The first stage of in Thanjavur painting process is preparing a base or canvas for the painting. Traditionally, wood of the pazha maram (jack fruit tree) was used as it does not invite termites or rot easily. Now day’s waterproof plywood is used as a base for the painting. The plank is cut according to the size of the painting. White cotton cloth is dipped in adhesive and pasted on it. With the help of a metal blade artisan scrapes on the pasted cloth to remove the air bubbles. After the cloth is dried, a paste of adhesive and Chalk powder (Chalk powder paste) is applied as a top layer and dried. Once the paste is dried, with a sand paper sheet the surface is smoothed/polished for a good finish. The basic sketch of the drawing is traced on the board using a carbon sheet.
Traditionally, glass was cut into shapes required using a diamond cutter. The cut glass, set in lac on a stick is then shaped by rubbing on a stone till it has soft curves. The glass is then placed on a silver plate with color smeared on it. On heating the silver plate, the color sticks to the glass. This colored glass has better luster as compared to the kundan used today. But even today some artisan use glass stones in their work. Colorful glass stones are bought from Jaipur in Kilograms quantity. Traditionally only three colors of stones are used in the painting that is red, green and white. The glass stones are fixed using adhesive on the places where jewels and accessories are drawn. Thin chalk powder paste is applied on the pasted stones and areas where embossed effect is needed. Once it is dried, wet cloth is used to clean the paste off the stones.
Thick paste of chalk powder is poured in a cone to make the designs on the painting. This design is locally called ‘nice subbal’. The designs are drawn on the borders, jewels, thrown and on other accessories and kept to dry. Once dried, gold leaf is cut into required shape, size to paste on the embossed area and design. A local gum called Nunga Passe (gum) is used to stick the gold leaf on the painting. This gum is extracted from palm tree. Once the leaf is pasted, excess gold leaf is cut and removed from the areas where stones are fixed to make the stone visible. The next step is painting. Olden day’s natural colors were used for the painting. Pigments were extracted from natural sources like leaves, root and bark and converted into colors. Painting brushes were made of anil vaal (squirrel tail hair).
Present day colors used for painting are poster colors which is available in local market. Artisan uses both squirrel tail brush and general brush available in market. The background is filled with royal colors like red, blue, green. White color is applied as a base color for the main character in the painting and yellow color for the side characters. Different color shades are obtained from the basic three colors. The outline and the eyes are drawn using black color. Designs are also painted on the gold leaf to make the painting look elegant. Thanjavur painting’s specialty is the figures drawn are generally rounded and epic style, which makes it unique in itself compared to other paintings of south India.