Making of the Japanese Gyotaku Fish Map / by Charlotte Bassin


Did you know that I used real fish to make the printed fish in the background of this map?! Yup, I bought them at Whole Foods, put them in my fridge overnight, and brought them to Open Studio at Foothills Art Center the following day. Artist, Chuck McGee is one of the participants at Open Studio and focuses on making art in the Japanese tradition using Sumi ink and rice paper. He makes gorgeous lanterns that often include gyotaku - fish prints.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about that: Gyotaku (Japanese 魚拓, from gyo “fish” + taku “stone impression”) is the traditional Japanese method of printing fish, a practice which dates back to the mid-1800s. This form of nature printing was used by fishermen to record their catches, but has also become an art form of its own. Read more.

I asked him about the process and mentioned that I would love to learn how to do it so that I could fill the oceans of one of my maps with fish prints. He was excited about the opportunity to teach me (and others in the studio) and was so generous to let me use his inks and paper. In return, I let him keep the fish which he cooked for dinner that night!

Each step of making this map was scary because I kept feeling like I was going to ruin it… adding color to the fish, adding the black continents and the pencil wave pattern in the background. In the end though, it is one of my favorite ones and I am thrilled that it was selected to be in the juried Members’ Art Show at Foothills Art Center. It is hanging there now until April 21, among the pieces of so many other talented artists.