Walking in the Footsteps of the Tibetan Thangka Masters


After years of studying, painting, and teaching in the traditional western style of art (landscapes, portraits, plein aire painting, cityscapes, abstracts) Holly Stone found herself increasingly drawn to study and depiction of traditional art in older sacred traditions. In 2005, pursuing a lifelong feeling of connection to Tibetan culture, she went to India and lived in the Tibetan community in Dharamsala, working in an art program with Tibetan refugee children.  Her initial exposure to the vast array of Tibetan sacred art, primarily thangkas, piqued her interest and led her to further explore this tradition. In 2017 Holly moved to India and studied with Tibetan Thangka Master Locho in his studio in Dharamsala. While learning to paint these traditional Tibetan Buddhist artworks, she studied many of the detailed techniques, meanings, and symbols of the tradition.

The Spread of Tibetan Buddhism

Traveling from in India to Tibet, Buddhism spread through use of images as well as words. Reaching its pinnacle in the 8th century, Tibetan Buddhist sacred paintings known as Thangkas were painted for centuries in the relatively isolated Tibetan area and developed into their unique style, remaining true to the original proportions, mudras (generally hand gestures of deities), colors and meaning.

These sacred paintings depict deities (Buddhas and Taras) as well as mandalas and historical scenes. Originally, they were painted as scrolls and used by traveling monks to illustrate and teach aspects of Buddhism in outlying communities.

Honoring and Following Tradition

It’s evident in each of Holly Stone’s thangka paintings that her time studying with Master Locho was well spent. Following tradition, each is started with creating the canvas itself, then drawing the sacred images according to a specific grid pattern, inking the design, and painting with mineral colors (ground pigment with traditional binders), inks and water based paints. Many are embellished with the application of real gold to the thangka’s surface. The painting is said to become sacred with the “opening of the eyes” near the end of the process. Finally, the completed thangka is consecrated by a trained lama or other master.

Thangkas consist of several specific areas, symbolizing various elements. Often a particular deity is represented in a thangka, as in this example of Vajrasattva.

Golden Vajrasattva
Golden Vajrasattva by Holly Stone

An offering can be seen below the figure (symbolizing the senses – cymbals for sound, a silk cloth for touch, a mirror for sight, perfume arising from the conch shell for smell, and fruit for taste.

Above that is the lotus throne upon which the deity sits, directly below him is a moon disk – as with all peaceful deities depicted in pure white. He sits in his traditional position, full lotus posture, holding a bell in his left hand (representing the feminine principle) and a vajra (representing the male principle) in his right. Together they represent wisdom and compassion, the union of all dualities. Jewels (norbu) adorn the aureole around him, a halo of light emanates from his head.

Clouds, flowing waterfall and the collected water of the lake symbolize impermanence and the eternal cycle of life as water changes form and returns over and over. The snow lion seen to the left of the deity represents strength and Tibet, and the deer below and to his left symbolize peace, harmony and longevity. A sun on his right and moon on his left in the sky are traditional, representing male and female, method and wisdom.

The background was painted with traditional mineral color, ground into powder and formed into paint using traditional binders. The blue sky and green of the landscape were painted with hundreds of tiny strokes of color, increasingly diluted to get the paler tones. The aureole, cymbals, surround of the mirror, and highlights on the leaves were painted in gold.

Vajrasattva is the Diamond being or Thunderbolt Being in Tibetan Buddhist practice, and Vajrasattva practices are done to purify, bring peace and cause enlightened activity in general.

Holly also specializes in soul paintings – one of a kind paintings she creates for clients after reading their energy system, aura and light body. They depict each person’s unique energy field and personal energy expression. Shop collections of Holly Stone’s art for sale on Pixels and Fine Art America


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