Barry Singer

FROM AS FAR BACK as I can recall, I have been interested in drawing and painting. When I was young I would enter poster contests or get to work on the scenery for the school plays. I gave paintings as gifts, and I would draw caricatures of my friends. It was only natural for me to go to art school. I went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. My first real art job was for an advertising agency. I would do newspaper ads and brochures. Soon I was designing national ads. Next I became an illustrator for a correspondence school. An illustrator draws things that will be printed in books and magazines. I went on to work for printers and did much freelance work. Check out the galleries on this site to see samples of my recent visual art. 

Along the way I did some teaching. I taught at a college for many years and gave some private lessons. One day I started The Art Room at the Benton Township Community Center. Hundreds of children have trained there over the years.

I was selected as a visual artist for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts - Arts in Education Division. I did many residencies in the local schools. Today I enjoy working in my studio making a special kind of fish art called GYOTAKU. Here is a sample of what they look like.

Here is a story about GYOTAKU...

Most people put their day’s catch on a dinner plate.
Barry Singer puts it on his wall.

The Scranton Times Tribune August 7, 2007

For the past few years, the Baylors Lake artist has been a practitioner of the Japanese art of gyotaku (pronounced ghee-oh-tah-koo), which translates to “fish rubbing.”

Mr. Singer’s unique talents will be on display in the exhibit, “Gyotaku: Artistic Impressions of the Lake and Shore,” running Sunday through Aug. 17 at the Benton Community Center, Route 407, Fleetville. The exhibit, which Mr. Singer financed through a $1,300 Lackawanna County Arts and Culture grant, also will feature some of Mr. Singer’s paintings.

As far as he knows, Mr. Singer, 65, is the only local gyotaku artist. The form, which was started by Japanese fishermen more than 200 years ago as a way to document the size of their catch, involves applying ink to a fish, then rubbing it on paper to produce a mirror image.

Gyotaku didn’t make its way to the United States until the 1950s. Mr. Singer first came across it about four years ago while vacationing on Cape Cod, courtesy of some T-shirts at a gift shop.

“So I bought one. I thought, that was kind of neat. But I didn’t pursue it,” he said.

Not long after, he came across it again in a fishing book, which touted gyotaku as an alternative to taxidermy. With that, he decided to give it a try it with a bass he had just caught. When it came out accurately, he figured he was on to something.

“I like to say I was hooked on it,” he said. “It was a natural for me, because I like fish and I like art.”

The process behind gyotaku is straightforward but rather painstaking.

Once Mr. Singer catches the fish, he thoroughly cleans it of all slime. After he applies the pigment — it could be ink, acrylics, watercolors — he lays a piece of paper on top of the fish, than oh-so-carefully pushes down on it.

“You can’t move it, or it’ll smear. You follow the fish through the paper, its fins, tail and shape, go all around and touch it,” he said. “Once you’ve felt it throughout, transferred paint to paper, peel it off. You’ve got a mirror image.”

In the end, the only thing not rubbed off on the paper is the eyeball. So, Mr. Singer photographs the fish beforehand, then paints the eye on. Then it’s pretty much done.

“You have that neat fossil image,” he said. “They capture the personality, the soul of the fish. If you make one of these before eating it, you have it forever. You think, I caught that fish. You will remember catching that fish. It’s better than a photograph.”

While traditional Japanese gyotaku is done almost exclusively with black ink and rice paper, Mr. Singer likes to experiment with hand-made papers and fabrics, paint watercolors or pastels in the background or use multiple fish in the same piece.

Mr. Singer gets most of his subjects from Baylors Lake — which has eight species of fish including bass, pickerel, pike and perch — and from Newport, R.I., and Groton, Conn., where two of his children live.

He tends to gravitate to anything with large scales, like carp. Flounder and blue fish are good, too, because of their distinct shapes.

His biggest piece was a 34-inch northern pike, with a 28-inch striper running a close second. The smallest? A beloved pet goldfish that died of old age.

One other interesting tidbit about gyotaku — the Japanese believe they bring good luck to anyone who has one. Mr. Singer counts himself as a believer.

“It sounds corny, but you couldn’t have found a luckier guy than me the past couple years,” he said. “It is kind of a neat thing to think these fish are bringing me good luck.”

To see other original art by Barry Singer visit 

www.fishfanatic.etsy.com   or  www.gyotakuartist.com