Gyotaku — The Eye Make it Come Alive

In my earlier posting, I gave a quick description of how to make a gyotaku at home. Long after the fish is eaten, it is not forgotten because its gyotaku hanging on your wall will remind you of it all over again and soon, your house becomes a home as every gyotaku adds another piece of memory of the good days out on the water. That’s why I take the effort to make a gyotaku.

Strange Fish

Here’s an interesting fish that I have yet to get an ID of other than knowing it belongs to the group of fishes called Wrasses and Tuskfishes. We got it at Pulau Besar off the East Coast of Peninsula Malaysia on James Chai’s boat. When it first came on board, it was a pale colour with yellow spots and rosy blotches at its flanks, transparent dorsal fin, green eyes rimmed with yellow, yellow yellow cheeks and turquoise coloured teeth. (See image above on top left)

After it’s brain dead, (see picture above, top row middle image), it changed to a rust colour with yellow spots along its flanks, black eyes with matcha-coloured socket and the teeth turned white. After freezing, it stayed this colour. What is interesting is that it appear to have two rows of lateral lines, half at the top, in line with the eye until above the anal fin, and another below, from the middle of the caudal peduncle to where the top lateral line ends.

Because this fish is such a chameleon, it is so difficult to find a similar picture of it on the internet, that I can confidently say “yep that’s the same as what I have”. If you know what it is called, I’d appreciate if you can drop a comment. Thanks!

<UPDATE> Thanks to Mr Steve-O from, I finally have an ID. This fish is called Cheilinus chlorourus, commonly known as Floral Wrasse in English, Floral Maori Wrasse in Australia, アカテンモチノウオ in Japan and Tetarap in Malaysia. And searching on the internet revealed that it has a lyre-shaped tail which did not come out on my print.

Printing the fish
This family of fish have a lot of slime. I washed and washed and yet have not managed to wash off half of the slime. I used tissue paper to paste over the fish to further remove as much remnant blood and slime as I could before inking it. Still, the remnant slime, mixed with sumi-e ink made the first print lack detail. But the rice paper succeeded in removing sufficient amounts of slime to make gyotaku of this fish possible.

After some tries, below is the print of the fish. But when I was rubbing the paper, I pressed too hard at the stomach. The intestine (which I had tucked back in earlier) popped out and smeared the print unfortunately. In this picture, the fish doesn’t appear to have much life to it because the eye is not yet dotted.

Painting in the Eye
In the picture below, I start by outlining the eye socket, eyeball, pupil and the highlight on the pupil.

Next, I colour in the pupil, and start shading the eye socket to form a fuzzy highlight that is in line with the specular highlight on the pupil.

I next start shading the eyeball in the same way as I wait for the eye socket shading to dry – the ink will lighten as it dries, so I gotta be patient to add layer after layer of ink to build up a gradual tone of light and dark.

While eye is drying, I touch up the rest of the fish by stippling in the broken spots. Stippling will produce a more natural look than a plain brush stroke.

Lastly, I fill in the rays on the fins with a dry brush, paint on the teeth and finalise the highlights on the eye.

This gyotaku is almost complete. Now it’s, waiting for a good day to get its naming and signing done. Now can anybody help with its ID?

The fish was served as sashimi and it was tender and full of umami.

So that’s all for this simple gyotaku. Enjoy!.



©Lawrence Lee

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