Gyotaku is the traditional Japanese method of printing fish, a practice which dates back to the mid-1800s. This form of nature printing may have been used by fishermen to record their catches, but has also become an artform of its own.
In the earliest nature prints, inks or pigments were applied directly to the relief surface of leaves and/or other relatively flat natural subjects in order to capture images of their sizes, shapes, surface textures, and delicate vein or scale patterns. Typically both sides of a leaf were coated with ink and the leaf was then placed inside a folded sheet or between two sheets of paper. When rubbed by hand or run through a printing press a mirror image was produced of the topside and underside of the same leaf. Often the prints were done in black ink and the flowers later painted or drawn in by the artist. In other cases a flattened, dried leaf or plant was coated once with black ink and then repeatedly printed in a printing press. The initial dark print was used as a work copy or proof print. The subsequent prints, with fainter traces of ink, were hand colored to more closely resemble the appearance of the real subjects. This methodology is generally applicable to making a print from a fish. They also used wood and carved images into that.
The direct method currently is used throughout the world to record images of a wide diversity of subjects. Unlike prints from plates or blocks in which identical, duplicate images can be created the direct method produces unique, one-of-a-kind prints, termed monotypes.
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Chinese stamps or "chops" traditionally identify the artist.
My chops, shown here, contains my first name, John, or
Yuē hàn - -约翰· on top, and my family name, Gilbert, or
Jí'ěr bó tè -- 吉尔伯特 on the bottom, in red cinnabar ink.
According to MDBG translation, 'Ji er' represents
the qualities of 'lucky and propitious.'
'Bo' or 'Bai' represent 'a male sire, or older brother.'
'Te' represents the qualities of 'special or distinguished.'
I place the stamp on each gyotaku, together with my signature, indicating it is my original work.
Mahi Mahi, or Dolphin.
Original Gyotaku presented with
hand-tied saltwater fly by John Gilbert. 2016.
I present the print with navigational charts in neutral color as the base art and a monoprint of the fish, matted with conservative mattes and frames, as in the dolphin sample at the top.
An alternative presentation style contains the fish print in bright, faux colors with colored navigational charts, and HOT, faux combinations of matte boards and frames, as in the second sample, above, and the framed pieces, below.
My gyotaku collection continues to grow as I continue to catch fish. My friends give me their catch to record and customize! The present collection contains game and recreational species, from both fresh and saltwater habitat. I am personalizing their print with navigational charts and supportive information on their catch, as shown in the photo at left, to make the presentation a permanent and more personal work of art.
The two photos below show a redfish caught near Titusville, FL by Tammi Trulock of Winter Park, FL that measured 19 inches. The top photo shows the fish first, in the printing process with paint and rice paper, and later in its final presentation with the navigational chart of the waters where the fish was taken.