominated stamp.

Catelin's Marianne remained in circulation for five years. It was replaced in 2018 by a new design, chosen by President Macron. The design was by a street artist named Yseult Digan, or simply Yz. Once again, Catelin received the honour of engraving the stamp. In an interview she said she found it rather hard to translate the design into an engraving, because of the black background, the complicated hair structure, and facial features which were mainly slight variations of shades of grey.

Catelin has said that her inspiration for her work lies both in the classics and the more modern art scene. She loves the work of the masters of old, such as Dürer and Vermeer, but is also fascinated by what digital art can accomplish. In her work, she enjoys the tension of how the traditional art form of hand engraving can be preserved in an ever more digital printing process.

This mixture of classic and modern also comes to the fore in the annual re-issue of classic French stamps, usually coinciding with French stamp shows. These were either non-recess printed at the time or the original master dies are no longer available, so Catelin has been re-engraving these classic designs since 2014. Starting off with France's first stamp, the Ceres design of 1849, she has since re-engraved the Marianne de Dulac design of 1944 and the 1876 Sage stamps. This latter was recreated in both original forms, with J A SAGE INV ending in two different positions.

Most exclusively, Catelin also engraved that famous French airmail stamp from 1936, known as the Burelé. This, however, was not issued as a regular stamp, but only made available as a limited edition sheet in the Treasures of Philately series.

In July 2020, Catelin unexpectedly announced she had left her job at the French Post and had accepted a position as designer/engraver at the Banque de France. She did state she would love to continue engraving the odd stamp in a freelance capacity, as many of her predecessors had done. Catelin's final engraving while in the French Post's employ was the stamp depicting Rodemack, part of the annual Tourist Sights series.

You will find Elsa Catelin's database HERE.