Have you ever heard of Gyotaku?
It’s the ancient Japanese art of printing beautiful pictures from fish, and artists devote years – lifetimes, even – to refining the skill. I stumbled across this by accident, and came across a myriad of sites which explain how to catch and then carefully cleanse and fillet your fish, before stuffing its every nook and cranny with absorbent tissue and gently pinning its fins into a delicate, aesthetically pleasing fan shape before beginning your print.
Or. Or. You could do what I did and choose two sardines from the supermarket for the princely sum of 75p, and use those instead. Yes; with apologies to the Gyotaku community of practice, here is the simpleton’s guide to achieving an acceptably pleasing print within a morning, and then being able to cook and eat your fish for lunch afterwards. Just rinse it first, would be my insider tip.
- A fish. Two if you can afford a spare.
- Rubber gloves. Because it is a dead fish after all, and remember that you have a fresh manicure that it is not worth sacrificing for this project.
- A piece of foam board or polystyrene that you can carve out for your fish
- Pins, if you are keen to arrange your fish. Skip this bit if your constitution is even remotely delicate.
- Paint; I used silver, black and grey for my prints
- A piece of silk or thin cotton, or super-light silk paper like this or this (try art and craft shops; it’s often sold with giftwrap or in small, single sheets).
First, rinse and pat dry your fish. Oh, put the gloves on first. Sorry. Start with those.
Let’s try again. Put the gloves on and then rinse and pat dry the fish. Do not look it in the eye; it will only make it harder.
Then, draw around the shape of your fish on your foam board/polystyrene and cut out a shallow hollow for your fish to fit into. This will stop it rolling around when you paint it and make prints. Then, place your fish in the hollow you’ve made and daub colour all over your fish. I used silver paint, and then added grey and black in the areas of the fish that looked the darkest. I peeled off my gloves and took this single picture to help. Then it just got too messy to take pictures of anything. Too many fish scales; too much paint.
Once you’ve painted your fish, you need to act quickly before it dries. Pick up your piece of silk or silk paper and place it over the fish, and then pat it all over, making sure you press the shape of the fish and its fins into the paper. Peel the paper off and place it aside to dry; you might get a second print, but usually you’ll need to reapply the paint to get a good second print. Practice makes perfect; my first print looked like this….
Recognisably a fish, but only just. So next time I added more paint, including a good splash of black over the eyeball, and got a much better set of prints…
Once you’ve made a print that you’re happy with, wait for it to dry and use your brush and paints to add any further detail or highlights that you want to. I then cut out my fish print and glued it to a piece of white card so that the print stood out more clearly..
Once you’ve made your prints, you could scan them and print them onto different surfaces or make patterns. Or use the originals for cards, as I did. It’s a great project to try with kids, because it’s messy, involves dead things and paint (cool combination!), and the results are instant and gratifying. Just allow a bit of time for clearing up….
Have a great week!