Friday, October 8, 2010

Fish Prints

Well things got a little fishy yesterday as Grade 2 did Gyotaku, traditional Japanese fish printing.

Here the fabric print is sewed onto a enviro grocery bag.  Mine had a logo on the front so I just turned it inside out.

Here are some of the paper prints.  You can see we had a lot of Rainbow Fish!

So you need a fish, I got mine from the supermarket the day before.  It was not gutted.  This made for a better print with a full fish.  We used tilapia as they are easy to find and the have a really nice scale for printing.

-and no I didn't realize the headline for this photo ahead of time!

Now the traditional method is to use India ink but I found it was just too watery for a good print so we used acrylics which also gave us a permanent print on our fabric versions.

Paint your fish.

We did our paper print first.  Lay your paper on top of your painted fish and gently press.  You are trying to get a good outline so I would ask the kids to find the tail, the mouth the eye, etc.

Lift and set aside to dry.

Next up is the fabric print.  We placed cotton muslin on top of the fish, we did not repaint it in between, the paper print blotted away the excess paint.

The kids would press down on the fabric amazed by the scale detail coming up.

Lift and set aside to dry.

Now I had 3 fish and I would wipe each one off with a baby wipe in between as well as place it in a tub of water for a quick dip before the next student would begin painting.
When the print is fully dry you need to run it through the washing machine or else your prints will smell.  You don't have to worry about the paper ones, no fishy smell there!

Some kids even had a scale become embedded in there paper versions, very cool!

That's it, now I have 23 more grocery bags to sew so I'll see you next time.


  1. Okay, this is downright odd. But the prints are cool! :D

  2. I guess it can be smelly :( ...but it came out soooo nice!!

  3. Ha ha!! This brought back an OLD memory, from around 1980, when I took a summer grad class called Project Oceanology. We went out on a research vessel every day, into Long Island Sound, from Groton Connecticut. It was a wonerful learning experience, and great fun too. Everyone was either a high school science teacher or an elementary teacher interested in science, and then there was me, the lone crazy art teacher, so I could do or say any ridiculous thing and get away with it! We would put out trawl nets when we were out in the boat (and old Navy launch converted for research) and haul in all sorts of crazy critters. So it was my brilliant idea to try gyotaku with a flounder we caught one day. We took him into the lab, and then realized we had to 'disable' (or kill) the fish. A big problem. Someone (not me) did the dirty deed by knocking it out with a rubber mallet, but then we realized the fish was SLIMY and the paint we had by wouldn't stick, so we washed it with dish detergent. We actually finally did make a couple of semi-successful prints, but mostly I remember laughing so hard that I thought I'd pee my pants. I suppose I should feel remorse about the demise of the poor flounder.

  4. Ive seen these before and always wondered how they were actually done-interesting you use a real fish. Thanks for the tutorial-great results!

  5. is it smelly on the paper?..but its nice to have a medium using a fish to make an art...really nice post love it..


  6. Thanks everyone, Phyl that sounds like quite a trip!
    Badloi, surprisingly the paper prints did not smell at all.

  7. I did this last year on vacation in Minnesota and again with my class of pre-schoolers. It is such an amazing project to do. I think I love it even more than the kids!

  8. wow, cool prints- but gross process

  9. I think this is a gratuitous use of an animal.
    It does not teach children to respect animals or acknowledge the fact that all sentient creatures have the right to live without fear, suffering and death.

  10. You can buy rubber fish from art supply stores for just this purpose. They are washable and reusable.