Gyotaku at Carols

After taking the rubber fish class from Fred Mullet at ArtFest (it was our third day and I didn’t post any of the results from the class) Carol really wanted to have us come over for fish printing with the real thing.  Lauren and I met at Carol & Harry’s place for the Gyotaku experience. After consuming a wonderful lunch, complete w/ homemade soup, savory pastry and cookies from Gathering Together Farm, we were issued our basic bamboo pole, fishing line and a hook. Carol had gathered the bait (worms from her compost pile) and her fishing gear and we headed to the pond.


Felt a bit like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer “goin’ fishin”. All we needed was a kerchief tied to our poles.


We couldn’t have asked for a better day. Sunny and warm. Very much like our lamb visit.


We would have been very satisfied just hanging out at the pond fishing all afternoon and not catching a single thing.

Lauren discovered more fish in the shaded area. Carol was across the pond trying out her luck there.


Lauren and I were giving up on the idea of actually catching anything when it happened. A fish took my scrummy worm bait and I set the hook. Not much of a struggle out of the little guy.


It was a small blue gill, but it would work!

With in 5 minutes Carol caught her fish.


And after that, Lauren caught hers.


I just loved this photo.


So now we have our catch. As artists, we have to do a little design arrangement of the freshly killed fish.



The red brick was wonderful for arrangement purposes. This is Carol’s arrangement.


And finally… stacked fish with brick


Ok so you get the fishy point. Now we move on to preping our slimy friends.

Fish have a fabulously slimy surface that aids with quite a few fishy needs. Unfortunately this slimy surface is not conducive towards printing. So scrubbing them down with detergent and a wash cloth is necessary.

Blue Gill w/ a soapy mullet!



One thing to note is “you can over wash the fish!” The whole point of gyotaku is to show the fish scales and it is possible to rub the scales right off the little guys. So becareful with this process.

Once you sufficiently clean off the slime and gently dry with a paper towel, get your printing area ready. Carol had butcher paper to lay the fish on for the next procedure.-another rub down using alcohol.


The alcohol both dries the surface and cuts through excess slime. You might also decide to put a little paper inside the gill covers to prevent blood from leaking out onto your paper. Once you’ve done this, now you can ink up your fish.  We used Sumi ink and applied it with a Hake brush. This brush proved to distribute too much ink. Blotting off the excess really helped. We also  used our fingers to apply the ink. This method was what Lauren and I prefered. Make sure you transfer the inky fish to a clean sheet of paper prior to printing or you might end up with a lot of extra ink blots on your page.



Now to printing. Carol provided Sumi paper. It has both a smooth and rough side. We chose to use the smooth to avoide over absorbtion of ink.  We laid paper over the fish and gently pressed starting from the middle and worked out. One could possibly pin the fins out to gather greater information but we didn’t.



Pull off the paper and Voila! Le Poisson!


We are so gratful that Carol’s workshop is large and has plenty of table space.


Success! A happy Carol!


There were a few other distractions during the day…. named Dot and Rose the puppy.


Here are my results. Not professional but a great memory of a fun day.



The lower fish was inked using basic water colors. Carol brought out other permanent inks that we tried. None of my attempts came through because the ink dried too quickly. The nice thing about Sumi ink is that you can use other water based mediums over the top and it won’t bleed.


Thanks to Carol for providing such a great afternoon of fun. Looking forward to trying it again at OurFest in August!

Published by paperstew

I'm an artist in Albany Oregon focusing on paper and natural objects for inspiration.

5 thoughts on “Gyotaku at Carols

  1. Had to look it up, but it’s 魚拓!The first is fish, the second I knew only in another combination, but which I now infer to mean something like spread. But I’ll bet I’m wrong…

    1. How many years did you live over there? Like a lot! Looks like I’ll be taking this on the road to a local school. First I’ll teach the kids about Koinobori on Friday. Can you figure that one out?

      1. Koinobori (鯉幟)stumped me, too. The first part, koi (鯉), refers of course to the large colorful Japanese carp. Nobori (幟) I had to look up. By itself, it seems to refer to “banner”.

        Notice how the left side of koi is the same character as gyo (魚). When combined with 里 into a single character (both get a little compressed), it means carp. In fact, most fish names, if not all, will have gyo in it somehow. When it’s part of a character, it’s called a radical. For example, 鮭 means salmon.

        Gyo by itself, that is, when not a radical or paired with another character, is pronounced “sakana”, which is the general word for fish.

        I’ll bet that’s a lot more than you needed to know.

        Yeh, I lived there a lot, like, well, most of my adult life… About twenty-three and a half years.

      2. You are a plethora of information! I certainly didn’t think you would pass along the characters and all. Thanks!
        How’s the music going?

      3. I use the Japanese version of WinXP, which contains the functionality for entering characters. Don’t even have to know how to write them, just how to recognize them!

        You might be able to copy and paste them to Word or whatever program you use. There’s probably an easy way to download the fonts… probably…. well, I’m not so sure about that.

        Regarding music, as you know I’m a pretty devoted hobbyist. I admire Mike who goes beyond that and performs. I have a YouTube account where I upload songs and such now and then. There’s quite a variety, from short little ideas on guitar to full-fledged songs. Alas, quality and reception are somewhat mixed..

        Sound quality, anyway, will be better from now on because I’ve acquired an “audio interface” for recording.

        The last three songs I’ve uploaded feature my synthesizer, which I bought twenty years ago and recently resurrected. If you’d like to hear them, go to Their titles are:

        Burning Color
        Moon Over Osaka

        “Moon” is my latest. It is based on a type of Japanese music called enka. Originally composed about fifteen years ago, I finally got around to arranging and recording it. And I think I destroyed my throat singing it. There’s this one high note…

        Uh, oh, another plethora 🙂

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