An introduction to Gyotaku

19 September 2016


I watched BBC Countryfile last night and was surprised to discover that an interesting printing technique was featured on the programme. A Cornish artist was ‘painting’ found objects (such as shells, seaweed and even whole fish) with black ‘paint’ mixed with ‘glue’, then placing a piece of paper over the top of them and gently pressing with her hands to transfer the ink to the paper and make a print. I was intrigued because her paint appeared to be more like the consistency of printers’ ink, and I wondered if what she’d described as glue was actually extender. It also looked as if she was using damp paper (although this wasn’t mentioned). 

After investigation, I found that the technique is “Gyotaku” (fish rubbing), a traditional Japanese method of printing. I found a useful tutorial on the blog of company selling interior decorations (Padstow Mussel Company, 2014). In the tutorial, the author describes how she uses Gamblin oil paint to make a print of an arrangement of seaweed onto cotton sheeting. 

I also found a Youtube video, which although aimed primarily at sports fisherman, gave some useful tips (SportsmanNetwork, n.d.) The suggestion was to use water-based art acrylic paint and to smear it over the fish with the fingers. A flexible lightweight paper was used to take the print (traditionally rice paper, although any lightweight paper would be suitable). It was demonstrated that multiple prints could be taken with the same “inking”.

I also learnt from my trawl of the internet, that some artists like to paint in detail (such as the eyes and fine scales) after taking the print. Gyotaku is certainly and intriguing technique and one which I would like to try when I have time.


Padstow Mussel company (2014) Tutorial on how to do a rubbing. At: (Accessed 27 September 2016)

SportsmanNetwork (n.d.) How to make a Gyotaku (fish rubbing) print. At: (Accessed 18 October 2016)



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