Kids Learn Japanese Print Art at Library

Grace Larsen, 9, looks at her first printed impression of a starfish. Photos by Sarah Brown

The Sweet Home Public Library invited children to try their hand at gyotaku, a traditional form of Japanese printmaking, on April 4.

Between interruptions from restless, curious and talkative little ones, Program Coordinator Kelsie Szeszulski, of Mid-Valley STEM-CTE Hub, told her guests at the library what gyotaku is and why it was important in Japanese culture.

Teddy Stephenson, 5, looks at his first gyotaku of a stingray.

Translated as “fish printing,” gyotaku was used by fishermen to visually record the size and species of fish they caught. It was also used in competitions to prove who caught the biggest fish, and it later became an artform. Fishermen would pin down their catch, paint it with nontoxic cuttlefish or squid ink, then press paper or fabric to the specimen to capture its impression.

Mid-Valley STEM-CTE Hub brought their Mobile Makerspace program to the library to provide the children with the opportunity to try gyotaku for themselves. Using silicone molds of fish that would be found in the Pacific Northwest, the children applied a light layer of ink to a roller, then rolled it onto their rubbery specimen.

Next, they placed thin rice paper on top of the fish and gently pressed down until the print was sufficiently marked onto the paper. Once completed with their own artwork, each of the kids contributed a print onto a shared piece of paper that will become part of a large collaborative art piece made from other contributions in the area.

Mid-Valley STEM-CTE Hub is an organization that operates out of the Linn-Benton Community College campus in Albany. STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and CTE (career and technical education) are areas of focus that encourage passion and learning skills in areas that can offer high-demand careers for the future.

Part of Hub’s programming includes their Mobile Makerspace, which allows them to bring these kinds of experiences throughout Linn and Benton counties.

“We got some grant funding from the state to come into rural schools and get some hands-on STEM activities,” Marketing Specialist Kacey Montgomery explained.

Children at the Sweet Home Public Library try their hand at gyotaku during a special Mobile Makerspace program on April 4.

Mobile Makerspace visits libraries, out-of-school organizations (such as Boys & Girls Club) and farmer’s markets to provide the events free of charge. They will return to the Sweet Home library next month with a “solar critter” project.

“We’re going to be using solar panels and making circuits and having a little vibrating motor with bugs attached,” Szeszulski said.

Once completed, kids will learn what affects solar light and how it can be used as a green energy source. To find out when the project will take place, call 541.367.5007, email [email protected] or follow the library on Facebook at

“They come out and do awesome projects for us,” Programming Librarian Kira Mikutaitis said. “They do a great job every time they come. We have kids every time who are excited and interested. It’s really a great opportunity to get more stuff here at the library.”