Something Fishy at Artomatic

by Karen Peacock. 0 Comments


Clockwise from top left: Craig Cavin looks on as Jennifer Finley tries out Gyotaku , Craig inks an anglefish replica with one of his mixed-media pieces in the background, the resulting print.

Today Craig Cavin presented a Gyotaku demo at Artomatic@Frederick, where he is also showing his work.

It’s believed that Gyotaku, or fish-printing, began as a way for 19th-century Japanese fisherman to keep a record of their catches. This is more efficient than the stuffing and mounting of prized fish. With Gyotaku you can have your trophy and eat it, too. For that reason, Craig suggests using acrylic paint instead of a more toxic substance. Acrylic also makes for an easy cleanup.

If you want to try this at home, you won’t need a lot of special equipment. According to Craig, the essentials are:

  • A willingness to experiment and fail, and a  sense of humor. Without these, art is not possible.
  • Paper: Newsprint or traditional rice paper (kozo). Available in Frederick at The Drawing Board on East Street.
  • Ink/Paint: Traditional Sumi ink, India ink or any brand of acrylic paint. Available at Michael’s, A.C. Moore or The Drawing Board in Frederick.
  • Brushes: Nylon, bristle or sponge brushes. These can be found at any art or hardware store.
  • Vinegar, for cleaning off slime.
  • Paper towels
  • Play-doh, for propping up fins
  • Water
  • Newspaper or newsprint to protect the work surface

Of course, you will also need a fish. I thought the catfish’s unusual face would make it an interesting subject. But Craig pointed out that their scales don’t provide much detail. Better choices are carp, flounder, angelfish, and striped bass. In room 9 you can see the original print of an enormous striped bass Craig caught in the Chesapeake Bay. It’s easy to see why it took two people to pull that print.

Luckily we were presented with something more manageable. After a quick demonstration of how it’s done, we got the chance to make prints. Real fish weren’t on the menu so to speak. Instead we were using rubber replicas that had been cast from real fish. These can be found online for about $7-15 each.

The process couldn’t be simpler. Just brush the fish with diluted paint — experimentation will let you know the right consistency — and lay the paper on top. Hold it down with one hand and rub with the other. Make sure to get the eyes and fins. You can lift up the sides and take a peek to make sure the paint is doing what you want.

I tried both the flounder and angelfish. As a novice, I was interested in getting as much detail as possible and craft-wise it was a success.

But art emerges from what is left out. Gyotaku is a monoprint and no two prints are alike, nor should they be.

Craig’s prints don’t show every detail of the fish. He will often add paint to get the effect he’s after; sometimes he will collage on previous prints as well. Whatever he chooses to do, you can tell he’s enjoying himself.


If you have a process to share on Frederick Art Works, email Karen Peacock at


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