Gyotaku Prints & Apparel

When I moved back to the Monterey Peninsula in 2015, a friend of mine who works for the Califonia Department of Fish and Wildlife introduced me to a new activity: freediving and spearfishing. I’d spent many years diving and surfing the local waters, but the challenges and excitement of catching fish, and feeding my family and friends, with this highly sustainable form of fishing were new to me.

Previously, much of my underwater activities centered around photography, and I was a little reluctant to tell my underwater photographer friends about my new hobby. Spearfishing has a bit of a bad reputation in this community, and for good reasons: if done without regard to the number and types of fish caught, and the areas that they are caught in, it can deprive habitats of longer-lived, more photogenic species, not to mention the damage it does to these ecosystems by removing keystone predators.

But if done responsibly, spearfishing is probably one of the most sustainable ways of catching fish, as you can target the species and size of the fish, and it never leaves gear like monofilament line for other animals to get caught up in. With help from my Fish & Wildlife buddy, I learned to identify the most sustainable species. I also never took more than I’d use to feed my family and friends, and when cooking the fish attempt to use every part, from the fillets to the carcass (for fish stock).

As much as I enjoy the act of freediving (even if I don’t catch any fish), I do miss the creative aspects of bringing along a camera. Years ago, I’d learned about the Japanese art of gyotaku, making prints directly from fish. I decided to give it a try, and purchased some edible ink so that I could still cook the fish after the process.

The process itself is relatively straightforward: brush ink over one side of the fish, and press a sheet of paper into it to make the print. Because the eye won’t print, and some areas don’t fully render, I fill in some of the details with a brush and the same ink.

There’s been a lot of experimentation along the way, but I’ve been happy with the way that some of the prints have come out. I’ve created a line of t-shirts and other apparel with some of the better prints, and if you’re interested you can purchase them in my store.