Maui Fish Printing Artist
Modern Technology Meets Ancient Art Form
For years, sport fishermen and amateur anglers have commemorated big catches by mounting their trophy fish. But the taxidermy process can be expensive and time-consuming, and because the finished product isn’t beloved by every member of a household, these mounts often end up in basements, garages, storage units or “man caves.” About 15 years ago, completely by accident, Maui Jim ambassador Brian Heustis discovered an alternative.
“I love marine life — I’m a diver and a spear fisherman, and I was always drawn to this gallery in Paia, Maui,” Brian says. “I thought this guy was just an incredibly talented painter of fish, because they were so detailed. After a decade or more, I finally asked the local lady running the shop, ‘How does he get all these scales on here? It must take him forever.’ And she said, ‘No, he prints the fish,’ and then she told me the process.”
Called Gyotaku, fish printing is a time-honored Japanese art form. To memorialize their catches, Japanese fisherman would paint a freshly caught fish with non-toxic ink, cover it with delicate rice paper and apply pressure — creating an exact imprint of the catch as a keepsake. The fish itself could then be washed and eaten.
Brian was intrigued by the concept of Gyotaku, but with no art background of his own, it took him about five years to build up the courage to attempt his own fish print. Once he completed his first painting of a mahi-mahi, he was hooked — pun intended — and has since built a business offering fish printing as an alternative to taxidermy. Thanks to modern technology, his clients extend far beyond the local waters where Maui Fish Printing is based.
When I pulled off my first print, literally, I thought I had created a masterpiece. The real awesome thing about it is that when I look back at it, because my daughter asked me, “Hey, do you have your first fish print?” And I was like, “Yes, I do. Let’s go find it and unroll it”. We found it. I unrolled it. We both just looked at each other and she was probably about six at the time. She is 12 now. She said, “Daddy, that’s not very good”. Because she had seen all my future work. I was like, “Wow, you are right”. I go… When we laid down the latest version of my Mahi-mahi with that very first print, and then you could instantly see the evolution of my art and how it has evolved. It was a great moment.
“Taxidermists use molds, so I needed an equivalent. No one is going to send a marlin from Florida or a rainbow trout from Montana to Maui,” Brian says. “A few years ago, I started having high-resolution scans made of every print I did. Now, all someone has to do is send me the rough measurement of their catch and photos of it from their phone, and I can help them get their fish on the wall in a really cool, artistic, creative way that has a history behind it.”
The sustainability of Gyotaku also appeals to Brian, who is a big proponent of catch-and-release. When that’s not possible, he’s committed to making sure nothing goes to waste.
“Many of the fish I receive to print have already been sold to restaurants,” he says. “There are also a lot of fish I print that aren’t consumable. I’ll take them to the ocean myself to recycle, or I’ll take them to the local aquarium to use as food for the sharks. It’s really important to me that nothing gets wasted.”
Creating memories matters, too — for his clients and for himself.
“I take each print as an opportunity to bring that fish back to life,” Brian says. “I love the history of Gyotaku, the art form of it and the fact that I can support my family doing it while living on Maui. I mean, I get to surf with my daughter anytime I want. I get to play in the ocean and do what I love. I really am thankful.”
Interested in seeing more of Brian’s work? Check out his gallery of fish prints and watch this time-lapse video to get a sense of the scale of some of his paintings.