Levelling… and life’s lessons
This is Part 2 of a three-part blog on my quest for the perfect thangka.
Read part 1
From day 1 I started out drawing my thangkas entirely in a vector-based drawing program called Xara; still, all my images are firmly rooted in Tibetan painting traditions. Andy would supply me with all the grids, basic drawings of garments, jewels , lotus thrones and other elements, and – last but not least – explanations of Buddhist iconography, mantras and pujas. And let's not forget the meditation sessions that started off the day. I would attend his courses at least twice a year, in spring and the 10-day summer course.
My digital thangkas are drawn in the very same way as the traditional (analogue) ones: start with drawing the grid, draw the lines of the face and the body, colour and shade the figure, and gild with virtual gold. Add landscape elements. The last thing you do is finish the eyes on an auspicious day.
Now a lot of people would assume that using a computer would make this process easier and in a certain regard they are right: mistakes can be easily corrected, setting up grids is a breeze with the built-in tools and so is basic shading.
There is a catch however and that is called ‘perfection’. There is a rule in thangka painting that each thangka should be without flaws. If a painter notices one, (s)he should correct it. Now, drawing on a real life canvas of course has physical limitations regarding to linework and shading. A digital thangka does not, so I have no excuse for badly drawn lines or wobbly shading. And you will see me routinely zoom in 25.601 times to correct even the minutest errors.
Thus, each of my thangkas embodies hundreds of hours of concentrated and diligent work, while I improved my skills with every finished drawing.
Painting thangkas however was not my day-to-day employment. I had a demanding IT-job with long working hours, topped off with a dash of self-study, teaching and coaching. I remember faintly to have a private life as well, with my family, a house I was renovating and a huge garden. And dogs, cats, chickens.
All this left me with very little spare time; I drew in weekends, late nights (into early mornings) or – after changing jobs in 2012 – in the train commuting to my work. I still managed to finish images of Amitayus, Amitabha, two versions of White Tara, Chenrezig, the Medicine Buddha with four Medicine Dakinis, Namgyalma, the Three Longevity Deities, the Eight Auspicious Symbols, several mantra garlands and a variety of other smaller paintings. And in 2015 I started drawing my first commission: a highly detailed thangka of Green Tara.
Combining my thangka painting with both my job and my private life was, to say the least, exhausting. So to make clear that I had to make some tough decisions, life served me a deep depression and burn out in early 2016.
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