With a roll of canvas and paints in hand, he’s an artist on the go and ready to record your catch.
Harley Van Hyning, 34, of Destin, has been making art all of his life, but in the last couple of years he has taken up the art of Gyotaku, which is a Japanese art form that started in the mid-1800s.
“It was how they recorded their catches,” Harley said, noting they would do a rub of their fish with rice paper.
Several years ago, Harley bought a piece of this art form from a man in central Florida.
“I had heard about it and seen it in art classes years ago,” he said. “I always thought it was super cool but never attempted to try it. And then I tried it and thought 'This is awesome.'
"I absolutely love it. I’m excited anytime somebody brings in a fish … I’ve got to go, got to go,” he said.
Just recently, The Log caught up with Harley at Harbor Docks where he was recording some of the fish that were caught aboard the charter boat Lady Em.
First he did a yellowfin tuna and then a scamp.
Harley uses acrylic paints to capture catches.
“I chose (acrylics) because it’s water base and a non-toxic medium so it doesn’t hurt the fish,” he said. “That way when I’m finished doing my work anglers can eat their fish right afterwards.”
After Harley washes the fish, he pats it down to remove all excess slimes and things that are natural to the fish.
“That way it gives me a nice, easy way to paint the fish,” he said.
With brush in hand he applies the paint directly to the fish and tries to use colors to enhance the real likeness of the fish, making sure to pick up all the details from the fins, tail, eyes and mouth.
After he makes sure he’s painted the entire fish, he has just a matter of minutes before he actually covers the fish with the canvas, depending on if he is working in shade or sun, to do the rub.
“I’m using canvas … the traditional way is with rice paper, but I like canvas,” Harley said. “It really enhances the style and the presentation I do with the fish. It goes with the Gnarly Harley fish brand.”
“It gives it more of a raw, edgy feel … like you can look at the fish and it’s not perfect, that’s a special thing.”
Once the canvas is on the fish, Harley presses it down to pull the paint off the fish to capture the catch on canvas.
“I go through and make sure I get all the details,” he said, as he moved his hands across the canvas pressing down. “The fins are very important and I get as much of the body as I can. I cover every little centimeter of the fish,” he said.
Once the rub is done he pulls the canvas away and then takes it home to stretch it and do his finishing touches and add his style.
“One of the things I like to do is the fins, gnarly looking … gives that finishing mood,” Harley said.
In the last two years, Harley has done everything from a Spanish mackerel to a 343-pound swordfish. But his favorite was the barracuda.
“I really like the barracuda with all the teeth and just how gnarly the fish is,” he said. “They are just fascinating and people always recognize it when they see it.”
But none of the fish are the same.
“I’m kind of like the fish morgue,” he said. “I touch them up and make them look pretty again. Then his life is embraced forever, immortalized to who ever caught it.”