Giving true colour and character to Bhutanese art



An artist who loves natural pigments, Rinzin Dorji, slogs more to prepare his colour than painting thangkas, the traditional scroll paintings in his workshop at Taba, Thimphu. It takes him over a month to extract colours from stone ores and condense them through systematic filtering. Rinzin Dorji is popularly known as Do-tshoen Dorji (Do-tshoen – stone colour) among his friends The process of producing pigments requires a great deal of patience and time. The work is carried out exclusively by a team. “The production of mineral pigments is not an easy task. It is quite a process but worth the effort as natural colours do not fade or lose their natural sheen like imported colours, ” says Rinzin Dorji. The production process for mineral pigments is far more difficult than making other pigments, and so the colours are much more expensive. Unique practice Over the last six-years, Rinzin has been researching and has been able to follow a unique practice using minerals colours and natural canvases woven from nettle fibre. He was inspired to pick up mineral pigment after he discovered that the mural paintings painted over years were losing colours quickly. “At first, I didn’t know what caused it. Later, I found that it was due to imported colours. So I started using mineral pigment colour,” he added. Rinzin uses only mineral pigments because non-minerals or imported colours fade quickly. “The mineral pigments are of such high quality that they will remain intact for more than a 100 years,” the 38-years-old added. The two most important features of natural pigment paintings are the long-lasting and unique colour representation. Rinzin says most of the thangkas and ku-thang (scroll paintings) in the markets are painted either using imported colours or mixed with natural pigments colours. “Some sales outlets claim that thangkas are painted using natural pigment colour. Mostly are not,” says Rinzin. He has arranged around 30 mineral pigment sample colours at his workshop at Taba, Thimphu for the customers to see. “If a customer has doubts, he or she can come and see,” he said. By using mineral pigments made in his own workshop, he paints thangkas that are 100 percent made in Bhutan. He wants to minimise the use of imported colours in traditional painting. “We are now on the verge of making 100 percent Bhutanese thangkas by using natural canvas for paintings. These natural canvases are woven from nettle fibres and are locally collected with the support of farmers,” says Rinzin. “If I get funds, I can create various pure natural colours from minerals found in Bhutan. It can also help me to create a Bhutan brand of colours and paintings,” he says. Rinzin was awarded the ‘Seal of Excellence’ by the government in 2021. The award recognised him for excellent quality of thangkas. Rinzin graduated from the College of Zorig Chusum in Trashiyangtse.