Meet the WA fisherman (Adam Ashdown) turning dead trophy fish into detailed works of art

12.09.2020
Meet the WA fisherman (Adam Ashdown) turning dead trophy fish into detailed works of art

ABC South West WA  / By Ellie Honeybone



A man in a black shirt and cap bends over a bench surrounded by fish artwork in a room.


Adam Ashdown at work in his Dunsborough studio.(ABC South West: Ellie Honeybone)


Adam Ashdown is a carpenter by day, and by night he practices a unique art form in his back shed involving dead fish and black ink.

It is called Gyotaku and it is a traditional Japanese method of nature-printing which dates back to the mid 1800s.

Long before mobile phones and social media were invented, fisherman kept these prints as a record of their daily catches and the practice is continuing in the coastal WA town of Dunsborough.

"It was nearly five years ago when I saw a guy in New South Wales who was advertising a way to immortalise your trophy catch," Mr Ashdown said.

"I thought it was a really cool idea, I was travelling around Australia at the time and came back and, being a fisherman and having access to fish all the time, I thought I'd give it a go.

"I started just playing around with it and it went from a hobby into guys bringing me fish … and now I get fish sent to me from all over the state."


A man's hands close up painting black ink onto a dead fish.


The ink is water based and can easily be washed off after printing, allowing the fish to be consumed.(ABC South West: Ellie Honeybone)

Fresh is best

Mr Ashdown works with fish of all different shapes and sizes; dhufish and snapper caught in the south, coral trout and red emperor from the north, and he is happy to create a memory even with just a little herring.

He said fresh fish were better and preparation was the key to a natural-looking print.

"I dry it out first and then spread the fins out to make it look nice," he said.

"From this stage it's basically put the ink on … and then just manipulate the paper over the top.

"Too much ink just bleeds through the paper so that ratio is really important."


A pair of hands press a piece of paper onto an inked dead fish.


Adam has been creating Gyotaku prints for around five years.(ABC South West: Ellie Honeybone)

The fish are nearly always consumed after they are used for printing.

"Generally with my commissions it's something I work on late at night when it's nice and cool," Mr Ashdown said.

"I give myself a couple of hours, then I wash it off — it's all water-based stuff.

"I don't like wasting fish, or just having a fish there just for the purpose of art. If the process is catch, immortalisation and eat — that's perfect."


Two pieces of paper showing ink prints of dead fish.


Applying the perfect amount of ink is an important part of the printing process.(ABC South West: Ellie Honeybone)


Not just really good at painting fish

Mr Ashdown is one of 103 local artists participating in the Margaret River region's Open Studios project from tomorrow, opening his studio doors to visitors so they can see the process behind his art.

The event was initially scheduled for April, but had to be postponed because of COVID-19 restrictions.


A man stands outside his studio holding a large canvas with a fish.


Adam sometimes adds colour to his large pieces.(ABC South West: Ellie Honeybone)


"I'm really stoked to be involved and excited to share my work with people," Mr Ashdown said.

"In the past when I've been [displaying art] at markets, people think I'm just really good at painting fish, but seeing the process — it's a form of nature printing and it's just impressive to see.

"I want to celebrate Gyotaku and I love fishing and I love being creative. It's two loves that I've merged together to create something that people enjoy."


A dead pink fish is pinned onto black foam on a desk top.


After drying the fish out first, Adam pins the fins in place to create a natural looking image.(ABC South West: Ellie Honeybone)


                                                                                                                 ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)


Adam Ashdown - Salty Bones Gyotaku
https://www.mrropenstudios.com.au/member/adam-ashdown-salty-bones-gyotaku
The art of fishing leaves an impression…
https://saltybones.com.au/?fbclid=IwAR20_53C2OZtG-un9MjicoqTeOkEv8HCncOXXer1AiQfof_Nj3k7X1Uc07E


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