The original method of Gyotaku during the early 1800’s is deceptively simple in both its technique and the materials used. A brush to swab calligraphy ink made of pine soot and water, called Sumi, directly onto the surface of the fish, and then a sheet of Japanese paper made from mulberry bark, called Washi (Kozo), pressed onto the inked surface to produce a print.
It would take Dwight years for him to finesse his craft so that his prints appeared recognizable. And then years upon that to bring them back to life.
Preparing the ink
Bars of compressed Sumi (pine coal) is ground with water into a pestle until the desired consistency is achieved. The thickness of the ink depends on the surface of the subject and the quality of the paper intended to be used.
Sumi ink dries very quickly, within seconds on certain surfaces. And so once the ink is brushed onto the fish, there's a small window of time in which to control the different layers of pigment before applying the paper.
Once the ink is applied how I wish for it to be, a sheet of Japanese Washi is carefully placed onto the surface. Varying the pressure on the rub while recreating the shape of the fish onto the paper, all the while being careful not to create 'cracks' within the image due to the roundness of the body.
After the raw print is created, details such as the eye and patterns within the body are painted in until completion.
After the Print
Since the traditional method is quick and the Sumi ink is non-toxic, water soluble, and eco-friendly, as it is composed simply of coals made from pine and natural oils, mixed with water, there are several ways in which the life of the fish continues after the print.
Sumi ink simply washes off the surface, leaving the fish to be prepared for consumption. Filet and dine knowing that the subject's post life has been fuller than most others.
Some fish aren't as palatable as others. These are dried and smoked into jerky for my animal friends around me.
STORED TO PRINT ANOTHER DAY
Certain fish are vacuum sealed, frozen and stored away to print another day.
Fish that are no longer edible are composted and spread amongst my garden or are returned to the waters they came from so that their nutrients can be recycled back into the system.