Interview with Ingrid Albrecht: Creating with Water

Ingrid Albrecht, a watercolor painter, mixed media artist, and teacher, has been interested in pictographs and petroglyphs since 1987, painting her creative interpretation of these ancient images based on her own photos and sketches from her worldwide travels. As an artist as well as an innovator, she has spent the last ten years perfecting her techniques in creating monoprints and original prints from ink and paint on the surface of water. She calls her luminous technique “Creating on Water.”

Petroglyphs and Pictographs

The Ancient Herdsmen
The Ancient Herdsmen. Courtesy of the Artist

I was fortunate to have experienced Canyon de Chelly on a camping trip with a Navajo guide. Around the campfire at night, I could feel the presence of the spirits from the past. It was an incredible “goose-bump” experience, and it left an indelible impression upon me. When I returned to my studio/gallery in St. Charles, at the time, I listened to my Native American flute music and created this painting. The painting was exhibited and viewers made comments about seeing images in the background washes. They called them hidden spirits and pointed these images out to me. I decided to take the painting off the market, not to sell it, and produce the image as a fine art print. Many of the “spirit images” seen are a white buffalo, a wolf, a puma, an old grandmother, an elk, a huge bear, and many more. These “images” appeared as the washes flowed on the board during the painting process.

ArtStyle: How did you become interested in petroglyphs and pictographs and why do you paint them?

Ingrid Albrecht (IA): In the late 1980s I had property in New Mexico, 55 acres of land, where I eventually wanted to build my adobe home and studio. During this time I visited the surrounding sites, including the Three Rivers Petroglyphs site in the Tularosa Basin, where I saw the destruction of many of these ancient images. I spoke to a man who had grown up in the area, and he said people come in and they literally chisel the images off the rocks and sell them overseas for a profit. It just hurt me to see this because it was a part of our country's history being destroyed.

For much of my life I've been attracted to our native cultures and for the reverence these natives have for the environment. At this time, I was studying at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, and I wanted to find a way that I could educate the public about these images and incorporate them into my paintings. I began experimenting with many processes to find new ways to express my feelings about these fragile ancient images.

Petroglyph Elephant
Elephants. Courtesy of the Artist.

This painting illustrates the plight of the elephant through time, indicated by prehistoric pictographs of elephants and the hunters who hunted them. I included the ancient image of the mastodon, along with the baby to show the future. The broken tusk, under the watchful eye of the elephant, suggests the ivory poaching problem.

My interest in these ancient pictographs and petroglyphs has taken me beyond the boarders of the U.S. in search of these global images. I've been to Africa nine times, Australia, China, our Southwest and Pacific Northwest, and Central and South America. In my travels and research, I've found that there is a similarity and connection among the pictographs and petroglyphs. Unlocking the mysteries of these ancient images and educating the public at the same time is challenging, but it has me hooked.

Petroglyph Horses
Horses. Courtesy of the Artist.

This painting shows the endangered Prezewalski horses or Mongolian horses as they are commonly called. I used mixed media on canvas, connecting the image of the horses, as they are today, with the images of them from the prehistoric cave paintings found in Europe. The hidden eye of the horse serves as a warning sign that they are close to extinction. I used earth tone pigments and the 3-D effect on the canvas to create that ancient look found in the cave paintings.

These horses are endangered because of the loss of their grazing lands to domestic cattle, and have completely disappeared from the Gobi desert, in southern Mongolia. There are about 1500 horses in captivity, kept in semi-wild conditions, waiting to be re-introduced to their natural habitat.


Monotype. Courtesy of the Artist.

ArtStyle: Could you talk about the process you use for the monotypes?

IA: There are two different philosophies of art going on with this process, both Eastern and Western. The Western philosophy of art is to be in more control of the medium. The Eastern philosophy of art is to go with the flow and to be one with the medium, to see what happens, and then begin to explore what the medium is telling you. As I progress through my career, I am becoming more Eastern in my creative thinking and processes. I find this to be the reason why I enjoy the monotype process so very much.

This particular print has gone through three different printings. First, I put black Sumi ink onto a plate and then manipulate the plate. You can use glass, plexiglass, copper, or zinc as a plate. I move the ink around on the plate until I'm satisfied with the image, and then I do a print by putting paper on top of the inked plate. Then I take the paper off and then let it dry. The next step is to analyze the print and determine if it needs anything else. If it does, I add more ink or touch it up, and then I do a second printing.

ArtStyle: After you do the first print and let it dry, how do you do the second one?

IA: I print in the same way. However, I have to realize that the printing is taking place face down so when the paper is lifted, and turned over, the image will be in reverse. I have to think carefully about where I want to add more texture or have a darker value, for example, knowing that it will print in reverse.

ArtStyle: How many prints do you normally do on the same paper?

IA: It depends on the subject matter. I normally do about three. The initial printing gives me the idea, while the second and third printings finalize the print.

Monotype Forest Fire
Forest Fire. Courtesy of the Artist.

This is a monotype plus watercolor. This started out with blue, red and orange watercolor, and black ink on plexiglass. I loved the patterns it created. Last year when I did this piece, the forest fires were burning in CA. That triggered my imagination. I got it to the point where I wanted it, and then used stencils to create trees and some interesting textures. It's so freeing to just “let go” and allow the process to tell you what it wants you to do.


Suminagashi Moon
Mountains and Moon. Courtesy of the Artist

For this image, I used the Suminagashi process on several sheets, and then put them together in collage form.

ArtStyle: What is Suminagashi (pronounced sue-me-nah-gah-she) and what is the process?

IA: Suminagashi literally means floating ink on water. I use floating Sumi ink on water and then print using rice paper. First, I drop the ink with a brush onto the surface of the water, and the ink disperses. I then put the light Japanese paper on top.

Seagulls. Courtesy of the Artist

I use paper resist with some of the images. For this print, I created paper forms in the shape of seagulls, and then floated the paper in the water. When the sheet of rice paper is placed on top of the shapes, the shapes don't print and leave a white or negative shape.

Creating on Water

Creating on Water
Creating on Water. Courtesy of the Artist

ArtStyle: What is the “creating on water” process?

IA: This is similar to the monoprint I showed you earlier except in this process I use acrylics. I use acrylics because the ink is limiting. The ink is transparent so if you want, for example, to print on a dark piece of rice paper, you can't unless you use white ink.

I put methycellulose in the water in a certain ratio, so the acrylics are going to be buoyant on top of the water. I put the acrylic mixture on the surface of the water, and then I print.

Creating on Water Ripple
Ripple. Courtesy of the Artist.

ArtStyle: How did you get the ripple effect on this image?

IA: This is one of my favorites of this process. Moving the pan before you print creates the ripples. The pan containing the liquid is in motion when printing. This practice takes time to perfect.

ArtStyle: Is this paper absorbent?

IA: Yes. This paper is absorbent and has to be strong when wet. Usually when the paper is torn and the edges are fuzzy, it has wet strength and will hold up on the surface of water.

ArtStyle: Could you use this with watercolor paper?

IA: Yes. I would suggest a 90-pound paper. The paper should be flexible and bend easily. The paper is held corner to corner before it is placed onto the water. The “belly” of the paper should be placed onto the water first to avoid any air pockets that will leave white spots on the printed image.

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