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Lesson Plans

Re: Gyotaku (fish printing)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Mark Alexander (mamjam)
Sun, 22 Feb 1998 22:08:07 -0500

Gyotaku is so much fun! Its one of my all time favorite lessons! It is
always a hit, and I have parents and students who remember this one for
years! I get such a positive response every time, that I'm doing another
Gyotaku fish printing in a couple of weeks with a fourth grade.

For motivation, I like to start out by telling a fish story. "I caught a
fish one time that was so big that when I pulled him out of the water, the
water level of the lake was lowered by three feet!" Everyone is aware that
fishermen sometimes exaggerate about what they caught. About 100 years ago,
to stop this exaggeration, some Japanese fishermen began making relief
prints of the fish they caught. After they made the print the fisherman
could eat the fish, or sell it, or even let it go. The gyotaku would serve
as a beautiful record of the catch. These gyotaku (Japanese for fish
printing) were proof that the fisherman wasn't exaggerating, was great for
species identification, and the gyotaku began to be considered an art form
simply because of their natural beauty.

I prefer to use real fish for gyotaku. The rubber ones just don't have the
same olfactory response or feel. Although the rubber ones are easier to get
and cheaper, too, I like the fact that each individual real fish is unique.
Since I used to live in Gloucester Massachusetts, and still have family
connections there, I just plan on a trip out there the week before. I have
friends who are fishermen who sometimes donate them, but if those
connections fail then I'll buy some fish. If the gyotaku project is in the
spring or summer, students can catch a fish for homework. Simple blue gill
rock bass print beautifully! I freeze them on cardboard with their fins
pinned open and the stomach cavity filled with clay. I like to use tempera
paints with foam brushes. Thin paper, like rice paper works best, although
cheap construction paper works well, too, as long as the fish are sort of
flat. My favorite are flounder, which are flat and they have both eyes on
one side. The ink sounds promising, and I think I may try it.

Call the local newspaper, and have a press release ready with backround
information and how it fits into the student's oceans unit or Asian unit.
Great photo oportunity!

Good luck,


Mark Alexander, 1-8 Art
Lee H. Kellogg School
47 Main Street
Falls Village, Connecticut 06031