The Art of the Living Thangka


Thangka paintings are not only incredible to look at aesthetically but also serve as aids in meditational practice. You can use a thangka to strengthen your personal connection to a particular deity, strengthen your concentration during meditation, understand certain historical stories and figures, and more.

Historically, thangkas were also used as teaching tools to convey the lives of various masters. A teacher or lama would travel around giving talks on dharma, carrying large thangka scrolls to illustrate stories.

The sacred art of thangka painting originated in Nepal and dates back to the 7th century.


Aspiring thangka artists must spend years studying the iconographic grids and proportions of different deities and then master the technique of mixing and applying mineral pigments.

To make a thangka, first, a piece of canvas is stitched onto a wooden frame. It is prepared with a mixture of chalk, gesso, and base pigment, and rubbed smooth with a glass until the texture of the cloth is no longer apparent.

The outline of the deity is sketched in pencil onto the canvas using iconographic grids and then outlined in black ink. The artist designs a thangka by referring to the measurements of deities detailed in the scriptures, following the prescription of the lama.

Creating these one-of-a-kind thangkas requires extensive research, especially as the descriptions explaining the proportions of each deity are not compiled in one text, but are located in different volumes throughout the hundreds of volumes. Some texts cannot even be touched unless one has received the proper initiation for that specific deity.

Powders composed of crushed mineral and vegetable pigments are mixed with water and adhesive to create paint. Some of the elements used are quite precious, such as lapis lazuli for dark blue, and even pure gold and silver. Landscape elements are blocked in and shading is applied using both wet and dry-brush techniques.

A standard 18 x 12-inch Thangka takes an artist about six weeks to complete.

Shop the Thangka sale now virtually or in-person at RA MA Institute Venice or RA MA Institute New York, for Guru Jagat’s hand-picked selection of fine thangka art for your most unique & precious holiday gifts.