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Each deity depicts its own qualities; when an artist creates these images or visualizes them via meditation they take on these qualities. Once the artists or practitioner are filled with the deities' qualities, it is believed they will become one with the deity.







About Buddhist Paintings

The purpose of Buddhist Art is to help the devotee raise the curtains of delusion and seek enlightenment; to see the Ultimate Truth. Buddhist Art has always been a beacon to the society guiding him and showing the high moral values much needed for the spiritual elevation of mankind. Hence man’s religious zeal and artistic creativity inspired him to create art that would help anyone find oneself away from the Samsaric world so one cancan look within. The artistic motifs, stories, symbols, imagery were depicted in the form of statues, paintings or even stupas that acted as a medium to see what was beyond. Buddhist Scroll Paintings, called Chitrapata in India, were created to spread the Dhamma, teachings of Buddha or to assist a meditator or a practioner to learn and emulate the qualities of a particular deity or to visualize his or her path towards enlightenment. Imagery of particular deity may be used for protection or to overcome obstacles. For example Green Tara, the goddess of compassion is a motherly, protective deity and serves as the envoy of all the enlightened actions of the Buddha. 

Buddhist Paintings depict stories concerning the previous births of Gautama Buddha called Jatakas, the Dhammapada, the teachings of Buddha, Buddhas and Boddhisattvas in their many forms and manifestations, Gods and Goddesses, Celestial beings, mythical beings, cosmological and astrological images, subjects from traditional medicine, and numerous other subject matter. The paintings include images of Mandala, a drawing that has spiritual and religious significance and represents the Universe. These paintings serve as an instrument for practitioner to meditate upon these images. In meditating on a painting of a deity, the purpose is to eventually become one with the deity and take on their attributes, which can ultimately lead to enlightenment and the ending of Samsaric sufferings. These painting are seen as an object of devotion, an aid to spiritual practice, and a source of blessings for those who create it as well as those who view and meditate upon it. The paintings serve as a constant reminder of Buddha’s teachings of compassion, kindness, and wisdom.

Buddhist Scroll Paintings are Thangka in Tibet. Thangka paintings attained classical levels in the Tibetan tradition between the Seventh and Twelfth centuries.  A thangka is more than just a work of art. When created properly it is an object of devotion, an aid to spiritual practice, and a source of blessing for those who create it as well as those who view and meditate upon it.  Thangka’s come in a wide variety of styles and depict various subjects, such as Buddha in his many forms and manifestations, bodhisattvas, cosmological and astrological images, subjects from traditional medicine, and numerous other subject matter. A Thangka may also depict historical events from the lives of Lamas or a mandala. A mandala is a circle, which has spiritual and religious significance to Buddhists.


Creation of a Thangka

  1. The first step in creating a thangka is to prepare the canvas by stretching it to a wooden frame and covering the canvas with a gesso ground.
  2. Once the canvas is prepared, the creation of the eight lines of orientation: the vertical axis, horizontal axis, and four outer borders is done.
  3. Drawings that are to be transferred to the canvas are either directly drawn on the canvas or are drawn on the paper first using grids and then transferred to the canvas. While transferring the drawing onto the canvas, the main deity is centered on the vertical axis, and the other figures are carefully spaced around it.
  4. After the deity and the background are perfected, they are finalized with ink.
  5. The color application is an integral step, as the color determines the style of the thangka. Background areas are generally completed first, followed by the application of lighter colors, and then shading with darker colors. The artist applies one color everywhere it is needed at a time throughout the painting when working. The most important areas, such as the body and face, are completed last.
  6. After application of colors, the artist begins shading using techniques like wet shading, dry shading and few other techniques.
  7. Once paint is applied to the canvas and shading is done, objects are outlined using natural dyes.
  8. The use and application of metals, such as silver and gold, forms an integral part of a thangka painting. Gold is used to create intricate repeating designs in the brocades of the robes as well as many other objects.Using gold in a painting is considered auspicious, and is a symbolic offering to the painted deity or the depicted theme.
  9. Once the painting is complete, the master will “open the eyes” of the deity. The eyes are always depicted with an inward vision. It is during this final stage of the painting in which the artists brings life to the deities.
  10. Once the deities eyes are completed the master or artists will write “om, ah, hum” often on the back of the painting, behind the deity’s forehead, throat, and heart. This represents the mind, speech, and body of the deity. After the painting is mounted on hand woven silk brocade and finally a Lama or Buddhist Monk consecrates it.


Familiar Styles and Colors

There are many styles in which scroll paintings are depicted. However, there are six styles, which are the most common. They are: All Color, Black, Gold, Red, Silver, and Appliqué. All Color also called Tson-thang in Tibetan, thangkas consists of mineral pigments and pure gold on white canvas. Black or Nag-thangthangka’s consists of mineral pigments and pure gold on a black canvas. Gold or Ser- thang thangka consists of mineral pigments on pure gold. A 24-carat gold thangka is created on an off-white/canvas, with numerous layers of gold gradually added to the canvas. Red or Mar-thangthangka’sconsists of mineral pigments and pure gold on a red canvas. The gold is applied directly on to the red canvas with the help of very fine brushes. These brushes are usually created from horse or rabbit hairs.

Silver thangkas consists of mineral pigments on pure silver and is created on a white canvas. A thin silver base is applied on to the canvas, and then silver is applied until a uniformed layer appears. This process of preparing silver paint from solid silver metal takes a few weeks. The final style is Appliqué also called Go-thangor Embroidery; a drawing is made according to strict Buddhist iconographic rules of the desired image, which serves as a model-pattern for the appliqué. At the same time, many fine pieces of brightly colored silk or gold cloth are cut and sewn together to conform to the specific details of the image. Once completed, the image is mounted on a plain white cotton backing and then framed in a pure hand-woven silk brocade border.