For my students
For more than twenty last years while the thangka-painting
retreats have been happened in Russia Marian van der Horst-Lem trained about
four hundred students. Few of them have become true masters, but the most of
students were engaged only in one or two courses. Nevertheless all who
studied under Marian's guidance gratefully remember her and note these
courses as more meaningful than everyone can assume before. Marian said, "If
a man paints the Buddha-this is miracle. It's really pointless to have such
target as become the artist of thangka-painting. This can happen, but
cannot. It is fine if you paint only a head of Buddha. It is equal fine if
you will paint one thangka as well as twenty thangkas."
the lectures given by Marian van der Horst-Lem
Marian said us that during two years she studied thangka-painting
under the guidance of
Andy Weber, thangka-painter from England. As Marian remembered, when the
courses were over and she staid alone, there appeared many problems,
"Sometimes I was really need the teacher's advice."
"Thangka-painting is the practice that changes the person. I
notice this by my own experience. At the beginning I was a poor student and
hadn't enough patience. However don't worry about mistakes that you done,
this is really nothing, greatly important only one-to correct them and do
not occur in the future. Probably I can teach you because I come through all
these problems by myself..."
Marian said also that in her teaching she is guided by Gega
Lama's example. "The morning began with meditation and then he inspected our
works. He spoke very gently, 'This could be a little bit better.' He never
looked down on his students and didn't condemn even the apparent failure.
From time to time he would to admire looking for a well done image. Once he
examined my drawing for very long time and meanwhile I thought about my
mistakes Teacher said me, 'This is the best you have ever done,' and I saw
tears in his eyes."
The occasion of painting the thangkas
When you are just starting to paint the main reason is
because you like to do this. In further under professional approach your can
receive orders. There is a great difference between secular and thangka
painters. Normal artist tries to convey their thoughts, emotions, political
views etc. Thangka-painting artists are not involved so much into own
feeling. Their visual aids are to be the guide of Buddha and Dharma. They
are the servants of Dharma and Sangha. Thus, the purpose of the thangka-painting
is helping in understanding of Teaching. That is why the thangka-painting
has significant difference from the mundane painting. The more high level of
understanding the painter reaches, the more information onlooker gets.
Traditionally in Tibet thangkas used in contemplation,
Tantric practices, rituals, certain holidays or ceremonies, offerings and
gifts. When member of family is ill, dying or experiencing any problems
relatives ordered the thangka as a rule. Few ages are known as unfavorable
(e.g. 13, 25, 37, 49 years) and Tibetans often order the thangka considering
this giving merits the bough-the customer as well as the artist.
who happen to be thangka-painters
• The thangka-painter is not certainly Buddhist, but the
person who just wields a skilful technique, i.e. craftsman. For example in
Nepal many thangkas goes on sale. However much better if the artist is a
follower of Dharma. Especially when you paint a deity of Higher Tantra you
need to have dedication.
• Conventional artists. They can paint the thangka for the
ritual or a single case not being practitioners.
• People with sensitive perception, clairvoyant. They are
able to see the divine image and capture it or give a description that an
artist could draw.
• Advanced practice. Yogi.
• Living beings attained a high spiritual realization. Thus
as a rule the karmapas have been gifted in all arts.
In the East artists of thangka-painting often come from
artistic families through a long way of learning. The artist considered the
completed-'the painter in his own rights' when he knows the proportions and
is able to make free-hand drawings of beautiful outlines and gold ornaments.
In Tibet the artists were considered mainly as craftsmen although they had
devotions and spiritual ambitions. Really the artist of thangka-painting
should be modest, religious and not very young as too old. He should be
healthy and have a good balanced temper.
How to deal with Buddha's images
Every Buddha's image, even done in pencil or ink, is a form
of Nirmanakaya (body) of Buddha. Even if the picture is imperfect, it should
be treated with great respect. Our schemes that copied from the book of Gega
Lama, must be protected as the real thangkas (store it in a clean place or
on the altar, don't leave where hit) and not shown persons who don't respect
Let's try to avoid the situation when your drawing or thangka
remain uncompleted for a long time. It is better to burn them out. The more
beauty image you have done the more energy of deities it received but even
on technically unsuccessful images this effect appears. There are some rules
of usage of damaged thankgas. In some cases it can be restored, otherwise it
should be burned in a clean place.
Thangka-painting and Dharma
The process of thangka-painting is the practice of Dharma.
The image on a canvas is a manifestation of the Buddha's body. Trying to
create the perfect thangka the artist must have perfect knowledge, therefore
the artist relies practice through the activity, speech, meditation, dance
etc. We must be careful and concentrated; we should purify our body, speech
and mind. It is not only the technique because the images created by us are
indeed present here. If the concentration is not perfect we make mistakes.
Upon completion of thangka the result already present and it
does not matter how long thangka exists. Its influence is important. Thus in
a case of sand mandala this longing for several days until the ritual lasts.
At every case this is the appearance of new reality.
The process of thangka-painting is proposed the artist's
preparation. Before the painting he (she) should perform the ritual, read
corresponding texts, make offerings, give alms etc. It needs the blessing of
the Teacher on painting, tools and materials. The teacher gives the blessing
after a meditation on the enlightened beings, asks the deity to enter and
sanctify the body, speech and mind of the artist. When the artist should
draw idam it is very important to have a dedication to the deity, especially
if this is the Tantric form.
If he (she) does not have the dedication then through the
blessing of the Teacher it's possible to join the mandala of the deity. If
an image is related to Annutarayoga Tantra the artist surely must have the
dedication to this class of Tantra and practice corresponding mantra. It's
desirable to perform the retreat before. Also in obtaining the good result
it's important to have a harmonious relationship with the customer.
The position of an artist is also important. Right directions
are following: face to the East (peaceful deities), South (the deities of
wealth, long life), West (Tantric, hemi-wrathful deities) or North (wrathful
deities). If you are not able to sit turned in the right direction you
should imagine the right position. It's important to observe cleanliness of
the workplace, body, speech and mind. Artist should avoid wine and sexual
contacts, some kinds of food (onions, garlic), i.e. observe the precepts of
Kriya Tantra. The thangka should be free from defects, deficiencies and
selfish intentions (for ex. the desire to become famous or rich). Artist
relies perceive life with joy, be free from desires and demands during the
process of thangka-painting.
Traditionally in the East the employer gives an advance
payment the artist, meaning that he could lives, works and feeds his family.
Gega Lama said me, "You have an education, you artist in your own right and
can receive the thangka-painting orders and borrow money for work. But every
artist should know how much the customer can pay."
On the first steps I advise you not to rush and focus on your
pace. This is also a kind of meditation. My Teacher always said that first
of all you will need to get used to these measurements. My experience also
shows that it is important to learn the proportions and feel the beauty of
the figures. Then further, usually one year later, you can begin to paint by
colours. You can try to paint earlier of course…