Gyotaku(pronounced gee-oh-tac-ooh) is an Oriental form of fish printing that originated during the 1800’s. In famous fishing locals, such as Japan and Hawaii gyotaku is still used as an artistic method of documenting the size and girth of a prized catch. Like a “fish tale” for the eyes, gyotaku fish prints create a story and memento of the event for years to come!
In Japanese Gyo=Fish and Taku=Imprint, therefore traditional Gyotaku uses freshly caught fish and other marine life to create unique imprints on paper and cloth. The “subject” is recorded for posterity, then ready to eat, as gyotaku uses non-toxic inks and paints to create one-of-a-kind imprints.
The famous legend of how gyotaku began starts with a Japanese emperor who caught a very large red snapper, and desired to keep the fish to display. The emperor then came up with a solution! He decided to paint the fish with ink and press it on paper to create an exact replica. Traditionally gyotaku imprints were made using rice paper and a carbon-based sumi ink. Today modern gyotaku is printed on a variety of paper and cloth materials, and artists often substitute non-toxic acrylic paints in place of the traditional sumi ink. There are two methods to gyotaku printing, with the most common used style being the “direct” method. The fish is painted/inked, and paper or cloth is pressed and rubbed over the fish, creating a life like imprint. Modern day artists may also use colored pencils, stains and paints, to enhance detail and create colorful renditions of the original species. Collage art, or the layering of papers and cut-outs, is giving modern day gyotaku multi-colored, textured, and layered effects.
Another evolution to traditional gyotaku is the inclusion of plants, flowers and trees into the print. European artists have been printing plants since the 1400’s, and today many artists are incorporating the plant kingdom into their gyotaku. Bamboo, leaves and tropical flowers are common gyotaku plant subjects.
Gyotaku fish prints offer a unique and realistic depiction of life in the deep sea. This art form is becoming especially popular in tourist fishing destinations, as many fishermen (and women) choose to have prints made of their catch, rather than having them taxidermied. There are now workshops and artists around the world who offer gyotaku prints and classes on this art form. The interpretation of Gyotaku is steadily evolving as new mediums and locations are introduced. The primary subject of gyotaku is fish, sea creatures and plants, whose species change dramatically depending on location. As gyotaku continues to capture the imagination of fishermen and artists world wide, new locations offer up a variety of species for the canvas.