Category Archives: nature

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!

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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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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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You Know How This Ends

On Saturday I was in a very bad mood, and it got so that I finally had to obey the voice in my head telling me to go for a walk. (The voice is a combination of my mother and Anne Lamott.)

When you’re in a bad mood, you never want to follow the voice in your head telling you to go for a walk. You’re like, Screw you, outdoors, with your obnoxious sunshine and your stupid invigorating breezes. Let me just sit here refreshing my Facebook feed every 2.5 seconds and picking at my cuticles until they bleed.

You have to put on a pair of socks to go outdoors in Cleveland in snowy November, but even before that you have to get up off the couch. You have to worry about running into the neighbor who yelled at your kid four years ago, and the neighbor who will talk about himself for an hour if you let him, and the House with the Big Dog. You know that Big Dog house is protected by invisible fencing, but you are willing to bet money that it’s only a matter of time before the system malfunctions just as you are walking past.

Worse than any of these things is the notion that going for a walk might actually make you feel better, and you simply cannot have that.

Still, I bundled up in full snow gear, grabbed my iPod, and began a slow trudge down the sidewalk, which was still mostly covered in 3-4 inches of snow. I had to put on a pair of sunglasses because it was preternaturally sunny, and if there’s one thing I have never been able to abide, it’s a sunny winter’s day.

“That’s because you’ve never been skiing in Tahoe,” my friend V has told me.

“It’s ridiculous,” says the P-Dawg.

“Where did I go wrong? (My mom.)

It was so sunny that even wearing my purple knockoff Wayfarer sunglasses, I had to look down to avoid being struck by a migraine or unrealistic expectations about the essential goodness of mankind. But I cranked up Pat Benetar and continued putting one foot in front of the other, and after a few minutes I felt like I could stand to have a look around. The cold air was invigorating, and the sunshine took the edge off so that eventually I removed my tassle hat and unzipped my parka one eighth of an inch.

By this time I was hoofing it on a cleared towpath that runs alongside of a golf course. There were a few people out jogging, and I made eye contact with them.

It didn’t kill me.

I got a few ideas about prints I want to make and words I want to write. I saw some things around me that could be construed as beautiful and worthy and true.

I felt . . . good.

And I had to admit that the walk was winning.

However, this didn’t stop me from turning around on my heel after hitting the twenty minute mark for which I’d set an alarm on my iPhone, and heading for home. I may be Thoreau in training, but I still have an anti winter sunshine reputation to uphold.

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(This photo is not from my walk.)

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