last updated Apr 2013
My first stint at making Tanjore paintings was in 1990, when I attempted it without attending classes. The internet did not offer as much information then as it does today and all my knowledge came from tips that I got from friends and relatives who were practicing the art. I made a brave attempt, and these are some of the paintings that I made around that period from 1990 - 2000.
My re- exploration of the art began in 2011, with Mrs.Gowri ("Vetri" Manian).
I have put up a section on Illustrations in Tamil publications. Gowri being a great fan of artist Maniam, had written to me sharing her joy in seeing the pictures online. Over the next few communications, I realised she is an artist, self taught in sketching and water colours and put up her images in my site. On hearing that she teaches Tanjur painting at her residence in T.Nagar, Chennai, I arranged to have classes with her to learn the intricacies - the proportion of the muck, the extent of embossing, neat pasting of gold foil, exposing of stones, etc.
Iam still experimenting, learning and am sharing the process. Here, Iam providing the step by step procedure of creating a Thanjavur painting.
The board thickness depends on the size of the painting. It is best to use at least 8mm thick water proof board so that it will not bend under the weight.
Cut a piece of gaada (unbleached) cloth free from starch which is atleast 1 inch bigger than the board on all sides.
Make a thin paste by mixing water to white glue (4:1 ratio). Soak the cloth in the white glue water mixture. Squeeze to remove excess glue. Stretch this cloth on the board and gently smoothen the cloth from centre to the edges making sure there are no wrinkles. Paste the excess cloth firmly on the reverse side using white glue.
Mix chalk powder, white glue and water in the ratio 2:1:1.5. Apply three coats of this mixture on the board using a flat 2" brush. If the first coat is applied in the horizontal direction, the second can be in the vertical direction. In between each coat, allow time to dry and smoothen the board with fine emery paper. After the final coat, allow the board to dry for a day.
Several sites suggest mixing arabic gum equal in proportion to the chalk powder and a little white glue while making the paste to be applied on the board.
Paste a newspaper sheet on the reverse to cover the rough folded cloth. Smoothen the board with emery paper and then with a rounded glass bottle or paper weight to get the smooth finished board.
Std board sizes: 10x8 ; 15x12 ; 16x15 ; 20x16 ; 18x24 ; 24x30 ; 24x36 ; 36x48 (inches)
Wood used: Wooden planks such as Teak, jackwood (palaa maram) or water proof, termite proof plywood.
Tracing the pattern
On the preapred board, draw a 1 cm border. This allowance is to make space for the framing.
Allow space for a border – gold lines - of dots, stones or mirrors.
Then trace the selected picture on the board using yellow or red carbon.
Paste the stones using white glue at the required spots.
Muck is the paste that is used to create the embossed effect in Tanjur painting - the gold foil is later pasted over these raised areas.
The muck is prepared using arabic gum & chalk powder (putty chalk powder or french chalk powder). It is best to prepare the muck a few days ahead of use to make it pliable for use.
Soak the crystal gum in water, so that the crystals are completely immersed. Leave it for 2-3 days. Stir and filter the gum using a fine cloth to get a clear gum solution, neither too watery nor too thick.
French chalk powder is finer & whiter than putty chalk powder.
The proportion for muck
Mix 3 portions putty chalk powder / french chalk powder with 1 portion arabic gum.
This thick muck can be used for the final intricate designs which can be created either with a brush or a cone.
Earlier I used to mix in the ratio 2 portions chalk powder : 1 portion arabic gum, but after some experimentation, I now find 3:1 is better, especially for the cone work.
(If the muck that you have applied cracks after drying, you can decrease the amount of chalk powder during muck preparation).
It is best to filter the paste made using putty chalk with a tea strainer. Pour the thick paste into the strainer, rub with a spoon and collect the smooth paste.
The muck is usually applied to the board in 3 consistencies.
The first level when applying over stones is thin – you should be able to drop it on to the board.
At the second level, when applying on plain areas without stones, it should be thicker.
& finally when doing the intricate design work it should be even thicker.
To test the consistency of the mug, drop a little on to a board to form a smooth round sphere. When it is dry it should be smooth. Then the consistency is right. If it dips in at the centre, there is too much gum & if it cracks, then there is too much chalk powder.
The intricate embossed designs can also be applied using a cone prepared out of thick plastic paper.
Apply the first level of muck over the stones. To the thick muck add a little thin gum solution. (it is suggested that it is always better to add very thin gum to dilute the muck rather than water). Mark an outline around the stones to prevent the muck from running. Now drop the muck over the stones. Do not brush too hard. Just use the brush to guide the muck into the gaps. Make sure the entire area is covered smoothly. The muck will automatically settle down smoothly over the area. Allow to dry.
(watch the video)
Allow the muck applied on the stones to dry completely. Brush some water on the dry muck and rub gently with a moist cloth to wipe off the the muck on the stones, ensuring that the surrounding area is not damaged. Before wiping off the muck, draw the outlines of the figure using a water proof pen, so that the traced image is not wiped off when cleaning the stones.
Then create the second level of embossed designs with the medium muck - lines, dots big & small.
When this is dry, make the third level of designs with the thickest muck – the thin lines around the stones & other designs.
Making the cone
Creating the lines around the stones with a cone
Creating the lines around the stones with a brush
A layer of german yellow mixed in water can be applied over the entire muck area which could act as a protection against insects and also may form a yellow base around the stones. (optional)
Now stick gold foil on all the embossed areas. Place the gold foil on the area, press, take the impression & cut out the foil with a few mm allowance. Apply thick gum on the reverse, paste the gold foil & press lightly with a thin fine cloth, making sure the gold foil does not move out of position or tear. Then press well so that the impressions are clear and there are no gaps or air pockets. When all the muck has been covered with foil, allow to dry for a day. Then cut off all the excess foils around the design. Scrape out the foil on the stones with a sharp needle or pin.
Paint the design.
Sites that give detailed instructions for making a Thanjavur painting
Works done after 2011