About Gyotaku

Gyotaku (ghee-yo-tah-koo), means fish print in Japanese. gyo means fish, and taku means print, rubbing, or impression. 

Nature printing generally refers to the monoprinting of any three dimensional specimen of nature onto a variety of surface areas. Butterfly wings and flower blossoms were commonly used throughout Africa and Asia. This two-thousand plus year old art form became popular in Japan in the early 19th century in the form of Gyotaku. The Japanese focused on marine life and traditionally used carbon based sumni inks on rice papers.

The legend tells of a Japanese emperor who went fishing and caught a big red snapper. The emperor was ecstatic, but this big catch presented him with a big problem. Red snapper was the emperor's favorite food to eat, but the fish was so large that he thought he must permanently display the fish in the palace. After much thought, he arrived at the perfect solution. He ordered his servants to paint the fish with ink and then press it on paper to create an impression. He then ordered them to clean the fish and prepare it for a feast at the palace. That night, the emperor and his court enjoyed a fabulous red snapper dinner, while marveling at the beautiful rubbing of the great fish that was now hanging in the imperial dining hall. Who says you can't keep your fish and eat it too!

Fish rubbing has been performed by Japanese fishermen ever since. Eventually the technique spread to America in 1952 when a Japanese ichthyologist (fish scientist), Yoshio Hiyama, shared his fish rubbings with American scientists. He presented them as scientific illustrations of Japanese fish species. A good fish rubbing is probably the most accurate image, in every detail, of a fish's external features.

Beyond recording a record catch, or scientific illustration, fish rubbing has developed into a fine art form. Many artists are rubbing fish today. Fish rubbings have broad aesthetic appeal and can be very beautiful.

There are two basic methods of fish rubbing in use today. The indirect method and the direct method. The indirect method is performed by wetting paper, molding it to the fish, allowing the paper to dry, and then painting the paper with a special brush to bring out the fish impression (sort of like rubbing a pencil on paper over a coin). Indirect rubbings tend to be the most subtle and accurate rubbings. This method works extremely well for the purposes of scientific illustration. The direct method is performed by painting directly on the fish, laying paper on it, and then rubbing your fingers over it to create an impression. The direct method tends to produce much bolder prints. Many artists feel the direct method results in more aestheticly pleasing rubbings than those produced by the indirect method.


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