Exploring Henna and Mehndi Art

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I've currently become obsessed with learning to do henna body art. I've always been inspired by mehndi (or mehendi) art and have done lots of illustration inspired by the style but now I want to do the actual body art.

Of course, first comes research, lots and lots and lots of research. Honestly it's one of my favorite things about learning a new craft. Reading about and surfing information and images for days on end. I love the technical as well as the artistic part of learning something new. There is a lot of technical part to henna surprisingly. Most notably that there is some pretty dangerous "henna" out there, usually labeled black henna, that can contain nasty chemicals that can literally burn your skin. Don't google black henna reaction... Yikes!

Henna in it's pure form is very natural, it's just a leaf that is crushed and mixed with liquid to release the dyes in it. It can simply be mixed with water to get a light, short lived stain on your skin, but to get maximum color and long lasting stains you mix with a couple other things. The liquid must be slightly acidic, most water is slightly acidic and therefore will work ok and some people use brewed tea, but lemon juice works the best. It's also mixed with essential oil (which is not actually an oil at all, but distilled plant extracts and can be very therapeutic). Cajeput, tea tree, eucalyptus, and lavender EOs are most commonly used. Sugar is also added to help the consistency of the henna paste.

HennaArtConnection has a great History of Henna page!

There are 3 main traditional styles of henna art, African, Arabic, and Indian. African designs are more geometric with large, bold patterns. Arabic designs are more open and graceful with large floral motifs. Indian designs are more fine and dense with intricate patterns and lots of use of paisleys, dots, lines, and swirls.

Henna designs and photos by Henna Lounge and NJ-Unique Henna


Modern henna though can be anything or a mixture of it all. Anyway, it's all beautiful and I'm excited to try my hand at it.

While waiting for my henna to arrive (I ordered a pre-mixed henna paste to start, not wanting to dive right in to making my own paste), I started practicing with lotion... yup, plain old hand lotion. Not exactly the same consistency, but close enough to satisfy my very impatient "I don't wanna wait" side. Here are some of my first designs:

(all these designs were inspired from what I saw on my henna google search, I didn't take time to look at who did them to give credit, 
I'm sorry, I was just practicing, if you see your design and want to be credited, just let me know. -xo)







It's really completely different than working with pen or pencil on paper. In some ways easier and in some ways more difficult. Easier because it's so much quicker to get line variation, just a little extra squeeze of the bottle (or cone, the preferred method of henna application) gives a thicker line. Also, the paste just flows from the tip and it's fairly easy to make straight lines because you can sort of lift and drag the paste across the surface, and it can be much quicker once you get the hang of it, mostly because of the before-mentioned reasons. It's much harder though because you're constantly aware of where your hand is, you don't want to smear what you've just drawn, so starting in the right area and bracing your hand with your little finger or other hand to steady your hand is important and tricky. You also have to be able to draw all shapes in every direction easily because you can't just turn the arm or body around to a different angle like you can a piece of paper. It takes practice for sure!

-xo deb.


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