Thursday, November 5, 2009

Gyotaku the Japanese Art of Fish Printing

Gyotaku is the second project in the third and forth grade printmaking unit.
In Japanese, "Gyo" means fish and "Taku" means rubbing. Put it together and you get fish print. Fish printing was invented by Japanese fisherman before the invention of cameras. Fisherman wanted a way to keep an especially large or interesting catch, and yet still be able to take the fish to market to sell. They found that by painting the fish with ink and pressing it against paper they could take a print of their fish, then rinse off the ink and sell the fish at market. Fish prints were brought back and displayed in homes of fisherman either on the walls or in journals.
Fish printing later developed into an art form when artists began adding artistic elements and created prints for their beauty. This fish print was created by a fourth grade art student.

Instead of using live fish (for obvious reasons) we used a set of rubber fish stamps. I set up 4-6 printmaking stations in the room and students circulated through choosing the fish the wanted to print. Their goal was to get four good, clear practice prints. We set our prints on the drying rack to dry.

In our second class students added elements of color to their practice prints with crayon, paying special attention to the eye. The highlights of color especially around the eye really brought our fish to life. We cut these out and strung them up so that they looked like the catch of the day.

The very last step of our project was to create a print on a water colored background. To do this students used the wet-into-wet watercolor technique. They sprinkled their paper with salt for a bubbly texture. We brushed away the salt when dry and printed our final fish. With a little experience under their belts this print was a piece of cake.

We matted our final version on blue paper and hung our papers alternately with our "catch of the day". Don't they make an eye catching display?


  1. What a great lesson! Do you have a photo of the final display? It would be great to see the last printing with the catch of the day hanging together. Having the historical background of the ancient printmaking technique makes this lesson rich and exciting for your students.

  2. Hi Rebecca--So great to hear from you. I couldn't find the final photo when I posted the lesson. So here it is, hope you like it.