Just A Platform contributor Grayson Keliehor’s love for all things henna related led her to share her passion with others and even start her own henna business back in Chicago. Here she gives us the lowdown on how she started henna with advice on drawing and great tips for design.
I had an interest in henna for years but that interest never extended beyond wanting to have someone else do henna for me. My journey as a henna artist began a year ago when my first box of henna cones arrived in the mail on a hot August summer day. I opened the box found four cones wrapped in shiny shells of red, blue, pink and green. My excitement got the best of me and I thoughtlessly grabbed a cone and began drawing on the closest piece of skin I could find: my thigh. Before I knew it I had a horrible looking triangular design that resembled a pizza on my thigh…the horror.
I wish I could say that the minute I picked up a henna cone I was just as talented as the Lady Anju back at the Agra Fort in India who had so skillfully created a work of art on me in under ten minutes.
Alas, for the time being I was forced to practice, practice, practice if I wanted to try and master the flow, symmetry and spacing basics.
Before long I was creating henna pieces that I felt were not horrible and so I started my own Instagram account and later website to document what I hoped would be progress in my henna creations.
I started college and I began doing henna for students in the dorms across my campus. Not only did henna allow me to start my own small business on Depaul’s campus in the greater Chicago region but it also gave me awesome opportunities to befriend a lot of interesting people…another testament of how henna, art in general, can bring people together.
Henna for beginners
To create any henna design you are going to need henna paste and a cone to funnel the paste into. I personally decided to order my henna paste from a small craft company online that pre-packaged paste into cones.
The alternative is to purchase organic henna paste that can be mixed with different ingredients depending on the recipe you decide to follow; some individuals even mix oils into the paste to overpower the natural henna smell.
I tend to stay away from mixing my own paste because I have not mastered a balance that gives a really great, dark, long-lasting stain. Once you have your henna cones ready to use it is helpful to practice a few swirls or lines on a piece of paper to get a feel for the density of the paste and the shape of the tip of the cone.
Be sure to keep your arm steady so the lines, swirls, flower petals etc. are not wobbly; it is useful to draw designs on a flat surface. For example when drawing a design on someone’s arm it is really helpful to place his or her hand/arm on a table or pillow to ensure you have a sturdy and balanced environment to get the best out of your design.
When I create long henna designs on someone’s back I typically have her sit on a bed or chair so her back is exposed to me. In both instances making sure you have easy, steady access to the body part that will be drawn on is key.
When cutting the tips of your henna cones, if they are not already created with a small opening, make sure to cut as close to the tip of the cone as possible. This prevents your cone from having a huge hole that in turn will force your designs to be very thick and harder to control when the paste oozes out. As you get a feel for the pressure you need to help force the paste out, do not be afraid to challenge yourself to try new designs.
After my failed floral pizza creation I began to look at famous henna artists on Instagram. This was beyond helpful because it inspired me to try new designs, go for a more tribal look, stay with a mixture of floral and practice designs on different body parts such as ankles, shoulders, and collarbones.
Henna gives the artist the opportunity to incorporate his/her passions and feelings into each piece of art. The artist sits with his/her client and draws a personal creation onto their skin. A relationship, no matter how small, is built between the client and the artist.
Stories are shared, creative ideas for the piece are tossed back and forth and then ultimately the artist watches the client leave taking their creation with them. It is a beautiful, humbling and personal process.
It reminds me that henna is about giving something to someone else, you cannot horde or harbor your creation and once the last swirly is drawn onto someone’s skin the creation sweeps out the door. A poet on Instagram under the account name @zaimricochet writes a beautiful quotes the highlights this artistic process as he says:
Art has to be fearless, it’s only held back by the emotion of the artist. It’s only suppressed, by the limits of his or her imagination. Art has a structure, but it’s also wild, in nature.
All images Grayson Keliehor