Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Fish printing - gyotaku

Capelin print
5.5 x 7 ink

Last week Robyn Sinclair sent me a link about fish printing. I'd never heard of it before and was fascinated by the process. This Japanese method of creating prints from a real fish is called gyotoku. Gyotaku basically means 'fish rubbing' in Japanese. The fish prints (commonly called fish rubbings) are the mirror image of one side of the fish, each characteristic of the fish is recorded - every scale and fin's reflection is transferred to the paper.

The most popular form of Gyotaku fish art is called the direct method. The fish print is created by rubbing a piece paper on the side of an inked fish. The fish eye is painted by hand after the rubbing is made. Only a few high quality prints can be made from each fish and each fish prints is unique.

Living on an island you'd think it would be easy to find a fish, wouldn't you? Not quite so, at least on a Sunday. You can read about that on my blog.

Despite not having the appropriate fish to hand, I made do with what I did have and tried a couple of prints tonight and have to say that, even though there is a distinct fishy smell in my studio, I love the results and the possibilities are endless for this process.

Here is the little capelin having been inked. I used a brush to apply the ink and I figured a brayer would just squash him into oblivion. I then experimented with a few types of paper. I had a lightweight print paper, almost translucent but found that it absorbed too much moisture and blurred the belly of the fish. The secret seems to be to wrap or gently mold the paper around the fish to get a print. Perhaps I was a little heavy handed on the first couple of tries.

Next I used Somerset printing paper and that worked beautifully, if not a little difficult to press against the fish as it was much heavier.

My final paper was a scrap of yupo which turned out better than I anticipated, but a little paler than the others.

Despite the lack of fish quality, it worked in my favour in some ways. The fish curves make it alive even in death, mimicking the movement through water.

Capelin print on Yupo

Its ice fishing season and I'd like to get a little trout to experiment with and once I can get the time to get to the market, I'll find some other fish to practice with. Meanwhile I will be adding other mediums and colours to some of these prints to see what I can come up with. A lovely mottled watercolour background perhaps or one of the sheets of that lovely handmade journal that I bought.

Experiments are such fun, even if The Other One thinks that I've lost it when he asked what on earth I was doing to the fish.


Jane Moxey said...

A friend of mine uses Japanese rubber fish to make prints with! Less smelly and very effective! I don't know where she gets those, so I can't be more helpful!

Jane Moxey said...


There you are for the rubber fishies to make Gyotaku type fish prints!

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Who would have known? Thank you Robyn, Jeanette and Jane!

Those are great prints you 'captured' Jeanette.

Robyn said...

I don't think this would be nearly so magical with a rubber fish. You are a wonder, Jeanette going to such lengths to 'catch' your fish and print him.

The image is beautiful and I love the rhythm in the body. Now you have to start painting your beautiful fish eyes, which was why I thought you'd love this technique in the first place.

I'm not surprise people around you suspect you've lost your marbles ;)

muddy red shoes said...

I used to do this using people! see my post here
I never knew what it was called till I saw your post Jeanette so thank you.
I used tissue paper it gave the most detail.

Tina Mammoser said...

Jeanette - I have a bunch of rubber fish!!! You are very welcome to them, it was a bit of a phase for me but I've held onto them because I figured someone eventually would like to use them. :) They are the Dick Blick ones, I have about 5. Happy to post them (a bit heavy). :)

Gesa said...

Interesting... I was undecided whether I liked the idea of inking up dead fish, but the alternative of rubber fish just seems not half as interesting. This is fascinating and very involved - what about squid?

Robyn said...

Yes, squid work - it's called octopus printing. :)

vivien said...

fun :>) and worth pursuing and incorporating into mixed media pieces

one of my friends has done this in the past - she owns a fish shop so is lucky in having access to a huge variety!

Jeanette said...

THanks Jane. I have heard of rubber fish but hadn't seen any. I rather like the concept of the real thing, as each piece is unique, but it sure would be handy to have a few rubber ones around too.

They're interesting aren't they Katherine?

Oh, I'm not finished by a long shot yet Robyn. I'm off to find some trout or something similar today. I'm starting out small and may work my way up. I wonder if I could still eat the salmon if I just took off the inked skin? Seems a bit pricy to buy a whole salmon just for printing purposes!

And yes, the addition of the eye and enhancements with other colours is what makes these prints I think. I just was a bit like a kid at Christmas going 'Mommy, Mommy, see what I did!' and threw them online :) I've calmed down now.

Sarah, the people prints are amazing! Ok, let's see who owes me a favour...

Tina, I may take you up on that offer depending on the cost of postage. I know its an arm and a leg to post anything to or from Europe these days and it might cost me more in postage than finding some this side of the Atlantic! Send me a note when you get a chance to see what the costs are to ship them. Even surface mail would work.

Gesa, they feel like little rubber fish by the time you've inked them up and played with them a bit. Depends on if you're vegetarian or not I guess.

You could use pretty much anything to print from I would imagine and I've seen ocotopus, so why not squid. In fact, I may do that later in the year as there are lots of squid around here.

The process was interesting Vivien and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I think the next stage of adding more media to them will be equally enjoyable.

I just need to find a few new fish.

Laureline said...

Very spare and very elegant.

Lindsay said...

Jeanette, I thought of exactly the same thing you did! "Can I eat it even inked":>) This is a very vital idea and it reminds me of death masks people used to make. A very fancy rubbing.I'm looking forward to following your experiments.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Re. the chomping question - would it work if you used some form of natural vegetable dye?

How about beetroot?

muddy red shoes said...

why not skin it after inking and printing

Jeanette said...

I'm looking forward to experimenting with other media on these prints, but I like the originals too Laura. The simplicity has its own appeal.

As for eating them once inked, I think Sarah and Katherine have good ideas on it. I would eat them and take the skin off prior to cooking them. Vegetable based inks may be a possibility, but they'd need to be food grade. I can experiment with other natural dyes. I now have 'food' pardon the pun, for a whole new post on natural and edible printing media.

Susan said...

Every year there is a local salmon festival near our home. They have a great many activities for children, including fish prints. Last year, however, they began using rubber fish in place of actual fish. I don't think the prints turned out quite as nicely but it was easier to handle! And the kids really come up with some interesting designs. Great fun.

Jane Moxey said...

I neglected to mention that my friend does printing on fabric with her rubber fish! She's a maker of art quilts. So using fabric as her medium, the rubber fish was more desirable than the real deal! I did love the organic feel of your printed fish however!

Amie Roman said...

I took a gyotaku workshop a couple of summers ago from Mineo Yamamoto, a master gyotaku artist. He comes from Japan to Cambpell River, BC, Canada, every year to teach this class. He taught us the indirect method of printing: the specimen is prepared into a fixed position, a fine piece of cloth is affixed to the specimen, and tampos (like à la poupée for intaglio) are used to gently dab light layers of ink. The results are spectacular.

Your prints are delightful! Isn't it fun?

Jeanette said...

Susan and Jane, I think the rubber fish have a real place in gyotaku printing, especially for those a little squeamish about handling fish or just don't like the concept.

The uniqueness of the fish in different places can make it interesting. I may end up with a mix of the two.

Amie, that looks like a wonderful opportunity. I just wish I were near Campbell River!

The indirect method of inking through cloth is unique and quite effective too. I can see I have lots to explore in this area!

Africantapestry and Myfrenchkitchen said...

Beautiful print Jeannette!! And very courageous and adventurous!