THE THANGKA PAINTING PROCESS:

When creating thangka scroll paintings, the painters proceed through six clearly defined steps.
(1) Preparation of the painting surface,
(2) establishment of a design on that surface by means of a sketch or transfer,
(3) laying down the initial coats of paint,
(4) shading,
(5) outlining and
(6) finishing touches


Moistening of the canvas in preparation for damp polishingPREPARATION OF THE PAINTING SURFACE:

The first item required for the making of a thangka is a cotton cloth, like a plain-weave Indian muslin. The cloth sometimes needs washing so that it shrinks before it is stretched on to a wooden frame. Once the cotton support has been stretched and sized, a layer of gesso is applied and then polished to complete the preparation of the ground. The gesso used by Tibetan painters is simply a mixture of the most available white earth pigment - either a chalk or a white clay (kaolin) - added to some size solution. Finally, the surface is smoothened and polished.

SKETCHING

Transparent paper with image for tracing

Once the artist has established a design it involves several steps to impart his design to the prepared thangka ground. The first of which is to lay down the main lines of orientation. Most important is the central vertical axis, for this will be the exact center of the painting around which the artist will plan the rest of the composition. Thangkas being an expression of religious ideals through art, their figures - the ideal bodily forms of enlightened beings - has to be perfectly oriented in relation to the central axis. Once the painting surface has been determined and its central axis established, the painter begins the actual work of sketching.

For his preliminary sketches a Tibetan painter traditionally uses charcoal crayons. The first step is the division of the painting surface. Next the artist establishes the lengths of the units of measure to be used when drawing those particular figures. After the artist is satisfied with the accuracy and beauty of his preliminary sketch he reinforces the charcoal sketch with a brush and black ink.

PIGMENTS

Colour-palletteThe application of the color involves two main steps: first, filling in the areas of different base colors, and second, the subsequent shading and outlining of those areas. Two essentially different types of paint correspond to the Tibetan palette,(1) mineral pigments and (2) the organic dyes. The brushes used consist of a brush tip of fine animal hairs attached to the pointed tip of a characteristic type of wooden handle.