If you’re looking for a way to break out of your doldrums and do something creative for a change you might want to try the ancient Japanese art form known as "Gyotaku".

We all know fisherman like to brag about the size of their catch and long before there was such a thing as a camera, Japanese fishermen came up with idea of recording the image of their catch on rice paper. I’m sure the methods they used so long ago were lost to the annals of time but here are some modern day methods and tools of the trade you can use to transform that dead fish into a work of art.

Let’s start with the tools of the trade.

  • Since you’ll be dealing with fish scales and blood as well as food dye, a washable work table is a good idea.
  • Some foam board that is larger than your subject matter.
  • Several sheets of rice paper
  • Water and assorted colors of vegetable dyes or paint.
  • Depending on the size of your subject, a good number of straight pins to hold it in place.
  • Some cheap paint brushes.
  • A handful of clothespins
  • Some glue or a glue stick.
  • A dead fish, intact. Fish with larger than average scales will probably work best.

    Here’s what you need to do.

    First, whether you caught the fish itself or you procured one from your local fishmonger, wash it off to remove any slime that it might have on it.

    With the straight pins, position the fish on the foam board in whatever pose you desire. Let your imagination be your guide. Be sure to wipe off any blood that seeps out of the fish as a result being stuck to the board. From what I read, you should also open up the fins and pin them as well.

    Grab your brush and paint the fish with the colors you have chosen. Always paint in the direction of the scales and do not go against the grain. Don’t be afraid to get any of the paint in the fish's eyes either, after all, it’s already dead and can’t feel a thing.

    It’s recommend that you paint the belly of the fish with a light color such as white or yellow and paint the fins with darker colors in order to add contrast.

    After you’re satisfied with your results, grab the rice paper and beginning in the center, press it down on the fish. It’s best to work from the center to the outward edges of the fish. This will make it easier for the rice paper not to get creases in it.

    After you’re done pressing the rice paper into all the cracks and crevices in the fish, remove it and lay it down flat.

    If you’ve got some blank spaces, feel free to touch it up using any remaining paint.

    An artist always signs their work so be sure to put your name in the bottom corner. Some artists also like to dedicate their work to honor their subject. Here’s a little poem that I thought up on the spur of the moment to try and do exactly that :

    With this fish, I tried to make
    A work of art, a piece of cake
    I hope that you enjoy it too
    But if you don’t, I’ll start anew.

    Hang the rice paper up to dry in a well aired place using some clothes pins and then remove the dead fish from the foam board. Make you sure wash the board to remove any paint that might have splattered or any scales that came loose. Set if off to the side to dry.

    Once the rice paper print has dried reattached it to the foam board using the glue or glue stick

    If you’re really proud of what you’ve done you can send your creation off to be framed.

    I don’t know what you can do with the dead fish. I suppose you could rinse it off and make a meal out of it but I for one, would just toss it.


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