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Have You Tried Lotus Leaf Painting?

Despite a background in cartooning, I’m a novice when it comes to brush painting on canvas. So when I found the Himapan Gallery in Williamsburg, I was excited at the opportunity to give this Thai art form a try, using a method that resonated with me as a yogi.

The original Himapan Gallery is at the Silom Village in Bangkok Thailand, and the NYC

classes—held at the Brooklyn Art Library on Front Street—are run by Tristan de Terves. Born in Bangkok and raised in France, Tristan became aware of Himapan on a trip back to his birthplace, where he met the founders. Inspired, he soon brought it to the states.

Yogis are aware that the lotus is a symbol of beauty in Buddhism, and of purity in the Hindu tradition. The word Himapan, derived from Sanskrit was said to be a legendary forest in the Himalayas, where all lived in harmony because it was the source of creativity.

“In Asia, the lotus is very important,” Tristan told us. “It’s a part of both spiritual and everyday life. It’s a really interesting material to work with.”

The lotus leaves are picked in Thailand, and the unpainted canvases—each one as unique as a snowflake—are shipped from there as well.

“It’s all natural and beautiful, but also imperfect; there are little holes and color differences” explained Tristan. “It’s an ephemeral work; it won’t last forever like a Rembrandt, the life expectancy (of the canvas) is about 10 years.” Motivation to come back and do more!

We each got to pick from a set of 40 cm x 40 cm canvases, so we could find the one we resonated with. I spotted mine right away and immediately chose a theme of chakras: Solar

Plexus, Sacral and Root. I explained to the others in the studio that I was more active in my upper four chakras and wanted to symbolize a desire to rebalance. (That they were also autumnal colors was a nice bonus.) Other students chose moody shades of blue and earthy greens. Before starting, Tristan showed us how to gently scrape traces of glue (all natural) from the canvases.

“If you get rid of a bit of the top layer it’s ok,” said Tristan, “because once painted, everything will be unified by the pigment.”

We then selected the colors we wanted from a series of acrylics which drie quickly. “Start thinking about the first color you want to explore,” said Tristan. “Whether you want to go soft, or more bold and bright. You can go natural and stay in the green earth tones, or Zen with white colors, or warm with orange and red. Or American with blue and red! Also French, as we share those two colors.”

We chose our paints and drizzled them onto a paper dish, them dabbed at them with a sponge, which we then used to apply color to the canvas. Later, we used thin brushes to smooth things out. Trevor encouraged and assisted us throughout, offering suggestions and helping us blend colors on the makeshift paper dish palette.

“You can put a little bit of color so the leaf stays transparent and you can see the structure,” he said, “or more paint so it hides more of the leaf structure but the color is more dense.”

My first color was a very light yellow that was little too faint, so with Tristan’s help I changed strategy and deepened it by adding a darker orange. Tristan showed us how to blend the colors on the dish to get the shade we desired. The result for me was a peach color that I decided was a happy accident, as Bob Ross would say. “Go with the flow!” echoed Tristan.

As we progressed, I felt a tremendous sense of tranquility and purpose that I’m sure all of us in the class shared. The herbal tea we were served and the soft piano music on the music streamer was a big help in that department. My finished painting displayed a deep red, yellow, and peach, and two sections of orange.

When our works of art were complete, Tristan gave us all a cup of varnish and a brush to apply to the painting when we got home, and instructed us to reapply it 24 hours later.

And now I have a real painting with my name on it, which I am donating to a yoga studio. Let me know if you spot it!

--Jim Catapano

Classes are generally held 4 times a month, on Tuesdays at 6:30 and Saturdays at 3. Sessions last about 2 hours. To join a painting class, please click here.

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