Friday, September 21, 2007


We had a wonderful time at Kei's house, sharing this experience of fish printing. Kei's father, visiting from Japan, demonstrated it for us and so generously carved a stamp for each of us - a character of our name or the sound closest to our name. My character is (sounds like) Doe or Door meaning Earth or Grow. We carved the character on another block in the reverse, cutting it in the negative to his positive. Kei's mom cooked some dumplings and it was such a wonderful and fun evening with such generous and gracious hosts.

Gyotaku (pronounced ghee-oh-tah-koo), the Japanese art of fish rubbing, is believed to have originated in the mid-1800s (though other forms of nature printing date back to at least the time of Leonardo DaVinci).
In brief, a fish is caught, then meticulously cleaned of all mucus, blood, dirt, etc., and dried thoroughly. The fish is then positioned as it would appear in life; that is, each fin is propped open in the swimming position. Next, the fish is brushed with ink (with the exception of the eye, which may or may not be removed prior to inking) and a sheet of paper is carefully pressed or rubbed over it. When the paper is lifted from the fish, a highly detailed image is left on the paper, in much the same way you might leave a fingerprint. In traditional gyotaku, only the fish's eye may be painted by hand. Although Japanese anglers originally created the rubbings to record precise data of specific catches, they soon recognized the aesthetic quality of the works. Gyotaku has been practiced in the United States only since the 1950s--but never widely.
The first gyotaku were created using sumi ink (a natural carbon-based ink) on handmade paper (washi). Today, various media are used. Many practitioners use water-based block printing inks, but prints are also made using oil-based inks, acrylic paints, and watercolors. (Printing with nontoxic inks or paints allows the fish to be eaten afterwards.) Although fine papers are still widely used in the fish-printing process, fabrics such as muslin and silk are also employed.

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