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
(3) laying down the initial coats of paint,
(5) outlining and
(6) finishing touches
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.
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
The 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.