Tag Archives: gyotaku

Fish Print


Yesterday a reader responded to the post “Inappropriate.” Here’s what the reader wrote:

I know this is about the romper, but I think the fish print thing is inappropriate. Where did they get these dead fish? Were they goldfish or were they trout? I doubt anyone was going to be eating these fish once they had paint all over them. Were they killed specifically for this project? If so, how? How many dead fish were there? Were they rinsing the fish off so the next person could change the paint color, or were all the fish prints using the same color paint? Was there an adult monitoring the hand washing of children after they’d touched dead fish?

I decided to give my response as a post instead of just adding a comment that might be missed by some readers. My response follows.

I will try to answer your questions about the fish prints and the fish involved. I don’t know the answers to all of your questions.

I don’t know where they got the dead fish. I assume they got the fish from the seafood section of a supermarket. I suppose the fish could have been donated by the person who caught them.

The fish were not goldfish. I don’t know if they were trout. (Are trout the flat ones?) To me, the fish looked like fish one would buy from the seafood department of a large supermarket, then take home to cook and eat. They were rather long (eight inches?) and kind of thin (two or three inches?)

I would not have wanted to eat the fish after the art project was over. Even if the paint were nontoxic and could have been totally washed off of the fish, by the time it was all over, I think the fish would have been off the ice for quite a while. I’d be afraid the fish had gone bad. The fish were being kept on ice between prints, and an adult was squeezing lemon over the fish and ice to help alleviate the rather fishy aroma in the room, but I don’t think eating them at the end of the day would have been a good idea.

Also, the fish would have been touched by a lot of people by the end of the day. Even if the fish weren’t spoiled, I don’t know if the people touching the fish had clean hands, so I don’t think I’d want to eat fish handled with possibly dirty hands. I don’t know if cooking fish eliminates dirty hand germs.

I did not see anyone washing hands before or after handling the fish. I did not notice an adult supervising hand washing. Of course, there could have been hand washing that I didn’t notice. I’m not saying that hands were not washed after fish touching, only that I did not notice hand washing.

I do not know if the fish were killed specifically for this art project. I assume they were killed for eating, but that is speculation.

I also cannot say how the fish were killed. I do not have that answer. Their heads were intact, so I don’t think they were bashed in the head, as some fisherpeople do. (I had a fisher friend who just let the fish she’d caught grow dormant in ice, then “cleaned” them while they were still alive.) I do not know how fish intended for consumption and sold at fish markets are killed.

I am trying to remember how many dead fish there were. I didn’t count them. I would estimate there were six to eight dead fish available for making fish prints.

I think the fish were being rinsed off between prints, but now I am unsure. I also think there were two or three paint colors to choose from, but I’m unsure about that too. Because the fish were going back into a tub of ice between prints, I think they were being rinsed between prints. I don’t remember the ice being mucky or colorful from paint being mixed in, which leads me to think the fish were rinsed between prints.

The theme of the other projects going on in the art room seemed to be of an Asian influence, possibly of a Japanese influence.

I did a Google search for “fish prints,” and found that this is indeed a Japanese technique, and it has a name. According to Wikipedia it is called “gyotaku”. The word is “Japanese 魚拓, from gyo ‘fish’ + taku ‘rubbing’.” This “is the traditional method of Japanese fish printing, dating from the mid-1800s. This form of nature printing may have been used by fishermen to record their catches, but has also become an artform on its own.”

I hope this answers all the reader’s questions. I’ll be happy to try to provide additional answers to additional questions.