Fish Prints – Where will gyotaku take you?

Sorry, I couldn’t resist the horrible pun.  This is an art activity that teaches science.  Gyotaku is the art of putting ink or paint on a fish and then rubbing the fish onto paper.  You can make the print on paper, fabric or even T-shirts.  You can use it as-is, you can hand-color details, you can add any way you want to and even add schools of fish.

A few minutes of searching the web for gyotaku images and you’ll be hooked.  There are also some great how-to videos on youtube.

You can use real fish or you can buy rubber casts of fish.  In either case you can rinse off the ink or tempera paint and use the fish over and over.  If you use real fish you can simply re-freeze them in individual plastic bags.  A good source for rubber casts of fish is Acorn Naturalists.  They have a great online catalog at http://www.acornnaturalists.com/

Don’s hints:  Use a good grade of paper.  Copy paper won’t take the ink nearly as well as art paper and you want your students to have a good experience!   Practice first.  Try intergrading different colors of ink on the same fish!  Add fins and other details by hand – just use the fish print for the basics.  With some papers and some inks it works better to slightly mist the paper with water first.  Finally, it is usually better to ink the fish and then place the paper on top rather than the other way around.  Gently pat the paper around the fish and then remove, dry and admire it!

You can also use the same technique to add some plants and make a scene, but plants don’t generally print nearly as clearly as the fish do.  Shells work nicely;  they have more texture.

Where is the science?  This forces the students to concentrate on the form and the details.  Now you can talk about the different parts of a fish and the different fins.  You can related structure to function – different body shapes and different mouth shapes for different purposes.  A diagram to label of parts of a fish will make a lot more sense after this activity than if it were before!  A good follow-up activity for younger students is the free sample activity “Fishing Fun”  from Project WILD at http://www.projectwild.org/growingupwild.htm