Much to my delight, I had an article about fish printing published
in the Sping 2013 edition of Kayak Angler Magazine.
Here's a more detailed version with video at the end.
Suppose the pictures just didn’t turn out the way you wanted. Or perhaps you forgot your camera all together. Or maybe you just want more than a picture of that prized catch but full blown taxidermy or replicas are out of your budget. There’s another artful way to capture the essence of that fish. It’s called gyotaku (gyo-ta-koo) or simply fish rubbing/print. Ink is applied directly onto the fish then paper is placed over it and rubbed down. Once peeled back, the paper will display various details of the fish. Way back in the day, before photography was available, Japanese fishermen made prints of their fish for record keeping. Today, it’s a simple art form that many of us can enjoy viewing, and doing.
First step is obviously acquiring the fish. Whether it’s your own, someone else’s or even one from the fish market, fresh is preferred. If choosing to use a frozen one, make sure it’s completely thawed out and take care not to tear the fins. If it’s fresh out of the cooler, make sure to let as much of the water and slime drip off the fish before placing it onto a surface ready to get messy. Once on the working surface (cardboad in this case), wipe off the remaining slime with paper towels paying particular attention to the creases of the jaw, gill plates, fins, nostrils and eye sockets as well as any orifices that may leak. The idea is to not have any moisture or slime interfering with the ink/paint that will be applied to the one side of the fish.
Once completely dry, spread out the tail and other fins to exhibit it’s natural form. As with most fish postmortem, the fins will likely want to lay flat. You can use various materials that are easily cut to size like cardboard or in this case foam packing material, to support the fins. The foam acts as a backing for when you press the paper down later but also a surface for you to glue the fins in the proper position. The same goes for the tail if it does not want to stay spread open. You can super glue the edges to the cardboard so it remains in the desired fan shape. For flat fish such as flounder or halibut, you do not need to place a backing behind the fins since they are already laying flat against the surface. Conversely, the thicker the fish, the higher the backing will have to be. Kayak fishermen are known for their tenacity toward customizing the way they do things, so have fun and feel free to MacGuyver your own way to set up your pre-print fish.
Next comes the artsy stuff. Spread the ink over the entire side of the fish using a sponge, foam roller, or in this case a soft brush. It may take a few times to figure out the right ink to water ratio that will work best for the desired result. Dab the eyes and other areas of the fish that you don’t want inked (broad stripes and other patterns) using a paper towel.
Place a sheet of rice paper over the inked fish and press your hands over the entire body including the fins.
Peel back and voilá! There you have it. Once it dries, which shouldn’t take long, you can paint in the eyes and/or other details like dots, thin stripes or other markings.
Various mediums can be experimented with including different water based paints and acrylics. A full spectum of colors can also implemented if black is too boring for your palate. Also, you are not limited to rice paper. It might be worthwhile trying various papers from your local art supply shop and even different textiles using fabric paint.