Traditional Thangka Painting by

Thomas Yeshe Dalarud

In Tibet existed several distinct methods or traditions of thangka painting as well as a large number of other ways of depicting the deities and the lamas of the Buddhist and Bön traditions. Since my training and apprenticeship is with the master Gega Lama of the Gadri school I will stick to that and not go into a discussion on any other school or tradition within the Tibetan art that I have much less knowledge of. According to the particular Tibetan tradition of Gadri school of painting that has been the favorite style of the successions of incarnations of the lineage of the Gyalwa Karmapas and the lamas belonging to the Karma Kagyu lineage I will here give an outline on the main features of this kind of painting.

The artist within the Gadri school uses a mixture of transparent and opaque distemper techniques on a canvas prepared with pigment and hide-glue. The painting-surface or canvas is given a slightly yellowish tone as a starting-point. Layer of paint is then applied either with a transparent technique in small dots or dabs (example: sky and ground) as a shading method directly on the light-yellowish surface. Or, initially a opaque layer of distemper is applied (example: body, flowers and textiles) and then shaded over a second time with transparent layers of the same dot-technique applied to the sky and ground. These techniques of application is said to bring ”light and transparency” to the painting in an attempt to mimic the light and transparency that make up the pure realms of the depicted deities.

Traditionally a Tibetan thangka is painted in six distinctively separate stages: First step is the preparation of the painting-surface or canvas. Second step is the creation of the design by means of a thin line-drawing on the surface. Third step involves the initial layers of paint, such as the sky and the ground (grass). Also the initial opaque layers of the main features are included at this stage.

Fourth step includes shading of the areas that still needs shading to bring out further details of forms. Fifth step includes the completion of outlining. The sixth and final step completes the thangka with details in gold and the ”opening of the eyes”–procedure.

In Tibet, upon completion, a thangka was put in a silk-brocade as a form of scroll-frame and was often rolled up for any length of time to be shown only at special occasions or given as a pious offering to a high lama, monastery or as any other form of ritual of reverence.

In this section I will show some of the line-drawings that really is the foundation for correct thangka painting. Under this section I will later also include discussions on the different stages of establishment of the bodily forms of a thangka including such topics as compositions, icono-metric proportions and measurements.

In this section I will show and discuss various topics on the subject of the traditional Buddhist art of Thangka painting. It will be a page were I will show some of the thangkas that I have completed as well as a section were I will show the different stages of the process towards completing such painting.

At present only one of my thangkas is digitally available, but more is soon to come.