Thanjavur Paintings are made on canvases. The Canvas for a Thanjavur painting is usually a plank of wood (originally wood of the Jackfruit tree was used, now it's plywood) over which a layer of cloth is pasted with arabic gum. The cloth is then evenly coated with a paste of limestone and a binding medium and let to dry.
The canvas is now ready for painting. The artist then draws a detailed sketch of the painting on the canvas.
A paste, made of limestone and a binding medium, is used to create 3D effect in embellishing and ornamenting the theme using a brush.
Gold leaves and gems of varied hues are used in selected areas like pillars, arches, thrones, dresses, etc. The shine and glean of the gold leaves used by the Thanjavur style paintings last forever. Finally, colours are applied on the sketch. In the past, artists used natural colours like vegetable dyes, whereas the present day artists use chemical paints which enhance the sharpness and provide better shade contrasts.
The old Tanjore artists restricted their scope to divine figures and used to mix their natural colours. The modern ones have, of course, no need to do so. What has survived in this convention is the choice of colours for painted personalities or objects.
For outlines dark brown is usually used. Red is favoured for the background. Scholars say that a red background is the distinctive mark of Tanjore paintings, but green is also sometimes used. Lord Vishnu, appropriately enough, is coloured blue, and Lord Nataraja chalk white.
Yellow is used for the Goddesses. The sky, of course, is blue, but black is employed on occasions. There are conventions in regard to the use of embossing and bejewelling. But these do not appear to be followed very strictly these days. Often individual preference settles the matter.
The portrayals of the figures in the paintings are breathtakingly brilliant. Almost all the figures have rounded bodies and almond-shaped eyes, which is unique to Thanjavur Painting. The traditional thanjavur artists have a flair for ornamenting the figures with jewellery and ornate dresses. Thanjavur paintings are notable for their adornment in the form of glass pieces embedded in parts of them.