Maker Space: Sarah Tries Gyotaku, the Japanese Art of Fish Printing

Before the invention of photography, 19th century Japanese fishermen equipped their boats with rice paper, ink, and brushes in order to create gyotaku – elaborate rubbings of freshly caught fish – to record their trophy catches. The art of gyotaku is still being used today and is said to bring good luck to fishermen. The animated video below explains the basics of gyotaku done by fishermen in Japan.

In this week’s Maker Morning program, Vida led the class in creating their own fish prints using a variation of the ancient gyotaku method. Instead of using real fish, the class used silicone molds to recreate the look. Like the video mentions, this method requires a lot of trial and error by the artist. However, after a few tries, everyone in Vida’s class began creating some really beautiful and interesting prints of their own!

I decided that I would have to try it out for myself, and of course, it took me a few tries to get a print that I was happy with.

Watching everyone create their own prints made me think of all the ways that one could utilize their finished images. Vida showed the class what it would look like to be framed, and I mentioned how cool it would be to use these prints as wrapping paper. So I decided to come up with a way to digitize my gyotaku print in hopes of creating a graphic image I could use for something like creating my own wrapping paper.

Using Maker Space equipment, I was able to scan my finished fish print using the EPSON scanner, and then began to manipulate the image using Photoshop, creating an interesting graphic pattern that I could print. After printing it onto some iridescent paper, I ended up with a cool graphic design which Vida helped me frame to keep near my desk!

The art of gyotaku was a really interesting technique to learn, and it’s historical significance in Japanese culture is pretty fascinating. I’m excited to keep experimenting with this technique, and might try to use the same method to create prints of other items such as dried leafs, flowers, or ferns!

2 Responses so far.

  1. Anne Raymond says:

    I love this – both video on the origin of gyotaku, which I’d never heard of, and how you made prints and then jumped right to the scanner and Photoshop to create that nice frame-able piece. Good job!

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