Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I can't believe it! I'm simply speechless! NO ONE on ArtFire does fish-printing? Apparently not! A search of gyotaku, fish, fishprint, fish print, fish printing, fish-print, fish-printing all yielded nothing. Lots of things with fish, about fish, including fish, shaped like fish, etc. etc. etc. But no fish-prints.

Well, it's time to remedy that. As much as I love my knitting, beading, quilting, sewing, etc. I am also particularly fond of "wildcrafting." Now that spring is here (for most of us anyway) it's time to get outside and do stuff--like fishing! Therefore, today I am going to introduce the uninitiated with the art of gyotaku, or fish-printing. And the fish I've got pictured? It's actually a xerox copy of a T-shirt I fish-printed a few years back. Cool, huh?
Fish Printing

When you think of fish, you don't usually think of them in terms of anything other than a menu item, or possibly as bait for other menu items. Fish generally don't make it to the Top Ten List of "must have" wildcrafting supplies. We're going to change that.

Fish printing, or gyotaku (pronounced ghio-ta’-koo), is actually a very old and respectable art form. Gyotaku has been used in Japan for more than a century to record catches of sportfish. By painting the fish with ink and pressing rice paper on the inked fish, the details of the fish can be preserved. This gave largely illiterate fishermen a way to record the details of their catch. Since the prints don’t exaggerate, they are an excellent source of accurate, historical information. By studying these prints, scientists have been able to gain valuable insight into the changes in fish populations over time.

More recently, fish printing is being revived as an art form. Done individually one at a time, detailed rice paper fish prints command high prices. Fishing printing is also ideally suited to T-shirts and other types of clothing. Trust me, after you've tried fish printing you'll start evaluating fish not by their size or eating potential, but how they'd look on a T-shirt.

Fresh or frozen fish (flounders, perch, bass, rockfishes, skates, rays work particularly well)
Fabric paint or small can of regular latex house paint (how many clean house-painters have you seen?)
Bristle brushes (usually about ½ - 1 inch works well)
Small amount of modeling clay
Straight pins
T-shirt or other item to be printed

1. Use soap and water to clean the outside of the fish as completely as possible. The cleaner the fish, the better the print. Dry the fish well. (Prints will look better if the fish has not been previously gutted.)

2. Cover the table with newspapers. Use the modeling clay to spread out and prop up the fins. Use straight pins if necessary to hold them in place.

3. Paint the fish with the fabric paint. Pay attention to the direction of the brushstrokes as they will show up and can truly enhance the details of your fish. Cover up any excess paint that gets on the newspaper so it won’t get on the T-shirt when you print it.

4. Put newspaper inside the T-shirt so that the paint doesn’t go all the way through.

5. Carefully position the shirt over the fish and press down. Work from the center of the fish out. Carefully lift up the shirt. This step is easier if you have someone to help you lower the shirt down onto the fish.

6. Allow the shirt to dry completely. Areas that don’t quite turn out as dark, or got missed can be filled in with either a fine point permanent marker, or by carefully painting them in with a smaller brush.

7. Heat set the shirt once it is dry. This will make it machine washable. This can be done by either putting the shirt in the dryer for about 15 minutes on high heat, or by turning it inside out and ironing it for about 1 minute on a cotton/wool setting.

Note: Your favorite fish can be washed off and frozen to use again at a later time.

The only "problem" is fish-prints don't lie! Everyone will know EXACTLY how large your fish really is/was! Oh well, it's still a pretty good excuse to go fishing.

If you're looking for some QUALITY gyotaku the way it's really meant to be--full color and on rice paper, then you'll love checking out this website:, or just click on his print below. His stuff is awesome!

Here's a picture of the kids at "Camp San Pedro" a few years back all wearing their fish printed T-shirts. And of my "life-guard" husband, Mike, wearing his shirt (he made it all by himself too!). And yeah, you can easily tell what he WISHES were in his hand.


  1. That is really interesting. I'd never even heard of it before. I would have assumed the fish prints were drawings or paintings. Thanks for sharing :0)

  2. Yup yup. I never would have known about that, and I went fishing every single holiday except Christmas and Thanksgiving until the age of 18.

  3. That is great Linda love it.....very interesting and informative.....I'm ready for fishin now....