Ancient Japanese Secret

In the days before smart phones or even pocket cameras, Japanese fishermen used to keep paper and ink on their boats so they could document trophy catches by making rubbings of them. After washing the ink off, they could eat the fish and prove that it had existed.

Eventually the practice evolved into an art form called gyotaku (gyo “fish” + taku “rubbing”) and the fish prints were embellished with other media, or made from molds instead of the actual fish.

As soon as I learned about gyotaku I was desperate to try it. The only problem was that I couldn’t quite bring myself to look at, let alone touch, a dead fish.

But my husband is an avid fisherman and lover of Japanese printmaking. He graciously offered to bring home a fish so we could make a fish rubbing together (romantic!). And by “together,” I mean that I supplied the paper and ink and watched with one eye open as the P-Dawg did the rubbing. The process we used is very simple:

  1. Pat the fish thoroughly dry with a rag or paper towel.
  2. Rub a thin layer of ink over it (the P-Dawg used his bare hands but you could also probably use a brush).
  3. Put a piece of paper over the inked fish and press it down around the fish so that the whole surface of the fish comes into contact with the paper.

I would advise you not to rub too vigorously because when the P-Dawg was making this gyotaku, a very small amount of fish guts leaked out and got stuck to the paper. I had to Photoshop them out.

For our first gyotaku, I think it turned out pretty well. Next time, perhaps a slightly thinner layer of ink would bring out some more detail.

the fish print_edited-1

(The P-Dawg wants you to know that his fish rubbing is not yet complete, as he plans to embellish it with a golden eyeball. He also wants you to know that he doesn’t consider this fish a “trophy” catch.)

Here’s what we used:

  • One small perch from LaDue Reservoir in Geauga, Ohio
  • Sumi ink
  • Japanese kozo paper (because it’s lightweight but very durable, so it molds easily to the fish
fish1_edited-1
The Fish
the ink_edited-1
The Ink
inking the fish_edited-1
The Inking
gyotaku with guts
The Print (Unedited)

I didn’t get a good photo of the rubbing process, but basically you place a piece of paper over the fish and . . . rub it.

(This post was cross-posted on my other blog, here.)

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They’re Ba-ack!

IMG_4617

In Lithuania the stork has its own holiday – March 25th. This is the occasion, give or take a day or two,when storks the world over return to the homeland to roost. It used to be a really big deal back when people relied on ritual and superstition to get them through the year. Blessed was the farmer whose homestead was chosen by a stork. Because this farmer, if he played his cards right by abstaining from bacon and performing certain rituals such as killing a snake and burying it under his doorstep, was destined to prosper in the coming months.

But even in the twentieth century, the stork featured prominently in Lithuanian folklore and storybooks. Growing up, one of the best songs we used to sing in our Lithuanian playgroup was about a stork. It went like this:

I have seen the stork walking through the mayflowers two times already.

Prance, prance, run, run, run,

Prance, prance, run, run, run,

Goes the stork through the high mayflower leaves.

It was a great song because as you went around in a circle you imitated the stork’s movements.

But I was still shocked, the first time I visited Lithuania in March of 1995, to discover that Lithuanians weren’t kidding about storks. They were everywhere! My great-aunt Veronika’s farm had a resident stork, and he actually returned home to roost while my mother and I were having tea there. I am telling you it was amazeballs.

The last time I visited Lithuania was in August, right before the storks left. They had been busy procreating all spring and early summer, and pretty much every other telephone pole in my Aunt Vida’s village had a giant stork’s nest with stork babies in it.

My husband the P-Dawg and I just couldn’t get enough of those storks. I took so many stork photos that after awhile it became necessary to mix things up with meta-stork photos.

Here is a picture I took of the P-Dawg taking a picture of some storks.

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So happy (belated) Stork Day! And may your kitchen garden and/or local Community Supported Agriculture co-op’s crop be abundant this year.

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Who’s That Girl

IMG_4344Recently in the mirror I started noticing something about my face. Mainly that it wasn’t what it used to be, beauty-wise, and specifically that it looked tired.

At first I thought it was simply a matter of staying up too late binge watching Scandal on Netflix, even though it’s turning into musical beds just like my mom always said Falcon Crest did in 1983.

I started making an effort to go to bed earlier and eat more salmon, but still my face looked the same. Eventually it dawned on me that what I was dealing with was less an issue of fatigue and more an issue of this is what I look like now that I’m almost forty-two.

In the next instant I realized that I was just going to keep on looking more and more tired until eventually one day I would die.

The fact of mortality didn’t alarm me nearly as much as the idea of a permanent double chin. It’s one thing to know that you’re going to get older, another entirely to see it manifest on your face.

I don’t really want to look young forever – that would be weird. One day I would like my appearance to belie the wisdom I hope to have gained within, or at least give me free license to shush people loudly.

Still, the realization that time truly marches on is daunting. Not only because we are vain, but because every new wrinkle removes us farther from the age at which we believed that we could do or be anything we wanted.

Despite having written a blog post about it, I’m not actually that depressed about looking older. I mean, I wish I looked better than I do first thing in the morning, around noon, at dinnertime and also right before bed, but I count myself lucky that I don’t have more pressing concerns.

I guess I’m just sort of surprised that it really happens – that one day you literally wake up and the person you see in the mirror does not match up with the person you percieve yourself to be.

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Artist’s Dilemma

I Did Not Draw This
I Did Not Draw This

Today I was reading in the sunroom when I heard a loud buzzing sound. I turned my head to see a gigantic insect ricocheting from window to window and at first I thought it might be a wasp, but when it stopped to rest on the wall I could see that it wasn’t.  It was like a cross between a beetle and a dragonfly and Franz Kafka, and it was quite impressive in that grotesque way that large unidentifiable bugs are.

I killed it with the Yellow Pages.

Then I put the Yellow Pages on top of the dead insect and made a mental note to ask the P-Dawg to remove it when he comes home from work. There are situations in which I will personally remove a bug that I’ve killed, but not if it’s juicy.

I went back to reading my book though there was no longer any joy in it. I knew there was a big dead bug right next to the couch and there was no way I could un-know it. It also occurred to me that instead of killing that bug, I should have tried to draw it.

One thing I feel I don’t do enough as an artiste is draw from life. This is due partly to the fact that I’m fond of mythical creatures like dragons and mermaids. I know that in order to improve, I should practice drawing real things, but the fact is that I’ve been stuck inside the house all winter, the houseplants are dead-ish, and I don’t feel like sketching a bowl of bananas. That bug was the best thing that ever happened to me from a drawing from life standpoint, and I killed it.

Eventually I went over and lifted the phone book just to see if there was anything left for me to work with.

There wasn’t.

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