One of my favorite projects to do with my first-grade students is gyotaku fish prints. My first-graders are familiar with fish printing because the year before, I introduced a similar technique with small silicone rubber fish and markers instead of paint for the prints. They are now a year older, so I can begin discussing more of the history of gyotaku printing and how artists use the technique today.
Gyotaku (gyo=fish, taku=rubbing) is a traditional Japanese method of printing fish. This practice dates back to the mid-1800s, when fishermen wanted a way to document their prized fish caught at sea.
There are many popular artists who use the technique today, including Naoki Hayashi from Kaneohe, Hawaii. Naoki began making gyotaku prints at age 11 and, over time, mastered his unique process. Like traditional Japanese fishermen, Naoki creates prints from fish he shares as meals with his friends and family.
This project takes two to three 40-minute periods. On the first day, I introduce gyotaku to my students through pictures and YouTube videos I’ve found that demonstrate how professional artists apply paint or ink to the fish they print.
After showing the children what style printmaking they will be learning, we brainstorm where our printed fish might live. Will they be living in the ocean, at the bottom of a lake or in a fish tank? What details can the students add to their pictures to show where their fish live underwater?
Students then receive their project paper, and are asked to draw their underwater pictures, starting with pencil. The children are shown how to draw a sandy or rocky bottom, seaweed, coral, shells, and anything else they wish to add to their background. Sunken ships, boat bottoms with fishing line, other fish and schools of fish, were some of their ideas.
Once the students complete their drawings, they are asked to trace their pencil lines in black marker and color the background entirely with crayons—including the blue water.
On day two, students are asked to complete the coloring of their underwater backgrounds. Once these are finished, students are called up in small groups to select their silicone fish designs for their prints.
For students waiting to print, I have a side project. The “mini project” could be anything from a fish design sheet, to creating patterns on fish (which is a very easy worksheet for you to design and copy).
When each small group is ready to print, I work with one student at a time in painting their fish with a few of the colors I make available. My painting station is right next to the sink, so once the print is complete, the silicone fish can be placed right in the water to rinse for another student to use. The student first paints the silicone fish, then the fish is placed on a clean paper, painted side up. The student then carefully places his or her project paper on top of the fish and we work together to rub the paper to catch all the details for the print.
The look on the students’ faces when the paper is lifted off the fish is priceless. They are amazed and immediately in love with their prints! I then place the fish prints on the drying rack and move on to the next student ready to print.
With small groups, be sure to keep an eye on the clock. Most of the time, an entire class of 20–25 student prints, can be completed. If necessary, however, you can stretch another class for completing the printing and framing of the project.
To frame the projects, we apply small dots of glue to the back of the prints and place them onto the 12″ x 18″ colored paper. Once all of the fish prints are framed, they are hung in the hallway. We usually coincide the display with the winter parent/teacher conferences, so family members can enjoy the hallway gallery. The students are always so proud of their work and ask where they can buy their own fish molds to print on their own!
First-grade students will …
• discover a new technique in printmaking.
• demonstrate how to create a print using the gyotaku technique.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• CREATE: Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design.
• 10.5″ x 16″ white paper (a lighter weight paper works best with picking up fish details)
• 12″ x 18″ colored paper (for frame)
• Pencils, black markers, crayons
• Silicone rubber fish molds
• Tempera paint, wide paintbrushes
• Paper or foam plates
• Water source
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Arts & Activities Contributing Editor, Heidi O’Hanley (NBCT), teaches art at Brodnicki Elementary School in Justice, Illinois.
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