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Japanese Nature and Fish Art Projects

Create these interesting Japanese prints using leaves, flowers, and fish!

If you want to transform the serenity of nature into art, here are a couple of art projects that bring harmonious Japanese style into your home. You can use fresh flowers, leaves, sticks, and even fish to make beautiful prints, notecards, and unique wrapping paper.

Prints using these two techniques (nature and fish) are called gyotaku, which means "fish rubbing," and taku-ga, which means "rubbing picture."

For either project, you will need:

-Water-based inks (black or combine with other colors)
-Soft art brushes
-Flexible art papers

Plus, objects from nature such as dried or fresh leaves and flowers, twigs, and interesting grasses.

Gyotaku (fish rubbing)
You will need one fresh fish (if this icks you out, don't worry: you can still be a Japanese taku-ga artist!). Wash the fish thoroughly and let it dry. Plug all openings with bits of balled-up newspaper.

Lay the fish on newspaper. If you want, you can slice the fish in half lengthwise; this will give you a flatter base. Dilute the ink with a 1:3 ratio; one part water to 3 parts ink. Brush the top side of the fish with ink. Go back and forth until the fish is covered. If the eyes are intact, do not ink them.

Take one sheet of newspaper and press lightly to remove some of the ink. Next, take the art paper and press down lightly on the fish. You may be able to get several impressions from one inking. Allow to dry and your fishy art is ready to show off.

Taku-ga (rubbing picture)
For this project, you can make individual prints or combine your inked impressions onto one piece of art paper. You can use single ink colors or mix and match as you go. If you choose to use black ink, you can fill in later with a few swipes of watercolor - don't be afraid to add color; it's easy and you cannot mess up your picture.

Collect your nature items and clean them as much as possible. Let them dry.

Spread the items on newspapers and follow the same instructions as for fish painting.

Keep in mind when selecting colors that in Japanese art the shades are light and delicate. The ink coverage on the paper does not need to be heavy and can lead more to the impressionist side than true, hard outlines.

In typical Japanese fashion, you will want to attach your papers to dowel rods or bamboo sticks, so they look like a scroll. Remember to add your "personal seal" to the paper - it can be a favorite stamp that makes the art piece stand out as yours.


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