Hatfield Marine Science Center

Fish, ink, and paper

The most critical element in gyotaku, says instructor Bruce Koike, is getting the eyes right

As a young man, Bruce Koike thought of himself as a science kind of guy, not one particularly interested in art. So when he happened upon a handful of students creating gyotaku — prints created from fish rubbings — at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, he was surprised to find himself drawn to the art.

Thirty-five years later, Koike is known for his masterful prints, as well as his workshops to teach the craft to others. His next is set for Jan. 25 at the Pacific Maritime Heritage Center in Newport.

Koike encountered the Japanese art form in 1985, the same year he started grad school, which led to his master’s degree in fisheries science from the Hatfield Center. He made his first print that summer.

Bruce Koike’s gyotaku print of lingcod incorporates habitat by adding bullwhip kelp to the image, which appeared on the cover of the May 2016 Fisheries magazine, published by the American Fisheries Society.

“I bought a tube of black paint and went to the hardware store and bought a brush, some paper, and gave it a shot,” Koike said. “I still have that print, and it was of a pile perch. It was good enough to keep it.”

His technique evolved over the years, as the self-taught artist learned through trial and error the tricks to creating a print that could truly be called art. One is to remove standing water, likely to be found in depressions on the fish, and not to use too much or too little paint. Ink is applied to the fish with a brush, then paper is laid on the fish and pressed down to transfer the image.

The critical last step is properly capturing the eyes.

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