Gyotaku (ghee-yo-tah-koo) (Gyo = fish, Taku = rubbing/impression) began in Japan during the mid 1800’s as a way for fishermen to document the size and species of the fish they caught. The popularity of Gyotaku quickly caught on, transforming it from functional art to art for art’s sake. Gyotaku is a form of monotype printing and nature printing that is still created today. Traditional Gyotaku uses cleaned and dried fish, Sumi ink, a brush, pins, and rice paper.
Hokusai Katsushika, Lone Fisherman at Kajikazawa. C. 1831
From the series, Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji
21.0 x 29.7cm / 8.27 x 11.69 inches
Sample class information sheet
Gyotaku (rubber) fish
Colored rice paper
Colored block-printing inks
Large newsprint or newspaper sheets
Sample lesson plan
To make Gyotaku more art-room friendly, life-sized rubber fish are used in place of real fish, and water-based, block printing ink replaces Sumi ink.
Dampen rubber fish and cosmetic sponges. Apply inks with sponges to fish front and sides in blotting motion. Place rice paper over entire inked fish. While holding paper in place, gently rub and press hand over entire fish front and sides. Gently lift rice paper from fish. When paper is dry, add fish eyes and markings with colored pencils. Students can ‘sign’ their prints by drawing a Chop or ideographic symbol of their own design.
Grades 2 - 12 and Special Populations (Adaptable)
Gyotaku is an engaging multicultural and interdisciplinary art lesson that can incorporate such facets as Japanese art, industry, and food, as well as the anatomy and species of fish. Gyotaku can be easily adapted to accommodate beginning, intermediate, and advanced printmaking students and offers excellent practice of monotype, nature, and shadow printing; and study of color, texture, and pattern; as well as the development of fine motor skills.
Julien Tomasello MFA, MAT
Differentiated lessons for
GYOTAKU (Japanese Fish Prints)