Damian ‘Dooma’ Oswald is never far from the water. He works in surf and diving camps in Micronesia – and as a deckie on big game-fishing boats around the world. At the end of the day, when other deckies are cleaning the fish, you’ll find Dooma laying the catch down on rice paper, creating amazing artworks using an ancient Japanese craft known as gyotaku.
THE CAPTAIN: DOOMA, MOST PEOPLE LIKE TO CATCH AND COOK THEIR FISH. BUT RUBBING?
DOOMA: After a surf trip, I went to Japan with my girlfriend. I walked into a restaurant and was mesmerised by a print on the wall. I asked the waitress and she said it was gyotaku (pronounced ghee-oh-tah-koo), which translates to fish rubbing. The detail on the scales was amazing. You could never paint or draw that.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
First you paint a fresh fish with ink and cover it with a sheet of rice paper. When it’s peeled off you’re left with a print, or ‘negative’ of the fish, with amazing detail of scales, spines and fins. Then I fill in the detail with a fine brush, adding eyes and subtle colour to enhance the print.
WHAT SORT OF FISH DO YOU RUB?
Everything from squid to giant tuna and billfish – if it has a texture, I will rub it. Snapper is a popular one. It’s such a distinctive fish and everyone has a snapper story.
I HAVE AN OLD FLATTY IN MY FREEZER. CAN YOU DO THAT?
Fresh is best, mate. The fins tend to curl up when they lose their moisture. Ideally the fish isn’t bent, scaled or gutted. Fresh squid are great to work with – a sticky tentacle lays down ink beautifully.
A SQUID LAYING INK? HOW APT. WHAT’S THE MOST UNSUSUAL FISH YOU’VE DONE?
A right-eyed turbot. It’s a New Zealand fish with fine hairs on its mouth for filtering food. It has a nice texture and flat body which rubs nicely and easily.
CAN I EAT THE FISH AFTER IT HAS BEEN INKED?
Yes, of course. The paint is nothing more than Crayola-brand non-toxic acrylic paint; it’s totally harmless. If you take me fishing, I’ll even lay down a live fish and release it.
COOL! THE EYES IN YOUR PRINTS LOOK SO REAL. I’M SURE THAT SQUID IS LOOKING AT ME. HOW DO YOU ACHIEVE THAT?
Yeah, that’s my signature move. When you do a good eye it comes to life. My Nan was a great artist, she always did brilliant eyes. That’s where I got my inspiration. I also have an air-brushing background, which helps with the fine detail.
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING TO, ERM RUB?
I love doing squid. One of my favourite experiences was heading to the Tsukiji Market in central Tokyo. I picked up some arrow squid, went back the hotel room with some Asahi beers, and starting smashing out prints!
I CAN SEE YOU KICKING BACK IN YOUR ROOM IN YOUR KIMONO. WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU’VE HAD A FEW TOO MANY ASAHIS AND YOU SLIP WHILE RUBBING?
Ha! It has happened. I did a snapper, which slipped and ‘ghosted’ itself. I incorporated that into the print and it looked neat. I’ve used that style now, for something original.
TELL ME ABOUT THE PAPER.
The paper is a huge part of the process. I went to Japan recently just to get the best paper available, which is rice paper. It’s very light so you need a controlled environment that’s not too breezy.
I DONT IMAGINE OFFICEWORKS HAS A FISH-RUBBING SECTION… WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
Seaside pubs and restaurants like The Heads Hotel in Shoalhaven, NSW. I have a squid piece up at Hux Grill, owned by Jay Huxley of MasterChef fame. A lot of customers come from the game-boats I deckie on; it’s a great little memory of the trip and more efficient than taxidermy. Typically, wherever I fish, I sell them.
HOW MUCH TO HAVE YOU RUB MY FISH, MATE?
About $350 for a standard sized snapper – up to $3000 for a big octopus with LED back lighting. I work with a professional framing company, Australia in Focus, to give it a high-quality, timeless look. Every piece comes with my logo, cut out of a potato, which forms part of the artwork. Every piece is an original fish on paper – it’s not a drawing or number in a bunch of prints.
Awesome Dooma. Now, let’s cook up this squid and spuds. Got any Asahi?
Sure mate. Let’s do it.
Contact Damien ‘Dooma’ Oswald at email@example.com or follow him on Instagram @printmyfish. Dooma also has a range of cool hats, tees and hoodies available for purchase.