I have been mildly obsessed with the Japanese art of Gyotaku lately. I have scoured the internet for different interpretations of this elegant art form. Some of my favorites came from this collection of 3rd graders on Artsonia.
I wanted my two groups of K thru 5th graders to try a couple different methods for their Gyotaku. We worked with wet on wet watercolor backgrounds as well as creating prints using ferns, plants and feathers to mimic the look of seaweed. As much as I wanted to use a real fish, I opted for a lovely rubber blue gill. I thought the smell and the "gross out factor" for some, might be an issue that would distract from the overall lesson. (Though I am bound and determined to try this with the real thing eventually.) I allowed each student to make 3 prints with rice paper as well as regular printer paper. These dried quickly enough for the children to use chalk pastel to add color and definition to their fish. Some opted for realistic hues, while others let their imaginations run wild. Some children have more tweaking to do with their pieces on day two. This lesson was all about the exploration of media, but moreover, an introduction to this mid 19th century art form of "fish rubbings" by Japanese fisherman.
Rice Paper or Printer Paper (81/2 X 11)
Watercolor Paper (9 X 12)
Watercolor Paints and Large Brushes
Black Ink or Watered Down Craft Acrylic Paint
Brayer or Sponge Brush
Scissors and Glue Sticks
Rubber "Gyotaku" Fish Found at Dick Blick or Amazon
Children take turns making prints of the fish by using a brayer or sponge brush to apply a think layer of ink or watered down craft acrylic. They will lay a piece of rice paper or regular printer paper on top and gently rub to get all the details transferred to the paper. Put these up to dry. For the backgrounds, children can use a wet on wet watercolor technique by painting their piece of watercolor paper with water only and then adding watercolor on top. Colors will "bleed" together. These are put up to dry. Once their Gyotaku fish prints are dry, children can add color by gently using the sides of chalk pastels and blending colors with their pointer fingers. Definition to the fish's eye can be added using Sharpie markers. Fish are then cut out and glued to their dry watercolor backgrounds.