Gyotaku Fish-Printing in Adar (for Purim)

who can forget?

a blue Bluegill

Fish is a symbol of the Jewish month of Adar, the month in which we 1) celebrate Purim and 2) freak out that Passover is so close.  Why fish?  From the astrological sign, Pisces.  I’ve always thought it seemed a bit fishy that astrology gives us a kosher Jewish symbol, but Pisces is right there on the calendar.  It’s legit.  And, it explains the presence of Purim fish stickers in Jewish school supply catalogs.

Interpretations of Purim’s fish theme abound—stuff like how Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews in one go just as a fish swallows its prey in one gulp—but for today’s post, we’re taking fish at face value, literally.  The whole fish—face included—becomes hands-on, creative exploration.  We are going to print with fish!

Why paint a real fish and smoosh paper on it?
Because no kid who does this at a Purim Carnival will forget it.
Because the connection of fish to Purim, however abstract or labored, will suddenly be concrete.
Because painting a fish is weird, smelly and awesome.
Even if you couldn’t care less about the link between fish and Purim, making a print from a fish is FUN, the resulting print can be quite lovely, and isn’t Adar all about being happy?  “Be Happy, It’s Adar,” says the Talmud and printed graggers and frisbees and Tshirts.


rubber replicas are cast from real fish, but have flat bottoms. Handy.

All the above holds true even if you use rubber fish.  And actually, more kids will be apt to try fish-printing with the rubber sort.  At least two companies make fine, rubber replicas especially for printmaking, a.k.a. Gyotaku, the Japanese art of fish-printing.  I recently ordered two species common in Middle Tennessee lakes: trout and bluegill, just in case I can use these in a Naturalist lesson later.  (Good prints are detailed enough to help teach fish anatomy lessons.)

At our big Purim event this year, I’ll have a table for Fish Prints.  I’m calling it Dag Purim Sameach, which is a joke. . . a twist on Chag Purim Sameach.  Get it?  It will be funny to me and two other people, but I’m doing it. (Dag is Hebrew for fish.  Chag Purim Sameach means have a happy Purim.  So, my sign will mean “have a Purim fish.”)  Whatever.


  • Put fish (real or rubber) on a wax-paper covered tray / piece of cardboard.
  • Paint the fish with a thin layer of water soluble printing ink or paint.
  • Place paper atop the fish, pressing gently to make sure paper makes contact with all the curves.  Do not shift the paper or you’ll smudge the print. Keep one hand on the fish.
  • Gently peel off paper to reveal your print.

Paper: make sure sheets are thin enough to drape into contours, and big enough to cover the whole fish.  My favorite is the old-timey Manilla drawing sheets.  Those giant rolls of school paper will be fine.  Or use thin, high quality construction paper, drawing paper or even printer paper.  (Real Gyotaku uses rice paper, which is thickish, but absorbent and drape-able.)

Paint / Ink:  I use poster paint, and only one color per fish.  Some folks swear by Speedball water-soluble printing ink.  Try acrylic, tempera, or whatever you have already to see what works best for you.

Rubber Fish:   Dick Blick has a good Gyotaku selection, as does Nasco.  Get on the mailing list for their luscious art supply catalogs.
The trout turned out to be boring: the scales are too fine.  You could make this a kosher lesson, too, by the way: choose kosher and non-kosher species?

Fresh Fish: My neighborhood grocery stores were all too genteel to sell fish still equipped with eyeballs and scales.
“Sorry, ma’am.  You’ll need to try Charlotte Pike.”
Charlotte Pike is home to several ethnic populations that do not shop at genteel grocery stores and who, in fact, prefer to buy fish still alive in tanks.

Real fish are much trickier to deal with: they tend to slide around.  Rubber fish are nice and dry, the scales don’t come off, and no one can poke out the eyes.


An article with interpretations of Purim’s fish theme.

TEDed animated video about Gyotaku history (and techniques with real fish)

Where to buy rubber fish replicas: Dick Blick, Nasco, and Acorn Naturalists.


3 responses to “Gyotaku Fish-Printing in Adar (for Purim)

  1. Wow! What a really fun idea!
    Thank you for sharing!
    P.S. I totally got your joke right away! I love word play, too.