(GYO) – ‘fish’ (TAKU) – ‘rubbing’

Gyotaku is an artform that originated in Japan around the 1850s, though it did not originate as an artform. It first became popular by fishermen who wanted to record the size of their fish. In a time before photography, Gyotaku was a great way to do just that.

During the Edo period Lord Sakai of the Tōhoku region was so invested in the art form, that he hired artist-fishermen to bring him the best prints they could create from the fish in the Sea of Japan.

There are two different methods used for printing. The “Indirect method” and the “Direct method.”  For the “Indirect method” the artist places very thin, wet paper or fabric on top of the fish. They then use a cotton ball wrapped in silk and dab the fish. The “Direct Method” involves painting a fish itself with sumi ink and then pressing the paper onto it creating an impression.

I began doing Gyotaku around 2015 and utilize the ”Direct Method.” I like how raw they appear when you pull them back off the fish. I will typically do 5 prints and keep 3 to work on further.  Each piece I do requires a good bit of detail work after the print is made. I will highlight certain areas and paint in the eye. This brings “life” back into the fish.

In all my Gyotakus I try to strike the balance between keeping the raw nature of the original print, but also bringing in enough detail so the piece feels complete. Each piece varies in how much time is needed depending on how the original print came out.

I really enjoy the challenge and process of printing a big fish. The printing of the fish is relatively fast but it’s the prep work that takes time… cutting the paper, cleaning the fish, propping the fins and making sure you have a place to let the prints dry.

Gyotaku perfectly combines two hobbies that have been with me since I was a child.