Gyotaku — Fish Painting Class

I got up around 6:30 this morning and had a little breakfast, did my morning ablutions stuff, and got through my email before heading out to the fish-painting class I’d signed up for with the Yolo Basin Foundation.  This class was at their headquarters, and I’d been there before, so I knew the way. I made it there without complications just as about 4 other people arrived.  We ended up with 20 people in the class.

The class was lead by a guy name Chris Dewees, who’s something of an expert in “gyotaku” (Japanese fish painting).  He was very personable and funny, and conducted the class in a no-pressure have-fun kind of way so everyone really enjoyed themselves.  Gyotaku is sort of like making prints with linoleum blocks, but instead of inking the block, you ink the fish and make a print off of it.  We had all different kinds of fish and two kind of octopus to work with, and I found that I preferred the little fish and octopi because they were physically easier to work with and there was very little “shimmy”.  With the larger fish, because their bodies were more rounded, it was more difficult to get a print without the paper shifting.  Lots of people ended up with fish that had three lips, for example, because every time they’d press down on the paper it would shimmy a little bit and pick up ink from the fish’s lips again…  I did like the print I got off of a big boney fish — the font half of him at least.  I got his face right, but then the back part shimmied, so I didn’t get a clean print of that half.

Anyway, we started out the class by picking one fish or octopus that we liked. I picked a tiny Blue Gill first.  You wash the fish off and pat it down to remove as much water and slime as you can.  Then you pour salt all over it and let it sit in the salt for a few minutes to dry it out further.  You set the fish down on newspaper, and fan out its fins, using pins and small slabs of modeling clay to hold them in position.  You can open the mouth or leave it closed.  Then using water soluble block printing ink, you then paint the fish all over.  After you have the whole fish covered with a thin layer of ink, you then use your brush and stroke it backwards (tail to head) to get the scales to lift a little bit.  With each stroke, you clean off your brush, so you’re removing a little bit of ink from the fish with each stroke.  ((Too much ink ends up in a muddy-looking mess, so you want to make sure the fish isn’t dripping in it.))  Then you take a piece of paper, lay it down on the fish, and with your fingertips press the paper to fish, all over, to make sure you get every part of the fish transferred in the print.  When you think you have it right, you then lift the paper away carefully… and there is your fish print.  After it dries, you paint in the eye to make it look more “alive”.  You do the same process with the octopus… but they had their own challenges because their bodies and heads are really squishy, and their tentacles would dry up and get crispy if you worked with them for too long.

For our prints we used newsprint, which was really too heavy; paper toweling, which was good but just a little too thin; and also Thai Ma paper, which was just right.  During the first part of the class, we all used black ink, but after lunch, Chris broke out the colored inks and people had a lot of fun with those.  I stuck with blue, silver and black, but lots of people used reds and yellows.  All of the inks were fast-drying, so people were able to bundle up their prints by the end of class and take them home.  One lady did her last print in different colors, and then went back to it after it dried, and highlighted parts in black.  It was looking really neat, but she didn’t have time to finish it…

Lunch was served around noon, and was a selection of breads, meats and veggies to make our own sandwiches.  It was nice enough outside that we all went out behind the building to the picnic tables and benches out there and had our lunch out of doors.  I sat by one of the ponds out there, and watched the trout in the pond eating bugs off the surface of the water.  The people who work there said otters often come down to the ponds to eat their fish —  ((The foundation stocks the ponds themselves so they can bring kids groups out there to fish.))  — but we didn’t see any while we were there.  The class was over by about 2:00 o’clock and I made sure to take one of Chris’s cards before I left.  CLICK HERE to see some of his work.  This was a “beginners” class, but I’m sure I can get a lot better at it if I keep working on it… and the cost of the ink, brushes, and paper is nominal…


My Article on Herons was Published

My Tuleyome Tales article on Herons was published on-line today by the Daily Democrat newspaper.

You can read it (and see my photos) here:

Here’s a snippet of it:

Here's a piece of the article as it appears on-line.
Here’s a piece of the article as it appears on-line.