top of page

Secret Method of the Indian Miniature Paintings

I have started discussing the Indian miniature paintings of the Mughal period; however, before proceeding here, I felt the necessity to discuss the method of Indian miniature paintings, which is still secret. It is the first blog that discussed and unveiled the hidden process of Ajanta Paintings, and now, it's about to disclose the secret method of the Indian miniature Paintings. Such a hidden technique will not only arouse our interest but also encourage artists to explore new elements in our work.


The art of miniature painting flourished in India during the mid-16th century, particularly during the Mughal era. Despite this, historical records indicate that the earliest examples of miniature paintings were executed on palm leaves as early as the 10th century and later on paper from the 14th century onwards. My focus will be on the artistic methodology employed by Rajasthan artists during the Mughal era in the mid-16th century, as it holds particular relevance to my subject matter.


Krishna and Radha, Opaque watercolor and gold on cotton, ca 1750.
Krishna and Radha, Opaque watercolor and gold on cotton, ca 1750.

Artists were highly discerning about their materials during the Mughal period when creating ideal paintings. At that time, a paper known as "Hariri" was available, resembling silk. However, this paper was low-quality and tended to crack after a few months. Fortunately, another exquisite paper called "Dowlatabadi" or "Hindi," made in Hyderabad, gained immense popularity among artists for its exceptional qualities and became the preferred medium for painting. There was also a popular bamboo tree-based paper called "Bavasaha." Another type of paper named "Tataha," created using jute plants, was also available. However, all these papers had a slightly yellowish hue; no white-colored papers were found on the market during this era. As such, very few notable paintings were produced on Tataha paper.


After selecting the appropriate paper, they commenced formulating colors for their painting. Each group of artists needed a distinct technique for creating their hues, owing to several styles known as "Gharana" at that time, which were contingent upon location, society, and tradition. They relied on natural elements to create these hues and followed ancient processes unique to their respective groups. In my research on Indian miniature painting, I discovered various common strategies these artists employ. They obtained red color from squeezing certain materials; burnt umber (deep brown) came from henna leaves; purple resulted from combining watermelon fruit with soil found on Hormuz island in the Arabian Sea; yellow was derived from turmeric plants; and blue was produced using Lapis-lazuli stones. Upon examination of any old Indian miniature paintings today, we can observe that these artists successfully created numerous shades utilizing only a few colors - a testament to their traditional mastery over color production techniques.


Vilaval Ragini, Chunar Ragamala, 1591
Vilaval Ragini, Chunar Ragamala, 1591

Additionally, valuable stone dust was incorporated into their paintings. I stumbled upon a fascinating technique for crafting ornamental designs. The process involved pouring water onto blank paper and allowing it to dry until spots formed on the surface. These spots guided artists who used a fine brush to create intricate patterns. To enhance the vibrancy of color in portraits, Kashmiri artists employed a clever method that kept water in specific locations until it dried and left behind salt deposits, adding luminosity to the hues used.


Govardhan, Emperor Jahangir visiting the ascetic Jadrup, c. 1616–1620
Govardhan, Emperor Jahangir visiting the ascetic Jadrup, c. 1616–1620

After completing all preparations, they commenced painting. The ancient Indian artists believed that each object possessed an outward form boundary and, therefore, began with a preliminary outline drawing. This was considered crucial to their painting technique by the ancient principles of oriental grammar. I will discuss later the world's first grammar book on painting discovered by a sage during the third century BC. However, they used parchment or stained paper and applied gum extracted from acacia trees to achieve this. They referred to this method as 'TAR,' which created a smoother surface for them to work on. After completing surface smoothing, they made an outline drawing using either red or black ink, known as 'TARKASH.' After completing the outline drawing stage, they began coloring while filling in their drawings simultaneously using colors easily diluted in water. The initial layer of color behaves transparently and can be reapplied smoothly and evenly, resulting in an excellent effect within their paintings.


Interestingly, during this artistry period, there was no room for correction; once sprayed onto the surface, gum quickly absorbed any color, rendering it permanent without the possibility of alteration or modification after that.


They used brushes from single hairs when performing outline drawings- imagine relying solely on such precision! They referred to these tools as 'Ek-bal-kalam' (ek meaning single; bal meaning hair; kalam meaning pen). Upon completion of coloring processes, ornamentation techniques were implemented into artwork creation endeavors.


To accomplish this objective, they fashioned multiple minuscule punctures wherever gold dust or other precious stones were amassed and employed a needle to embed them during embellishment (particularly for women). The embellishment could range from actual adornments of statuettes, garments, or even paintings' borders. This conferred a stunning effect on the artwork. The glittering radiance from these paintings gave rise to an awareness that they were intended for presentation within the emperor's court.


Krishna Fluting in the Forest. Jaipur, c. 1720–1740
Krishna Fluting in the Forest. Jaipur, c. 1720–1740

The creation of the painting involved a collaborative effort among a group of artists, with the master artist responsible for outlining the subject using a single hair brush and providing color recommendations inscribed onto the body. Other members completed various details, such as coloring and ornamentation. The final touch was added by the master artist, who signed the document below with his signature. Typically, parchment was used to advise on selected paintings through suggestion papers; however, in this case, fine holes were created by pin to outline objects on parchment paper, which others used as a stressor for perfect drawing.


This 16th-century technique was essential in realizing Indian miniature painting at its finest level. The Rajasthan artists pioneered figurative ideas of musical rhythm in miniature form, which have inspired me to develop my own unique style further.




11 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page