What is Gyotaku?

24 April 2002

Gyotaku, the technique of Japanese fish printing, has been used in Japan for over 100 years to record catches of sport fish and to gain ichthyological (fish biology) information. These prints have been used at the University of Washington for studying how the physiology of a fish is related to its surface area.

The art of fish printing is a good way to gain an appreciation for the beauty and variety of fishes and can be used for making prints of shells, rocks, flowers, and other items. This activity is fun and easy for individuals from kindergarten age through adults.

Before making a print, identify the fish. What are the distinguishing characteristics of the fish? Study the life history of the fish. Where and how was it caught?

Materials

  • Use a fresh fish.
  • Flounder, bluegill, and rockfish are good for beginners. When buying fish select one with bright red gills, clear eyes, and a fresh smell. If the fish has been gutted, make sure it has not been cut elsewhere on its body.
  • Newspaper
  • Modeling clay
  • Pins
  • Water base paint or ink
  • Stiff paint brush and a small brush
  • Newsprint or rice paper

Procedure

  1. Use soap and water to clean the outside of the fish thoroughly. It is important not to clean against the scales. In some fish they can be easily rubbed off. The cleaner the fish, the better the print. Dry the fish well.
  2. Place the fish on a table covered with newspapers.
  3. Spread the fins out over some clay and pin them in this position. This raises the fins to the level of the rest of the fish body, so they will also show up in the final print.
  4. Brush on a thin even coat of paint.
  5. Leave the eyes blank. You will fill it in after the print is made.
  6. Carefully place a piece of newsprint or rice paper over the top of the whole fish.
  7. With your fingers, gently press the paper over the surface of the fish. Try not to move the paper as this will result in smeared double prints. Remove the paper and you have fish print!
  8. Look carefully at the fish’s eye. Use a small brush to paint an eye on your print.

Suggestions

  • A collection of fish prints can be made, displaying various types of fish.
  • Prints can be framed and displayed in the home or used as projects for school, fairs, etc.
  • Prints can be sold for fund-raising projects.