In the mid-nineteenth century, Japanese fisherman created Gyotaku or "fish rubbing" as a way to document their catches. One side of the fish was coated with ink and covered in rice paper, and then the paper was rubbed to transfer the image of the fish. This practice eventually blossomed into a form of fine art and an alternative to taxidermy for many sport fishermen.
Our fourth graders tried their hands at Gyotaku using several life-sized, realistic rubber fish I purchased online (the piranha is especially popular!). We spent a day viewing some short videos showing real Gyotaku artists at work and then I demonstrate how to make a print with one or two of our "fish." On the second day of the unit, after a quick review of the method, the students created multiple prints with the goal of improving with each print, so that they had at least one or two "keepers." On a third day, we added realistic eyes with Sharpie and white acrylic paint for the reflection, as well other colors with watercolor paints. Thanks to a translator on Google, we also signed our prints with the Japanese version of our names.
I was impressed by how many of the students quickly mastered how much paint to use and the type of careful, even rubbing required to make a print with a lot of detail. I've been doing this lesson for a few years now, and these were some of the best prints yet!