Posted 19th Feb 2013
Artist Susie Ray has been busy reviving ancient fish rubbing techniques to create highly detailed prints of the local Cornish sea life! LandLove's Natalie Mason finds out more on her interesting artworks...
Susie Ray at the Padstow Mussel Co. has grown up with a love of the seaside; beachcombing in Cornwall from a young age, taking inspiration from the many interesting treasures washed up daily from the Atlantic. As time has gone by Susie has made a living using her love of the Cornish coast and has now found a way for the local catch to leave a more lasting impression in her work.
What inspired you to start using this fish rubbing technique?
The whole process started when, late one evening, I was browsing through Pinterest and saw an image of a fish that caught my eye. It turned out to be a process called Gyotaku, which is a traditional Japanese art form. "Gyo" means fish, and "taku" means rubbing. Gyotaku originated in Japan in the mid 1800s as a way for Japanese fishermen to record the fish that they caught.
How does the process work?
Unlike photography, a Gyotaku print can retain specific texture, proportions and details of the fish. Traditionally the fish would be painted on one side with a form of edible ink and then rice paper was laid over it and gently pressed down to reveal a detailed image. The eye of the fish was later hand painted in.
Not having any rice paper or edible ink I decided to try it out using oil paints and an old cotton bed sheet that had holes in. I started with shellfish, then progressed to fish - a harder challenge as you have to remove the slime without dislodging scales (I used salt), remove the eyeball and make sure that there was no moisture anywhere. I used a hairdryer to help! The paint went on OK but it still took several attempts not to get too many brush strokes on the print. Then, the fish was scanned into my computer and I painted in the eye and cleaned up around the image as it was quite messy. Preparing the fish takes quite a long time and the whole process to print with one fish takes at least a day.
One of the wonderful things about the process is that each time I take a rubbing, the image can be completely different.
Did you have to do a lot of experimenting to come up with the design collection you have online now?
The first rubbings I did were of scallop shells and I was blown away by the lovely unique effect, next came oyster shells, mussel shells and some coral and sponge pieces I had collected from the beach. Limpet shells didn't work as they weren't flat enough.
Spurred on with this success I then tried a crab, the claws had to be done separately and once I had scanned in the image I joined all the bits back. What I like is the unpredictability of how the image looks and also how it changes on different fabrics. The crab print went into the shop in two different sizes and sold straight away! I then progressed onto fish - a trickier and messier process but very rewarding!
What different types of local catch do you use for this artwork?
Anything with a really interesting shape and texture. I'm currently using a range of fish and shellfish but they are all local to the area: John Dory, lemon sole, mackerel and sea bass, squid and octopus, prawns, lobster, crab, scallop shells, coral and mussels all work really well and feature in the collection.
Do you have any favourite fish you particularly like to print with?
My favourite fish are definitely the John Dory and lemon sole as they are relatively flat and the detail really comes through onto the cloth. The pleasing shape of the John Dory makes a great design. I also really enjoy taking rubbings of different seaweeds, as so much detail appears in the rubbed image and gives an amazing effect.
Do you forage for some of this catch or head down to the local fish market?
The fish and shellfish I use have to be in good condition: they can't be nibbled or deteriorating. So some things I manage to forage for on the beach, but I'm also very lucky to have an interested and very helpful local fish supplier called Wings, who have a fantastic range caught locally.
You create pictures clearly inspired by the seaside, what is it about the coast that you find so inspiring?
I have always found the seashore and surrounding area an inspirational place as the different seasons create new opportunities to use in design work or in photography. The light in Cornwall is unique and the big storms are very dramatic on the North Coast.
Finally why is the seaside and Cornish seafood so important to you and your work?
I was lucky enough to grow up in Cornwall and from a very early age I would spend hours on the beach collecting shells or beachcombing. What I like about the North Coast is that every time you visit the beach you never know what you might find washed up. A lot of things such as buoys come from places such as Newfoundland. Each beach locally has different tidal currents and I always find it really inspiring.
I can spend hours just looking in rock pools, as I have gathered quite a lot of seashore knowledge from illustrating sea shore guides, such as Collins Gem Guide to the Seashore, which I originally did many years ago.
There is also nothing better than an evening barbecue with friends and family, eating freshly caught mackerel and just kicking back and enjoying the sunset.
To view or purchase some of Susie's fascinating artwork visit www.thepadstowmusselco.com.