Realism and idealism meet and kiss in this print of a Redbreast Sunfish.
Realism and idealism meet and kiss in this print of a Redbreast Sunfish.

Vision for Gyotaku

Citation on photo
Photo of a male Redbreast caught in my home of Hamilton County, TN.

I’ve fished my whole life, with the people I love most, everywhere I’ve lived from Minnesota to Florida. I realize that I am incredibly biased when I claim that fish are the most beautiful of all creatures. There are, however, objective grounds to this claim.

Fish are beautiful in their own right. Their skin shimmers with an iridescent depth due to the layering of slime and translucent scales. Their eyes are captivating with the variation and layering of color and reflection. Every fish is unique. The beauty of a fish is so special it is impossible to fully capture with any man-made medium. That hasn’t stopped artists from trying, however.

I’m sad that much of fish representation in the arts and larger graphic world is generally over stylized to the point of being cartoonish. Consumers of fish images might have to be content with a clipart-esque image of a bass jumping through a trite logo such as “Kickn’ Bass” with a lure hanging out of its mouth. Yee haw. Is this the best we can do to represent these majestic creatures? I dream of a world where images of fish transcend the dichotomy of scientific documentation and cartoon.

Gyotaku (Japanese for “fish rubbing”) is the the most apt art form for attempting to capture the beauty and spirit of a fish. While it began as mere record keeping for Japanese fishermen, it has evolved into a highly developed form of art across the globe. In terms of size and texture, gyotaku provides an exact representation of the fish. Colors, though, can range from realism to idealism. Metallic inks and iridescent paints may fall short of capturing the full beauty of the shimmer and iridescence of a fish, but they are some of the best representations within the world of art that man can use to attempt to represent this beauty.

In this art form, the fish is first meticulously cleaned and prepared. It is then posed. In the direct method, ink is then applied to the fish and paper or cloth is then carefully placed on the fish and carefully rubbed. In the indirect method, the cloth is first applied to the fish and then ink carefully dabbed over it. After drying, the eye is then painted with either watercolor or acrylic paint. Afterward, the fish can still be eaten. It is like taxidermy and fine art fell in love got married, and had the perfect artistic child.


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