Gyotaku is a very unique form of printmaking which developed from a very practical need. Nearly 200 years ago in Japan, it is believed that fishermen developed gyotaku or “fish rubbing” as a method of recording a catch. I’m not sure about this romantic origin story, but it has developed into a beautiful art form. It isn’t just fish which are used as printing plates, but also octopus, squid and crab.
The image above is from a wonderful printmaker named Heather Fortner. You can see more of her work in her Etsy shop – here.
So What’s The Method?
The method is relatively simple. Fish with prominent scales seem to make for an impressive print. Though I’m not speaking from experience, octopus gyotaku seem like a lot more faff.
Me explaining the technique is all very well, but here’s a video which explains it better.
You may think this is a waste of a good fish. Maybe you’re right, but I think there is something beautiful about the preservation of the image of a once living creature. To have a printed testament to a resource which is becoming more and more scarce due to overfishing is perhaps necessary now, more than ever.
Have you tried this method of printmaking? If you have, send in a photo, I’d love to see your results.