An angle on art

An angle on art

Scott Wells’ Gyotaku It’s a bit more complex than simply slapping ink on fish.

  • By: Bob White

jSCOTT WELLS IS A GYOTAKU printmaker who works in a technique that few of us have seen and even fewer can pronounce. Until I met Wells, I simply referred to his work as “fish printing.”
However, once you understand the art, the name makes a lot of sense. Gyo, in Japanese, means “fish,” and taku means “rubbing.”
This art form dates to the early 1800s and was established by fishermen who wanted to record their catches. And it’s the perfect way to do so. When gyotaku is properly executed there is little or no embellishment to the finished product; the image is created perfectly, an exact replica of the fish from which it was printed.
“Gyotaku developed into an early form of taxidermy,” Wells told me, “because it’s a very accurate way to record the species and size of a catch. Fishing is a very old sport and fishermen have forever been liars.” Gyotaku proves the catch.
Wells has been “proving” the catch from his home in Colorado, where he lives with his wife and son. He developed a passion for fishing and wild places at an early age and quickly discovered in art a means to share his experiences with others. Eventually it was the fish themselves that inspired his attempts to capture the perfect image, and his journey with gyotaku began.
“My printmaking allows me to combine my love of art with my passion for fly-fishing,” Wells said. “I’m self-taught as a printmaker, and began studying this method five years ago.”
When asked to describe his work, Wells keeps it simple, “I make prints from inked fish.”
While familiar with the images Wells creates, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to watch the entire process that I realized the complexity of gyotaku. It’s very complicated and exacting, particularly the initial steps, which involve creating a relief surface that is capable of transferring ink to paper from what was, just minutes ago, a living specimen.
Even after the first steps are complete, and the fish has been meticulously prepared and inked, there is still a wide range of daunting decisions facing the artist. And these must be made quickly, often spontaneously, before the ink becomes too dry and loses the proper viscosity and tackiness.
It’s a tricky task, as I witnessed in Alaska, where Wells took part in the Artist in Residence program at Bristol Bay Lodge. He demonstrated the process to lodge guests and when he was finished I realized that he has elevated what was once a simple and accurate way of recording a catch into an art form.
If you’d like to see additional images, or commission a print from a fish you’ve caught, contact Wells through his Web site: w

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.


I appreciate the art form (Gyotaku) and Scott Wells's impressive artistry, but looking at the ink-coated dead fish in the photo-I have to be honest-I thought what a waste of a good fish.

Post new comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions. If you need to refresh the captcha message hit the refresh button below to the right or refresh your browser.