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using paper towels or newspapers. Extend
fins and dry them, too. (See Figure 1.) I
use water-based, nontoxic acrylic paint so
the fish can still be consumed after printing (after washing the paint off, of course).
It’s inexpensive, easy to use, and found in
regular paint and hobby shops. Add water
to thin it. Japanese sumi or india ink is com-
Position the dry fish so it looks good to
you. Use toothpicks or straight pins to help
fan out fins. Pieces of tissue or paper towel
can be stuffed in the gill area and orifices to
prevent fluids from leaking and contaminating the print. Apply ink or paint using a
brush, or a small roller for larger fish. Avoid
applying too much ink, which causes blotching or blobbing.
Use a piece of paper towel or a Q-tip to
clean off the ink on the eye, as you want the
eye to be white on the print. Paint that in
later. Now, lay your rice paper or fabric on
the fish, trying not to get creases in it. Keep
material even and centered. T-shirts can be
tricky as you have to make sure only one side
gets the paint, so another pair of hands is
useful. (See Figure 2.) Once the material has
made contact with the fish, avoid moving it
around as you could get smears or a double
print. Rub the material gently. Use your fingertips for smaller fish and for areas that form
the outline of the fish. (See Figure 3.)
Remove the material, let the paint or ink
dry, and there you have it! (See Figure 4.) You
can use the same fish over and over again,
and do the painting and rubbing (pressing)
over and over, until you’re happy with the
results. You can also use the same fish on the
same fabric or T-shirt, several times, to give
the impression of a school of fish. It takes
practice to get a good fish print, but over
time, your prints get better and better.
Once you have a decent print, you might
want to paint it with some more color to give
it definition and interest. Artist-quality paints
are easier to work with than cheaper ones, as
they blend well, come in a wide assortment
of colors, and are more vivid. Good-quality
brushes make a difference. (See Figure 5.) Be
sure to take a photo of the fish so you can
look at it later to get the colors right when
working on your painting. Wash your prints
by hand, using soap and cold water; sumi
ink, india ink, and acrylics are all color-fast.
Time for dinner! Once you finish printing, rinse the paint off the fish with a sponge
and water. Sumi and india ink and acrylics
are all water-soluble, so with a little scrubbing, the fish should clean off easily. Once
it’s paint-free, filet in the usual way, grill or
pan fry, and enjoy! Aboard Feel Free, we have
a rule: If we print it, we eat it.
Gyotaku prints make great gifts. Frame
them, or make them into wall hangings
(using dowels at each end), cushion covers, pillow slips, place settings, or bags.
Printed T-shirts are always a hit.
Below: Traditional Japanese gyotaku is
black and white and strikingly beautiful.