The art of Japanese fish rubbings and nature prints


Bellingham, Washington

L or i   H a  t ch

(360) 734-6721

How to Print a Fish


Where do you get your fish?

     From fishermen, fish markets or fishing in my favorite fishing spots.  I also hang around the docks as the fishermen are coming in at the end of the day.  Marine biologists are also a great source for unique fish.

What fish do you recommend?

     Some good fish to practice on include Rockfish, Flounder (nice and flat), Perch, or Bass (or anyy fish you have access to).  Have fun experimenting.

How do you prepare the fish for printing?

     Wash the fish thoroughly to remove all the mucus. (Paper towels and soft scrub work well.) Be careful not to remove scales. This will show in your print. Pat dry with paper towels. Next, remove the eye, and plug any openings (anus, gills etc.) with cotton or paper towels to prevent moisture and blood from staining the paper. Change plugs as needed. Place the fish on several layers of clean, dry newspaper on your work table. Build up platforms under the fins using cardboard, foam core or modeling clay. (Fins may be pinned open.) This allows for a hard surface under the fins to press against as you do the rubbing.

What inks do you recommend?

     Block printing inks (both water base or oil base work well. Just don't mix the two types.) Brush a thin layer of ink onto the fish, blending colors and smoothing out brushstrokes as you go. Block printing inks are made for relief printing so that is a good place to start.

What paper do you recommend?

     Start out practicing on newsprint. When you are ready to move to a nicer handmade paper, try Hosho Professional, my personal favorite. If you don't have a local source for papers and inks, you can order from Daniel Smith Art Supply in Seattle (206) 2239599.

Time to make a fish print:

     After the fish is inked, put clean paper (like computer paper) cut to size under the fins and elsewhere as needed to cover up messy ink spots.  Place your printing paper over the fish and firmly rub the paper being careful not to let it shift.   Make firm contact over entire top surface of fish.  Where you don't “rub” there will be no image on paper.  This is where you actually get to “feel your art”! Carefully separate the paper from the fish to view your GYOTAKU print. Lay it out or tape it up to dry. Look to see how you can improve, and try it again. Finish by painting in the eye with watercolor. I feel that is when you put life back into your fish.