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    In order not to distract from JC2’s excellent lino cut prints in his thread “Lino Cuts Limited Edition Prints …”, I’ve opened this topic to answer atk16’s query.

    atk16, I suspect the gyotaku you did in Hawaii was the older more familiar direct gyotaku method. I practice the indirect coloured method, which is much more intricate. As far as I am aware, other than myself, there is no-one in Australia who can teach you how to do the indirect coloured gyotaku method. I’m in Tasmania, and unfortunately I am not in a position to take on an apprentice. I find it hard to find time for my own painting. It takes time to learn the basics of indirect gyotaku and years to master. Inada took decades to develop his method. Nagase sensei took about 10+ years to master the technique. I did it in about 7 years, perhaps due to my prior formal training in zoological illustration, and I still consider myself well below Nagase’s standard.

    I should explain the two gyotaku methods. The older direct method came to Japan from China in the mid 19<sup>th</sup> century. It involves applying paint or ink, often Indian ink to one side of the fish and then before the ink dries rice paper (ganpishi) or similar is pressed onto the fish to obtain an imprint of the fish, including scales and fins etc.  With the exception of fish like flounder which are near flat, the print comes out larger than the fish because the fish is round in cross-section. Nonetheless, it was a quick way or making a record of the fish before the popular existence of cameras. Gyotaku literally means fish print. The print is monochromatic, usually black, although I know of artists in Hawaii who will apply up to two or three colours on the fish before applying the paper, but you need to be quick.

    The indirect coloured method involves applying, or more accurately moulding, the ganpishi to the fish, after some cleaning and taxidermy, and then gently applying special paint/ink to the paper using small wads of silk filled with cotton called tanpo – think brass rubbing, or rubbing a pencil on paper on top of a coin. Different ink is applied in strict sequence in a series of layers, much like traditional lithographic printing, to build up and obtain a true colour representation of the fish. In answer to atk2’s question, applying the colour is part of making the print. At the same time you get a perfect imprint of the scales and fins. You also get a print in proper visual proportions, there’s a trick to that. The overall result is a perfect realistic imprint of the fish and hopefully in true colours if you have mastered the method. That is a very simplistic overview. The direct method takes a few minutes, whereas the indirect method can take about an hour for a small trout or 4 to 6+ hours for a larger fish.

    Attached is print by Nagase sensei of an 8 lb brown taken near Hobart.  He made 5 prints over the course of a week, each print taking about 4 hours to complete.  Needless to say, the fish was starting to get a tad oderous by the end of the week.



    Thank you Dr Graham for sharing your knowledge on the indirect method. It has given me food for thought.

    As with most of the art I produce it is always a series of problem solving and working from the known to the unknown and thereby developing one’s creativity and experience.

    As a fly fisherman, I have an abundance of the raw material at hand at any given time and will be printing fish as I catch them.

    Starting with the old method of Indian ink prints but I will be experimenting with your indirect method as well.

    If it is ok with you I would like to discuss my journey with you and others if they are interested and show my humble attempts.

    All the Best,




    Please keep sharing your art and thoughts on the forum DrGraham and JC2 !

    These Gyotaku  ,and  Lino Cuts are simply wonderful … just what all we daydreamers here need.

    Thankyou both !



    Jeff, chf, many thanks for your comments. This talk of gyotaku has stirred the need for me to clear my desk of consultancy work and fly-tying material and get the paper and inks out. Like you Jeff, I am not short of material but last season I didn’t catch much less than 2 ½ to 3 lb – isn’t that terrible, ha-ha. In truth, working with fish around 30-35 cm is ideal. I was once asked by a sushi master to do a print of a kingfish. I politely refused as I didn’t have a piece of ganpishi paper long enough, the fish was over a metre long, and the fish was probably worth about $4,000 to the restaurant just as sushi. I hadn’t done anything that big and the kingfish was too big and valuable to start practising.

    Jeff, I’m happy to provide any advice about gyotaku. PM your email address and we can discuss off line.


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