A Fascination with Fish

Paul Klee is featured in The Big Blue LoLA box, an artist who had a great love for fish. His fantastic use of colour on dark backgrounds creates an inner light in the fish surrounded by dark water. He often used letters, symbols and numerals in his paintings as part of his representation of the texture of water. The fish scales and the fins in The Goldfish are a good example.

Klee’s work has inspired us to look at Gyotaku, which is a beautiful Japanese word made up of gyo, “fish” and taku, “stone impression”. Gyotaku is the traditional Japanese method of printing fish and dates back to the mid-1800s. It was originally used by fishermen to record their catches, but the beauty of the images has elevated it to an art form in its own right.

There are different methods of Gyotaku but the simplest is something everyone can do at home (holding their noses!). Children are both fascinated and repelled by it, so it turns into a really fun afternoon! The method can also be applied to many other natural patterned items – leaves, feathers, etc. 

Traditionally, a fish is cleaned, prepped, and then inked. Dampened washi (“rice” paper) is applied to the fish, and an image is created by careful hand rubbing or pressing.

For ease at home, we would suggest cleaning your fish and preparing an area with newspaper or oilcloth in your kitchen to keep mess to a minimum. Paint the fish all over with a thin layer of ink or paint (add the smallest amount of water for paler images, keep inks as they are for strong colours). Using the thinnest paper you have at home, place it on the table. Put the fish on top and press down. Where the fish bulges, carefully and slightly roll it to get surrounding details on the face and top. And voila! Peel back to reveal the fantastical patterns on your print.

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