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Gyotaku Fish Impressions


Gyotaku Fish Impressions
In the days before Polaroids, Japanese fishermen found a unique way to document their fish catches. The prized catch was taken to a painter who would create a special print from it using water based paint or sumi ink that could be washed off. After the masterpiece was created, the fish would be washed and sold at market. Over time the process of making fish impressions, known as Gyotaku ("gyu" = fish, and "taku" = impression) became an art form that is practiced to this day.

Gyotaku Today
These days it's not unusual to find artists waiting at the docks for the sport fishing boats to bring tourists and their prized fish catches in. Tourists delight in having prints made of their fish, and with modern technology the prints are no longer limited to just paper. A Gyotaku print makes a great gift for any fish lover, and can be used to create shirts, hats, mugs, coasters, mouse pads, or anything else you can dream up.

Nor is the art limited to use by commercial artists. Educators have found Gyotaku a wonderful teaching tool. It may be used as part of a fish anatomy course, or to teach students about Japanese culture. Budding artists are taught Gyotaku as a print making technique. It's simple enough for virtually anyone to accomplish with very few materials. Only a few simple items, and of course a fish, are needed to create the prints. Some vendors even market rubber fish to make it all the easier to try your hand at it in the classrom.

I found the lesson plan by Lenore Kop to be an interesting approach for the high school level student. I also like the educational Uses of Gyotaku blog by the Smithsonian. Both are good resources for teachers.

Gyotaku Materials
If you'd like to give Gyotaku a try, I'd recommend using a fish mold or stamp, as a real fish can be a bit messy. Beyond that, all you need is paint or ink, paper, and a brush or roller. All pretty simple items that you may already have on hand. Under the How To Gyotaku section below I've included some links to good step by step instructions.

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