To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. The guest blog is brought to you by M.L. Christmas about her recent experience trying out Gyotaku for the first time. Enjoy! (Johanna Hripto, DNERR Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)
Return of the Gyotaku (Or, All the Fish That’s Fit to Print)
When reporting for volunteer-duty at the St. Jones Reserve’s Visitors Center, on National Estuaries Day 2016, I was met, going out the door, in the opposite direction, by an adult carrying aloft a fresh sheet of art paper festively daubed in bright colors of a generally fishlike shape…but with no little kid(s) trailing alongside. That was all I needed to see to know that the mysterious, elusive Gyotaku was lurking inside, ready and willing to engage with all comers.
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know it was in the research lab at the St. Jones Reserve, last year, that I conquered the harrowing kid-skills pop-quiz consisting of blunt-nosed scissors, school paste, and construction paper. When I rounded the corner into the lab the other day, I found myself face-to-face with an art-based smack-down-style rematch of epic proportions. I knew this day would come.
One of the lab stations had indeed been set up for the family-friendly activity called Gyotaku, the Japanese art of “Fish Printing” about which Maggie Pletta (DNERR Education Coordinator) and Colleen Holstein (DNERR Administrative Assistant) had so tantalizingly spoken, during an Education Volunteer Training session.
Fortunately for me, the only smacking-down being done was that of my selected, slathered art-subject against a bright rectangle of art paper: a rubber manta I had carefully daubed with sponge-tipped paintbrushes of assorted water-soluble paint colors. Afterward, a quick rinse of the art-model in a lab sink, then a gentle pat dry, and you are good to go — out to your car to set your paper-and-paint creation on the back seat to dry.
The tradition in Japan is to use an actual fish and inks or pigments. Information about this can be found online, and the results can be nuanced and quite spectacular. For a more convenient, more environmentally friendly version of Gyotaku, one can purchase a collection of rubber sea-creatures, manufactured specifically for this purpose, from the major art-supply houses. DNERR’s selections included a starfish, the aforementioned manta, and several species of fish.
“Fish Printing” at DNERR is the equivalent of tracing around your hand to make an image of a Thanksgiving turkey. It really is goof proof! And here’s the best part: The finished product will actually look like something! Mine, I decided, looks like a manta “hurricane” — if hurricanes had swirling arms of blue glitter around a vortex of limes and bananas.
The online Gyotaku tutorials are not without interest, however. There, one learns about the traditional artist’s soapstone signature-block known as the hanko, a symbol-rich insignia personal to the artist that’s inked and then applied to the corner of each finished piece. My hanko would be a stylized River-Tree-Sun-Field-Mountain. A lot going on in that signature block, if those things could somehow be squeezed in. If I ever find a piece of soapstone to carve, I will give it a try and will let you know.
Meanwhile, when at DNERR, don’t shy away from creating your own Gyotaku if the opportunity is offered. It’s all the fish that’s fit to print! And once you have vanquished your chosen foe in this table-top smack-down tourney, then consider adding, no, not your “John Hancock” ‑‑ though that’s fine also — but your personal hanko. You will be so proud! The estuary will smile upon you, too!
Text and photos by M.L. Christmas
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M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women. Her approach to nature writing, she says, is part Henry David Thoreau and part Dave Barry.