Unlike in the past where Bhutanese painters used natural dyes to paint scrolls, the ones available today in the market are painted with imported colours.

Artists Penjor Dorji and Norbu Tshering, who graduated from the Zorig Chusum institute in Trashiyangtse are hoping to reverse this trend. They are about to complete a research on natural pigment to start reviving the culture of working with natural dyes.

Penjor Dorji said that with guidance from his teacher and grandparents, he continued to research on production and usage of natural dyes. “About 90 percent of research is completed and we have been researching on natural pigments for the last five years.”

Earlier, materials used in Bhutanese painting were natural pigmented soils, plants and trees, which are found throughout the country.

These natural soil pigments are of different colours and named accordingly. Black lumps of soil is known as sa na, white as sakar and red lumps as tsag sa. The dark brown colour is produced from walnut cover, yellow from marijuana, light green from mint, dark green from oak leaves and orange from madder.

The names of different natural colours, plants it is sourced from and the usage will be published in a book, he said.  “About 15 different colours have been documented.”

According to Penjor, thangkas can last 3,000 to 4,000 years, if natural dyes are mixed efficiently with glue.

The publication, the artists believe could contribute to revive culture and inform the people on the natural pigments used and available in the country.

A teacher from the institute of zorig chusum, Lopen Samten Dorji said that in the earlier days, painters used holy water and medicinal plants to make natural dyes. “If we use that, it will benefit both painters and customers.”

He said imported colour is expensive. “If Bhutanese go for nature pigments, it can benefit the country culturally and economically.”

In the previous trade show, Penjor Dorji said that a thangka painted using natural colour fetched between Nu 100,000 to 200,000.

Neten Dorji