Gyotaku Fish Printing Craft for Kids

gyotaku print

Aweoweo fish printing gyotaku craft

Gyotaku is a great project for lessons on marine life, or visual arts or just a fun craft to do with your kids this summer. Children can learn about the anatomy of a fish first hand while making a unique print or painting. There are several steps you must follow to achieve a successful fish rubbing. I have listed the steps below.

Before I get in to that you may be wondering what is Gyotaku.

Gyotaku is a traditional method of Japanese fish printing or fish rubbing as the name implies. This ancient art dates back to the mid-1800s and was used by fishermen to record their catches. Japanese fisherman used non-toxic ink so they could record their catch, wash away the ink, and still eat the fish. Over time, it has become its own form of art.

Here are the supplies that you will need to make a fish rubbing:

Fish, Acrylic paint, ink, or even tempera paint will work, Container for the paint, Paintbrush, Newspaper or a shallow pan, Paper towels, Cork, pins, foam core, or clay, and Rice Paper

Preparing the Fish:

First you must prepare your fish. An improperly prepared fish can have disasterous results on your fish printing. Your fish must be brought to room temperature. Freshly caught fish work great. The fish must be washed to remove the slime, but nor the scales. You can use soap, lemon juice, salt, or vinegar to wash the fish. It must then be dried. The gills and other open orifices are notorious for leaking, you may stuff them with tissue or use a blow dryer to ensure that your fish is dry.

Next, place the fish in a shallow pan or on a piece of newspaper. You may use clay, corks, foam core or pins to open and support the fish’s fins. The blow dryer can be used once the fins have been opened to dry them and keep them open.


Inking gyotaku

Inking the fish

Inking the Fish:

Once the fish has been dried and arranged, you can apply the paint or ink with a brush or sponge. Be aware that if you use a course brush, the lines made in the paint will translate onto your fish print. Avoid painting or inking the eye. If you paint it, you can remove the paint with a Qtip.



Rubbing the Fish:

Now you are ready to rub the fish. Cut a piece of rice paper to fit your fish. I recommend using a standard size in case you want to frame it. Rice paper is often sold in rolls and is fibrous. Regular art papers will not work for this project, the paper needs to be flexible and fibrous. I have seen it done with T-shirts, fabric, and even paper bags.

Place your cut piece of paper gently onto the fish; try not to wrinkle the paper as you rub the top of the paper to transfer the print. Also, try not to move the paper once it is placed on the fish to avoid smearing or double printing.

Begin to rub the fish so that the paint is transferred to the paper. You may want to place your free fingers under the fins and press upward to ensure that they are printed. Go slow and be careful. When you have rubbed the entire fish, slowly lift the paper away. Voila, fish print!

Painting the fish:

You now have a monochromatic fish print. You may want to add color to your print by painting in details such as stripes or other patterns and colors. Before you do so however, allow the print to dry completely. You will also want to paint in the eye.

Fish Anatomy:

You may notice some interesting things about your fish while you are printing it. For children that want to know about the anatomy of the fish, refer to the picture below. If you are doing this project in a science class, you may want your students to label the fins and other anatomical features that characteristic of fish.

Fish Anatomy

Anatomy of a fish