Thursday, February 15, 2007

Visit to a thangka workshop

Last Sunday, 11 February, I had the chance to visit a thangka workshop located just a couple of blocks from my guest house down a typical narrow alley with an unpaved road. Housed in the 4-story building are the offices and studios of the Dharmadhatu Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the condition of painters and the socially and economically disadvantaged.

I learned about DD at one of Boudha's thangka shops, places I visit from time to time to chat with the sales people, owners and painters. At one small shop the sales person was telling me about an organization he belonged to that was attempting to assist poor thangka painters to get more money for their work through the formation of a cooperative studio and retail outlet.

The retail shop hasn't yet materialized, but you can have a look at some photos of the workshop below, as well as learn more about the organization here, and have a look at some of the art being produced here.

In these first two photos you'll see a young man tracing what are some very intricate designs. As thangka are for many people a means of survival, it is more important to be able to produce something that you can sell, rather than mastering a skill before producing your first bit of work. You'll see another set of photos below of another artist tracing an image onto canvas. In this case, the artist is working with paint. As I study at what you might think of as a more traditional "school," there is no theoretical or economic necessity to practice tracing.

Below are two young artists, both still in their teens, if I remember correctly, applying shading to the four corners of mandalas. The technique requires applying dark layers of colors in the far corners and making the color increasing lighter as it moves to the center, producing the appearance of fading. This is some of the simplest painting work and it is often what new apprentices learn first, as once they master the technique they can begin earning their keep. Below you'll see some more photos of a room full of women, all beginners and all practicing shading.

Here is the backside of a large canvas. Notice the paper attached to the canvas and the light directed at it. The artist is on the other side copying the image to the canvas.

Below is the master artist of the workshop doing some of the more delicate finishing work, such as adding gold. Notice the shading and most of the content is finished.

Following are several photos of the learner's room, a group of young ladies practicing shading. If you look closely, you'll see that they are shading blue skies and green hills, fairly typical background features in most thangka. Most of these women, I was told, are unskilled and without opportunities to lerarn a skill or craft. The DD Foundation provides this training for free.

And finally the founder and organizer of the Dharmadhatu Foundation, Buddha Moktang Lama, and his wife (whose name I don't have with me just now).



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