Gyotaku fish painting, how to record your catch and have fun (photo: www.gofishanderson.org)
In addition to making tie-dyed textile, there’s another craft-related creative activity I've learned; Paper manufacturing.
No, I haven’t lost all my marbles. I’m not trying to make 20- or 24-pound bond typing paper. What I'm creating are 20-inch or larger sheets of paper made from a mixture of finely minced cotton or linen and equally finely ground rice.
And why do I want to pursue this obscure crafts art form?
Simple reason: I like to fish and long ago, growing up among some pretty serious Japanese American fishermen I saw examples of hand dyed original prints of fishermen’s noteworthy catches. Called Gyotaku ( read about it here ), Japanese fishermen would keep what they thought was a good example of a fish they had caught in water until they got home. Then comes the fu-- as defined by serious Japanese fisherman. Working by oil lamp or candle light, the fisherman would painstakingly mix dyes or paints to match the colors of the fish (leaving the eyes unpainted) and apply it on the best looking side of the fish. Then they would press the fish--dye side down-- on rice paper. But it doesn’t end there.
Where technical illustration and interpretative art meet in Gyotaku is the fish’s eye, traditionally inked in by hand.
The resulting prints are starkly beautiful and often formed the basis of ancient Japanese household art collections.
I first became interested in Gyotaku as a teen ager when I met a boyhood chum’s grandfather while he was dying a wild rainbow trout he had caught in the East Fork of the San Gabriel River.
As trout go, this was a spectacular 21-inch specimen with a bullet shaped nose, vivid red lateral stripe underneath a emerald green scales that shifted to a chrome white, right above the red stripe. In the 45 years that have passed since that mid-Sixties Spring morning, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a finer example of a “wild” tail dancing rainbow.
And,the more I think about it, the more I’ve come to realize that using that fish as the basis for a hand colored print on custom rice paper makes supreme sense.
And that’s why I wake up my household some mornings with the god-awful noise of me grinding small pieces of cotton or old linen napkins in the family Cuisinart, and then grinding about one-third of a cup of white rice and turning it all into a nice slurry that I pour into my hand made screen to produce 20-inch long pieces of high quality art paper. After removing as much excess water as possible from the sheets, I hang them to dry here in my office. Then, If I want a really flat surface, I iron the paper with e medium hot iron and add the sheets to my hermetically sealed stash in the vain hope of catching a fish worthy of a Gyotaku project.
From paper making to an obscure Japanese artform ( with a brief stop on the banks of the East Fork), all in about 500 words. I think my favorite teacher, Mrs. Ruth Trumble would smile.
One final note: I once asked my boyhood friend (an avid fisherman and long time member of the Young Buddhist Association “how a Buddhist could morally justify fishing.”
His reply: ”It’s the fish’s karma to be caught and probably mine to catch it.”
PK, you’re one of a kind and your grandfather wasn’t just an artist and superb fisherman, he was also a grower of the best tasting Sequoia strawberries in all of Southern California.---Jim Forbes 12/22/2008