Paint­ing skill brings in­ner calm TIME­LINE

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA -

As a child, Phuntsog Norbu would spend­mu­chof his time draw­ing. Most of his il­lus­tra­tions were cartoons.

He never thought that, as an adult, he would spend his days and nights draw­ing images of the Bud­dha.

“I had thought it (draw­ing the Bud­dha) was so sim­ple, and noth­ing stood out,” the 20-year-old said.

The na­tive of Shan­nan plateau in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion has since de­cided to de­vote him­self to tra­di­tional Ti­betan Thangka paint­ing for the rest of his life.

PhuntsogNorbu is one of 14 stu­dents who ma­jor in Thangka­paint­ing at Ti­betUniver­sity.

At about 9am ev­ery day, Phuntsog Norbu and his class­mates gather to prac­tice their craft.

TU is con­sid­ered the first Chi­nese univer­sity to of­fer Thangka paint­ing as a ma­jor and the first to train painters in a class­room. It started re­cruit­ing three-year col­lege stu­dents in 1985 to learn Thangka, and be­gan to ac­cept master’s stu­dents for the sub­ject in 2000. The school started to train un­der­grad­u­ates ma­jor­ing in Thangka paint­ing in 2004 and con­tin­ues to roll out a class ev­ery four years.

Thangka usu­ally in­volves paint­ing on cot­ton or silk. It de­picts sto­ries and scenes from Bud­dhist scrip­tures. The art has be­come popular be­cause of its del­i­cate na­ture, and it is highly prized by art col­lec­tors.

In the past, Thangka painters usu­ally started learn­ing the craft at a veryy­oun­gage, as early as 3, in line with their fam­ily tra­di­tions. Painters would also take up the art as ap­pren­tices to masters.

Thangka paint­ing was pre­vi­ously limited to men. But among the Thangka ma­jors inTU, three­wom­en­stood out.

The ma­jor has three spe­cial­ized in­struc­tors. Pal­cho is one of them. He grad­u­ated from a TU Thangka paint­ing pro­gram in 1991 and has been teach­ing Thangka paint­ing at

• 1951

• 1985

• 1999

• 2008 the univer­sity for 23 years.

“Most of the un­der­grad­u­ates never had Thangka train­ing be­fore en­rolling in col­lege,” Pal­cho said.

Stu­dents take 16 classes a week. Tra­di­tion­ally, Thangka stu­dents only took cour­ses re­lated to Thangka paint­ing. But now, they also learn other skills, such as oil paint­ing and art the­ory and prac­tice.

“Thangka paint­ing needs mas­sive prac­tice. The knowl­edge of other art forms also helps painters cre­ate Thangka,” the in­struc­tor Pal­cho said. Un­der the tra­di­tional method, ap­pren­tices usu­ally had a more solid foun­da­tion in the art. But un­der the cur­rent sys­tem, stu­dents can be more cre­ative and are able to use di­verse skills to paint, Pal­cho he said.

But build­ing a foun­da­tion is still the key to fine Thangka paint­ing, Pal­cho said. Stu­dents spend the whole of their en­tire first year sketch­ing with a pen­cil. They start learn­ing col­or­ing in their sec­ond year.

Tser­ing Ngo­drub, a Thangka-paint­ing ma­jor, was in­flu­enced by his fa­ther, an in­te­rior dec­o­ra­tor.

“I’ve been in­ter­ested in paint­ing since I was young but never tried Thangka paint­ing be­fore col­lege,” said the 20-year-old, who found that the most dif­fi­cult process was to match the col­ors.

Phuntsog Norbu no longer finds the process te­dious.

“It was bor­ing at first to re­peat­edly sketch Taras and Bud­dhas. It was ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to draweyes in a sym­met­ricway. Some­times I drew tri­an­gu­lar Tara and Bud­dha faces,” he said. He re­al­ized the beauty of draw­ing Thangka grad­u­ally, he said.

“When I started to color Bud­dhas, their images be­came clearer. When I re­peat­edly drew the stones, snow-capped moun­tains, plains, rivers and many other sub­jects, I felt like draw­ing scenes from my home­town,” said Phuntsog Norbu, who was born and raised in a herds­man’s fam­ily that “lived near wa­ter”.

As a de­vout Bud­dhist, he finds in­ner peace in Thangka art.

“I usu­ally pray be­fore prac­tice, which makes me more com­fort­able,” he said.

PHO­TOS BY DA QIONG / CHINA DAILY

Tser­ing Ngo­drub prac­tices Tangka paint­ing. He says match­ing col­ors is the most dif­fi­cult part.

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