The History and Technique of Gyotaku

Matt S. shows off his prize catch. Photo by: J. Schwartz

In Japan, fishermen would make Gyotaku to preserve records of their catches. The oldest Gyotaku was found in Japan, dating back to 1862. Lord Sakai of the Yamagata prefecture made a big catch in one night, and to preserve the memory, prints were made of large red sea bream. While the Gyotaku was commissioned by Lord Sakai, the actual artist is unknown.

Traditionally, prints were made on rice paper using carbon-based sumi ink. There are two different techniques for making Gyotaku: the indirect method and the direct method. The indirect method involves placing the paper on top of a prepared fish, and then applying the ink to the paper using a small cloth blotter. This is done much like a gravestone rubbing. The direct method is the more traditional Japanese method and involves putting the paint directly on the fish and then putting the paper directly on the paint. If done correctly, the final result is an accurately sized, slightly abstract Gyotaku. Jaxsfish uses both methods. The final product differs in the amount of detail that you are able to capture in the fins and scales of the fish… the direct method is usually the more abstract and quirky since it is hard to predict just what the print will look like when you lift the paper. The indirect method allows you to see the image developing as you apply the paint directly to the fabric and gives a more realistic impression of the fish.

Winter Flounder by Jaxsfish, used by permission

(based on information from:

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Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

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