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Looking at the delicately colored prints of artist Heather Fortner, you’re probably pretty impressed by the extreme realism of her work. Each scale, fin, and spine of the fish she creates is rendered with perfect detail and proportion, but the images still manage to be light and airy.

So how does she do it?

Well, you might not believe this, but the Oregon-based artist gets up close and personal with her subjects.

Well, you might not believe this, but the Oregon-based artist gets up close and personal with her subjects.

In fact, you could say that they even help her. That’s because Fortner uses actual fish to create these prints.

The practice of making prints with real fish comes from Japan, where it’s called gyotaku, which literally translates to “fish rubbing.” Fishermen would once keep ink and paper aboard their ships and use them to make records of the fish they caught that day. The records were totally accurate, which made them perfect for keeping track of fish population trends — and for judging fishing contests.

There are two ways of doing this. The direct method calls for ink to be applied right to the fish’s body. The fish’s body is then pressed against paper. The indirect method involves pressing paper to the fish, and then rubbing color over the paper, similar to the way people make rubbings from tombstones.

Here’s a fish mid-print. The detail is pretty amazing.

Here's a fish mid-print. The detail is pretty amazing.

And since we know you guys are concerned about the welfare of animals, Fortner does not kill any fish to create her pieces.

And since we know you guys are concerned about the welfare of animals, Fortner <em>does not</em> kill any fish to create her pieces.

Instead, she finds dead fish that have washed up on the shore near her home.

Instead, she finds dead fish that have washed up on the shore near her home.

After using their bodies, she cleans them off and buries them in her yard to serve as fertilizer.

The fish can be used more than once, which is why you often see multiple prints of the same one.

The fish can be used more than once, which is why you often see multiple prints of the same one.

This piece is a prime example.

Handling a dead fish to create art might seem a little gross, but Fortner sees her work as a way to connect humans to the sea. By looking at these pieces, which were created with the actual bodies of our fellow creatures, we’re reminded of the complexity, beauty, and fragility of life.

For her part, Fortner hopes that her paintings will remind viewers that fish are delicate creatures that hang in the balance of nature. The way we treat the planet often affects our aquatic friends first.

(via My Modern Met)

You can see more of Fortner’s work on her website, where you can check out different examples of fish from all over the world. Follow her on Facebook to keep up with her latest projects!

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