Gyotaku or Japanese Fish Printing

First Grade students study ponds and fish and I love to do this project celebrating the art of Gyotaku. (Gyotaku: “gyo” = fish – “taku” = impression – pronounced: guh – yo -tah – koo).  While it isn’t reeeeaally pond related and I suppose there are other ways to celebrate fish, this is a unique way to think about fish and art together!


Gyotaku originated about 100 years ago in Japan as a way for fisherman to record the exact size and species of fish they had caught. With no photography available and the practical need to sell or eat the fish the fisherman would hire an artist to make a print of the fish using inks or paints when they had an exceptional catch. The inks and paints used were water-based, and more importantly nontoxic so that the fish could be washed off and then sold in the market. Fish were painted to exactly replicate colors.  If a fish is large, rice paper or a silk sheet is placed over the top of the fish, rather than trying to turn it over and get a good imprint.

In 1955, Gyotaku officially became an art form.  The Association of Gyotaku was formed and the first exhibition was held in Tokyo.   Recently,Gyotaku has become popular in the United States. Along the docks in San Francisco and Hawaii, and also in other parts of the country, artists wait for the sports fisherman boats to bring their catch back from the ocean. Many tourists on the boats choose to have prints made of their fish, rather than having it stuffed and mounted by a taxidermist.

I have done this myself using real fish (slimy), but I chose to invest in rubber moldings of the fish.  I am so lucky to have purchased these when we had more grant money available… I purchased our “fish” over a 4 year period and finally had enough for everyone to use 1.  Before, I was madly washing a re-using them in one class time.  Thank goodness I have the classroom teacher who gladly helps!

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Filed under 1st Grade, Medium, Paint, The Art Room, ~Blog~

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