Create a Fish Art Print! Activity

4.5 based on 2 ratings
Updated on Sep 4, 2014

For lots of first graders, “fish” are pets. Your kid might have encountered them in a tank in your living room, a classroom or waiting room. When it comes to eating the stuff, if you can convince a kid to even think about it, then it's usually filleted or canned, and it's hard to see how it came from a lake or sea. In this activity your kid will try his hand at the japanese art form of gyotaku, a traditional method of fish printing. It's a delightful way to bridge the gap between art and life science discovery. Not only is the result cool, but it looks a bit like a fossil print.

What You Need:

  • One small (less than 11 inches long) whole, flat fish (try flounder, sole, or trout)
  • Newspaper or plastic tablecloth to cover your table
  • Non-toxic, water soluble tempera paint
  • Paintbrush
  • White 9" x 12” construction paper

What You Do:

  1. Choose your fish. Pick out a fish—either from a fresh catch you've made, or from a local store. Make sure that the fish has a head, tail and fins intact, and has not been skinned or scaled!
  2. Check it out! Before you do anything else, let your child look over the whole fish, and touch it, too! Kids usually get a kick out of the gelatinous eyes of fish, the weird mouth shapes, and the accordion folds of fins and gills. Identify each of these features with your child, and talk about the way a fish propels itself through water using tail and fins.
  3. Get it ready. Making sure that your table is well protected with newspaper or plastic, lay the fish flat, with your child's help. Let her paint it with a thin layer of washable, non-toxic paint. Make sure you paint all top (dorsal) fins, as well as the face of the fish, but don't make it too gloppy.
  4. Make a “fish print.” Now take out a sheet of white construction paper, and gently place it over the fish. Pat it down carefully, taking care not to slide it. Then lift it off, again avoiding slides that could blur the edges. You'll see a fish outline that looks like a cross between a painting and a fossil print, with ridges of scales, fin markings, and even the eye of the fish.
  5. Dry your print, and enjoy! When your print has dried, hang it up. It makes a terrific framed summer picture, especially if it records a catch you made yourself. It's also a visual reminder of all the parts of the fish that you and your child discussed.

Oh, and as for the fish itself? Scrub off the paint. It should come off easily with water and a light cleaning brush. Then fire up the grill for a tasty and satisfying meal to end the day.

Julie Williams, MA Education, has been working in education for more than twenty years. For the last five years, she has worked in classrooms with primary-level students learning to read. She also taught English and History for seventeen years at Aragon High School in San Mateo, California. She is the mother of two young sons.

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