Inside a waterfront park in Rowayton, the beautiful, seaside Connecticut town where our studio is located, sits the cutest little shop, aptly named Seaside Delights. Four years ago, Joanne, the shop owner and local artist, was visiting Cape Cod, when she discovered Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish rubbing, and decided she needed to learn this incredible technique for herself.
Today, Joanne is a successful fish rubbing artist, selling her originals, as well as prints, placemats, trays, notecards, and more through her shop and her website. The locals know and love her work, and many of them bring her fish they’ve caught on their travels so she can make custom prints. She even now sells her fish rubbings in The Crooked Fence, the Cape Cod shop in which she first discovered the art form.
So what is fish rubbing exactly? Gyotaku is a process in which fish, and sometimes lobsters or crabs, are painted with a special Japanese Sumi ink (Joanne experiments with other inks as well, to achieve different colors), and then paper or fabric is literally rubbed over the fish to create a print of its shape, texture, and unique details. It sounds simple, but it’s actually a very involved practice and takes a lot of skill and technique, as we witnessed on a recent trip to Joanne’s home, where she let us sit in on the process of printing an Alaskan Sockeye Salmon.
On this fish, Joanne tried a few different paint colors, as well as a few different types of paper, to see which would produce most detailed image. (We liked the white ink on navy rice paper best.)
As is traditionally done in fish rubbings, Joanne hand-paints the eye in afterward.
For her traditional Gyotaku print signature, Joanne had her name translated into Japanese and then made into carved stamp. She stamps each print in red ink and then signs below.
After learning about this process and seeing it done in person, we are officially hooked (pun intended). We love these prints for a dining room gallery wall, the trays and placemats for a backyard, summer soiree, and Joanne’s gorgeous triptychs, printed on glossy acrylic, as the focal point above the sofa or fireplace in a family room.