Medium 101: Gyotaku

Medium 101: Gyotaku

What is Gyotaku?

If you've browsed our gallery, you've probably seen the medium "gyotaku," a favourite of artist Rachel Reeve. She gave us information on the gyotaku practice, including its history and cultural context. Here is a quick background:

The History of Gyotaku

Gyotaku - directly translated to "fish rubbing" - is a traditional Japanese method of fish printing, with its roots dating back to the 1800s.

Initially, gyotaku was a method of recording the size and characteristics of a fisherman’s catch. The prints served as proof of a large catch; a way of boasting their prowess.

Gyotaku Lobster Nova Scotia Print Art

Anglers kept a supply of sumi ink, paper and brushes on their boat. They'd brush their catch with ink and press it onto rice paper to record its size and shape. After pressing the ink onto paper, fishermen would wash off their catch and cook it to eat.

Modern Uses

Gyotaku has evolved from its marine roots into a marriage of art and science.

With their anatomic accuracy, gyotaku prints help conservationists record biodiversity - an especially relevant practice as species become threatened or extinct.

Gyotaku at Teichert

The direct method that Reeve employs starts with the application of nontoxic ink directly onto the body of the fish, followed by pressing rice paper on top. The paper then receives the inked impression.

The result, as you'll see in her collection, is a true-to-life image with the full range of values and depth. Up-close, it feels as if the fish were pulled ashore from an ink-filled sea; their scales cast shadows.

- Cormac Newman


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