Fish rubbing. Not as sordid as it sounds. Printmaker Susannah Ayre creates her work using a 19th-century Japanese art form called gyotaku. Her pictures are inspired by the rich fishing heritage of her home village of Tynemouth on the northeast coast – still a thriving fishing port today. She uses the traditional materials of Japanese rice paper and sumi ink, and acquires her fish fresh from the trawlers. Here are Susannah’s tips for having a go...

1. Get hold of a fresh, ungutted fish (I find sea bass works best). Give it a wash – fish has slime that needs to be rinsed off before you can apply any ink.

2. Lay the fish on a chopping board and pin the fins and tail out. Cover the fish in ink, apart from the eyes, which are moist and will cause the ink to bleed.

3. Cut your printing paper to size, then place it over the fish and rub. Make sure the paper makes contact with all inked areas on the fish. 

4. It’s the ‘voila’ moment – just peel off the paper and hope for the best. Leave to dry naturally. Bear in mind, the ink makes the paper shrink, which causes a slight wrinkling around the fish on the final print. It all adds to the charm though. 

5. Once you’ve finished the print, rinse off the fish, pop it in the oven and have it for dinner. Waste not, want not!


You can see more of Susannah’s gyotaku and other prints at This originally featured in issue 5 of Ernest Journal, on sale now.

Issue 5
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