There are usually four main planes in a thangka; the sky, the landscape, the deity's nimbus and the divine figure itself.

The first area to be painted is the distant sky, and this requires the painter to prepare Painting the sky and apply a suitable blue paint. Next he applies this and other blue paints wherever else they are required in the landscape, for example on areas of water and on the blue parts of the traditional blue and green rocky crags. Last he paints the blue areas on and around the central figure, beginning with the body nimbus or backdrop since it is the rear, and then moving to the body, if appropriate, and to any part of the clothing and accoutrements that are blue.

The colour green comes next, being first applied to the green hillsides and meadows in the landscape, and afterward to large details in the landscape such as trees. Then, as with the blues, the artist continues to work forward in the composition, applying green as necessary to the nimbuses or back-curtains and then to the figure.

Application of remaining colourImmediately after the blues and greens, the artist mixes and applies white and bluish and greenish off whites to such distant objects in the painting as clouds and snow peaks. These colours complete most of the distant planes of the composition. Areas of pure white in the foreground, however, are not painted until last, to prevent them from becoming dirty.

The remaining colours are required for the most part in the forward plane of the composition. At this point the artist might apply the reds and oranges, followed by yellow. He continues to fill as many areas as possible with each colour, painting such things as the flames, nimbuses or back curtain, robes and the deity's body, as appropriate. Next he applies such minor colours as ochre, brown, pink and finally white and gold.



Transitions of both tone and color are regularly executed on single objects within the painting, and when used to create the shadowing, the technique contributes a three-dimensional appearance to such things as clouds and the bodily forms of the divine beings.

Outlining proper serves to set off most objects from their surroundings, and it is used to demarcate the main subdivisions within them. Indigo and lac dye are widely used during outlining along with white, gold and other colors.


Brocaded ThangkaThe last main step involving the application of colors is the rendering of the faces of the main figures. This is in effect the final stage of outlining, and sometimes the master painter will step in at this point and complete the painting of his student. Of all the details, the facial features demands the most attention, and among these it is the eyes that receives the greatest care. The painting of the eyes of a deity is one of the acts that brrings it to life.

The final step for many areas painted with gold is burnishing using a hard conical end of a gzi stone. Nowadays, Tibetan artists use various types of burnishers besides the gzi stone, including animal teeth, other siliceous stones, and suitably shaped pieces of metal.

With the completion of the faces and the burnishing of the gold, the production of the painting comes to an end. Finally, to function as a sacred object of worship the painting is consecrated through the ceremony of vivification (rab gnas). As a preparation for this consecration, many artists write in the sacred syllables OM AH HUM with red letters on the back of the canvas behind the forehead, throat and heart of the main figure. These syllables represent the essence of the enlightened body, speech and mind with which the figures are to be imbued during the consecration ritual. The artist than removes the painting from the stretcher and either has it mounted on a silk brocade frame or rolled up and kept carefully until the patron calles for it.