Whether it is a traditional South Asian wedding or the Coachella Music Festival – henna has become one of the most popular forms of body art. These temporary tattoos that are also known as ‘mehendi’ in some cultures are painless brown patterns that last on your body for one to two weeks. “My grandma used to crush the leaves and use the paste to draw henna”, says Michelle Michael, a graduate student at Ohio University. A Sri Lankan by origin, Michelle grew up drawing henna on her sisters and now draws it for anyone enthusiastic enough to try it. We asked her how a beginner should go about doing henna and she told us her secrets.
- Get a henna cone
While you can go find a henna tree, cut the leaves, grind the leaves and make a paste out of it – it can be a little difficult and time-consuming. These day, it is easier to find henna that is packaged in a cone. Look for one on any online shopping website (not from a shady one!) and buy a few so you can practice before you draw it on someone. “Cut the tip of the cone”, says Michelle and press the cone gently so that the henna falls out. For bigger lines you can cut a larger hole on the top of the cone but Michelle suggests pressing the cone harder. Try putting on a little bit on yourself to see how your skin is reacting to it before you go all out.
- Practice, practice, practice
“Practice makes it perfect”, says Michelle. “So don’t get frustrated if your first attempt takes forever”. Start simple by looking for easy henna designs online – flowers, geometric patterns and images of creepers are commonly used in henna drawings. Get inspiration online or on Instagram – while starting out go for the chunkier designs with minimal elements and as you progress get more intricate with your patterns.
- Start small
In the Indian subcontinent people decorate their palms (and sometimes go up till their elbows) during festivals or other celebrations. A bride would typically even cover her feet in henna. Some people also don’t shy away from unconventional spots like a design on the back of their shoulder or a circular pattern on their upper arm. But if henna is a newer hobby for you, you can also try drawing it on just a finger. “It can be intricate”, says Michelle, “but it doesn’t have to fill up your entire hand”.
- Just have fun
Michelle says, “Me and my sisters, we just like doing henna.” So don’t think that every design you do needs to be a masterpiece. You don’t have to follow shapes or rules, just play around with henna. Once you have practiced the designs you have seen and can replicate them to your own satisfaction, try making your own designs and adding a little bit of your personality to them.
Once you have put on henna it is best to let it rest for 5 to 6 hours, try putting it on right before you go to bed and then washing it off when you wake up. The dry henna will be washed off and only the pattern on your body will remain. Usually henna has a reddish-brown tint and the hue of it will depend on your skin tone. Based on the henna you used the patterns can last anywhere from one to two weeks. Want to make your henna last longer? Sprinkle lime juice on it or dab it with a mixture of water and sugar when it gets dry.