Behind the Scenes - December 2007

With His Holiness due to visit the UK soon, it has been full steam ahead at Drukpa Kunga Peljor. The Shrine Room has been repainted a second time - now a glorious yellow. Drubpon Nawang has bought over intricately carved items for His Holiness's throne. One of our Sangha, Jigme Norbu Dawa (David Cranswick) is a professional artist who, as luck or karma would have it, specialises in painting using traditional materials. So he and Jigme Pelmo (Sandrine Blanc) have been working around the clock adding a dash of colour to these pieces using techniques that would have been used in Tibet traditionally.

 David says: Here's a short explanation of what we have so far done: Pigments: Lapis lazuli, Malachite, Azurite, red Lead, Vermilion, red earth, Naples yellow and Crimson. Malachite , azurite and lappis lazuli are all prepare from rocks. They are first ground to a powder using a mortar and pestle, then repeatedly washed in water until purified. They are then ground more finely on a stone or glass slab; after this they are then mixed with their medium and become 'paint'. All the pigments we use are traditional and prepared by hand. The first stage of the work is to seal the wood. After this an under painting is applied in a mix of white and red earth. This is especially beneficial for the gold, giving it more warmth and adding to its luminosity. Beneath all the areas where vermilion or crimson is applied one first paints a ground colour of red lead, this gives depth and heightened luminosity to the reds. Beneath the areas which receive the green malachite and blue azurite and lappis lazuli we first applied a layer of red lead and Naples yellow (an alchemical pigment which dates back to 7000 years ago) While grinding the azurite I noticed some impurities in the paint. This often happens during the grinding processes; I therefore had to repeatedly wash the blue in clean water, floating off the impurities. The azurite is a copper blue and, being more opaque, is an ideal base for the lappis lazuli (the most precious of all the blues). It was wonderful to see the afect of painting the lappis over the azurite, it gave the blue of the dragon such a richness and radiance. Pigments such as lappis which are ground from the rock are less fine than other pigments, they therefore need more care in the application and often require 7 to 10 layers. The under painting in red earth and other mixes took us almost two weeks, but the effort was worth it; a good foundation for the pure colours gives a luminosity and richness of colour that cannot be achieved by painting directly. It was wonderful to finally be able to apply these pure pigments, they seem to glow as if lit from within.