Monday, April 5, 2010

Brian Tries Thanka Painting

So one of my favorite items that we sell through our company, Red Lotus Trading Company, are the Buddhist thanka paintings. We got word through the KTM KTM message group that International Art Workshops was doing a full day workshop on thanka paintings. The organization is run by a British expat named Ilsa, who was really friendly and did a wonderful job putting it together. The seminar itself was headed by Sudarshan Suwal, a third generation expert thanka painter who is the marketing director for Natural Collection Traders.

Above is a picture of Sudarshan explaining
 how to create the pigments to us. While many thankas are made with acrylic and more common paints these days, he showed us how they mixed the crushed powder of certain stones, plants etc. to make the dyes and then the paints to paint with.
above are a few of the stones and an old text that describes how to do the mixing. For centuries these style texts where all they had describing the process, the above is in Newari. Now there are plenty of books describing the process, though apparently the procedure to create the gold and silver dies (made from real gold and silver) are kept secret. It is interesting to me that the silver on the paintings does not appear to tarnish or oxidize, my assumption is that it is mixed with something that seals it from exposure to the air. Other stones we used included malachite (green), lapis (blue), sulfur (yellow). The others I can't recall off the top of my head.
Here are some of the dies after we were done working on them, that blue powder on the left is the lapis that Kim and I pulverized with a mortar and pestle.

Here is Kim painting away. Hers came out very nice, the sulfer pigment that created the yellow background was very vibrant. I made the mistake of choosing green for a background, and the mineral based pigments were a bit weaker and thus didn't show up quite as well. I also chose a very simple geometric design, as painting is not something I excel at, and I was here mostly to learn what the process is.
This is a poster of a 10' x 7' painting that Sudarshan had done for someone in the United States. While talking to him while other people were painting he informed me that it took him twenty months to complete. The sheer amount of detail required on something like this, and to do it with paints that act much like watercolors is extraordinarily hard. I had a lot of respect for the artists who did these works before I took this workshop, and even more after.

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