Salty bones adam ashdown

A carpenter woke up four years ago and decided he was going to catch a fish and print it.

The story didn’t end there. Adam Ashdown went on to become a successful artist – his prints representing the Australian male’s deep and robust affinity with fishing. Adam’s work is featuring at this year’s Margaret River Region Open Studio’s event.

Adam Ashdown Salty Bones Gyotaku Open Studios
Artist Adam Ashdown outside his Dunsborough studio.

A chippy turned artist from Dunsborough with a talent for printing your hero catch into a stunning work of art ready to hang, Adam Ashdown is self-taught in the practice of Gyotaku – a Japanese printing technique that requires sumi ink, a fish, and rice paper. Adam’s artwork is both beautiful and individual, and the process involved reveals multiple prints from a single fish – with the image becoming more and more detailed as the ink is slowly removed.

Adam was self-taught for a reason. There is little known about the ancient printing methods, and he learnt simply though trial and error. Adam says “It started in Japan in the 1800s and at the end of the 1900s it kind of went underground. These days you can get a bit of information on the modern technique but as far as the traditional methods go, it’s really – there’s your fish, you put sumi ink on it, and wrap it in rice paper.”

Adam Ashdown Salty Bones
The art of gyotaku, a Japanese printing technique that requires sumi ink, a fish, and rice paper.

According to Adam, your fresh catch is easier to print than a frozen one caught the day earlier, but both can be done. At the time of interview, Adam was working on a commissioned print from a fish that had been frozen for six weeks. So whether you’re in Perth, Karratha or Dunsborough – he can arrange the print.

Without trying very hard, Adam has stumbled on a bit of fame in the Margaret River Region. Presenting at Gourmet Escape last year with Miki’s Kitchen head chef Mikihito Nagai, Adam garnered the attention of international chefs and visitors to the region.

Salty Bones Dunsborough Artist
Adam’s studio, Salty Bones Gyotaku, will be open to the public during Margaret River Open Studios.

About 18 months ago he was also invited to attend an event in Sydney for small business owners. The event, called “The Gift Guide” was run at the Facebook headquarters in New South Wales and when Adam was contacted to take part he couldn’t quite believe it was real; “They had 30 small businesses from around Australia – all regional, and they said we need you in Sydney to represent these businesses so five or six of us flew over and we went to Universal Studios. And this was all a week from getting the phone call which was pretty loose. We flew to Sydney, then to Canberra and it was good getting out there to the Eastern States.”

It goes without saying, the artwork is popular. To keep up with demand, Adam sells prints and t-shirts, but most lovers of the sea will appreciate the originals – crafted hours after a great catch in in the local waters of Geographe Bay. It’s a fantastic memento to remember your trophy catch. And yes – you can still eat the fish after it’s been printed. Sumi ink is water based so it washes off afterwards.

Open Studios Artist Salty Bones
It's an ancient art that requires years of patience and training.
I asked Adam if he prefers a type of fish to print. “Some fish to me are quite boring. They’re just a shape with no scales. So there are fish that do come up better in a print. Some fish are also a lot more involved to print. I did a tuna – the thing was 86kg and if you can imagine it being a big balloon on the print, so I had to get the perspective right and take the ink to a certain point on the fish then cut the fins off, print the fins separately, and it turned into something like a 26 stage print. The dory is a really flat fish so it’s more a matter of whacking on the ink and taking the print, and they come up really cool.”
Despite the attention he’s had as an artist, Adam is modest about his achievements – still claiming that art is his side hustle while managing Dad duties and his tradie work.

If you’ve got an interest in art or fishing, find Adam at this year’s Margaret River Region Open Studios, 12 – 27 September 2020. His work is also on display and sold at Fishbone Winery and Blue Manna Bistro or visit his online store – Salty Bones Gyotaku.

Photos: Tim Campbell