A Japanese artist paints Tibetan Thangkas in Spain.
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Colors for the shading on Thangka Painting

The beautiful shading, called "Dang" in Tibetan, is one of the special feature of Thangka painting.

While most of the color for Thangka are from minerals and they are "opaque color", the transparent dye colors are usually used for the shading.

There are several different techniques for the shading. To create the sky, mountains, flower and many other part in thangka painting most of thangka painter use "dot" shading or "line" shading.

I learnt "dot" shading from my first Thangka teacher Karma-la. Later I learnt "line" shading from Konchog-la. Since I heard from Konchog-la that we don't use dot shading in our lineage I'm using only line shading.

Create beautiful gradation with countless of thin short lines.

The progress of the work is very slow specially when we do the shading on a big area like sky. The whole work may be wasted if we are not enough careful and made too dark line at the end of the shading where the color are very light.

We don't really need great technique to make good shading as we can see this work is usually done by some deciples in Thangka studios but rarely by their master. We need patience. Sitting several hours or several days doing lines, lines and lines even if we feel like it would never finish.

If you are not used to it, it is better to think that the shading of the sky may take you about a week to complete so that you won't stress even if it take ONLY some days.



The most used color for shading is Indigo. It's called "Ram" in Tibetan.

​The second image above is synthetic indigo which is widely used in Nepal.

The shade of this synthetic indigo is much more clear and bright compare to natural indigo and it cause the thangka look,,flashy,,or lack of depth.

Check my older post to see more about indigo.

The shade of different indigo→http://thangka-en.sangkyap.net/?eid=114#sequel

Indigo from Morocco→ http://thangka-en.sangkyap.net/?eid=112


Indigo is used to make shading on the blue color. Both dark and light shade. And in Karma Gardri style, often directly on the canvas to depict water or clouds etc.


The another color for "Dang" is Lac dye, "Ka" in Tibetan.
The image below is a paste of concentrated lac dye.

This is the shading color for most of warm color like red or orange except some special area like flame.

Though the base color of the flame is often orange, Thangka painters use "cinnabar" to make shading instead of "ka", Lac.

Shading with Lac dye on red and orange area.

Shading with cinnabar for fire flame.​

Example of the shading with cinnabar on black thangka.



The last color is "Shun-khen" in Tibetan. I don't know its English name.

The color of "Shun-khen" is similar to yelowish ocher, extracted by boiling down Shun-khen leaves and dried to make into a paste.

Dried Shun-khen leaves.

Boil down and simmer to extract the color.

Dried it in the sun to make into a paste.

​This "Shun-khen" has a special character compare to the other two dye colors above.

To make shading and get the effect of 3-dimention, both indigo and lac will create "shadow", creates some part darker than the base color.

"Shun-khen" can be used the same way as you see in the next image. The darker shade on the leaves is made by shun-khen.

but Shun-khen can also give the base color more saturation and gives "light" like head halo or green clothing of Manjushree in the image below.

If the base color where you want to make Shun-khen shade is a dark color, mixing shun-khen with a bit of indigo can be good solution.


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