The Art of Henna Painting and Design

Henna is also called Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½mehndi’, and is a natural crushed plant found in the Middle East. This ancient practice of decorating the body with henna dates back over 9,000 as an intricate art form that has evolved from symbols and patterns. Various civilizations including Babylonians, Syrians, and Sumerians used henna in their religious ceremonies and prayers. Arabs used crushed dried berries to make a red powder, and used it to stain skin, hair, and nails. Most of the Middle East in ancient history, and today, still use henna in wedding ceremonies, and for other body adornments. The practice is a tradition handed down through generations, and is a key part of Middle Eastern culture. Western culture has adopted this temporary Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½tattoo’ and it has provided a new outlet to showcase beauty and express creativity.

Henna is made from dried leaves and crushed. The powder is then mixed with water to create a paste which can be Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½piped’ onto a person’s hands, feet, or other area of skin for adornment. Once dry, this paste becomes hard and begins to crackle. The longer the design is left on the skin, the darker the ink will stay; the ink itself is a natural dye, and will fade in 7-14 days depending on the level of color. It is advisable to leave it on overnight if possible, and use light plastic gloves or bags to cover the hands and feet. Alternatively, 6 hours is the minimum.

Henna patterns have become steadily intricate and often imitate complex, artistic patterns and symbols. Although some Middle Eastern only use Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½dip’ henna, where the hand and feet are simply dipped into a bowl to color the whole area, most parts of the culture continue to use intricate patterns.

Pakistan and India are the large majority of henna users, and the examples of beautiful patterns and artwork can be found at almost any traditional wedding. Usually a henna artist is requested to decorate the bride’s hands and feet before the wedding ceremony, and it becomes a social event for the bridesmaids, aunts, and other women in the family.

Today, you can use the techniques, tips, and patterns that so beautifully represent a culture filled with meaning, creativity, and artistic grandeur. Here are some helpful guidelines to follow before you begin:

Preparation: make sure you choose a high quality henna powder, and seek out a good Indian store for a recommendation. Avoid buying bulk packages from a supermarket or health food store, as these usually do not have much dye to release if they are not fresh. Add lemon juice to act as a Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½setter’ for the mixure, and this will help to create the right consistency. Also, use strained, brewed, black tea to deepen the color absorption. A final recommendation is to rub eucalyptus oil on the hands or areas with henna, as this will help retain and absorb the color as well.

Application: You can use a toothpick, a piping bag, or small wooden stick to apply the henna as you would like it. One very easy option is to use a plastic grocery bag, cut down to size and wrapped to create a home-made funnel. The bag is secure enough not to leak or break, and holds the henna very well. All you need to do is cut a Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½tip’ at the end for just the right size and you will have a great piping tool!

Design: Today there are a variety of stencils available for the beginning user, as well as patterns and guides to follow. For the beginner, it’s a good idea to have a design to trace or follow, in front of you. This will help you to learn how patterns and the henna itself can flow easily. You can also practice designing on plain paper or wax paper in advance. Look at various mehndi books, henna artist designs, and seek out other resources online for ideas. The following symbols can be added in creative ways to your designs. The meanings are derived from the Moroccan traditions of henna painting, and they extend the following messages:Ã?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Fish – water, fertility, prosperityÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Bird – messenger between heaven and earth, destinyÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Eagle – powerÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Lizard and Salamander – seeker of the sun, the human soul seeking lightÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Snake – fertility, healing powersÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Turtle – saints, protection against evil eyeÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Triangle (eye), Inverted Triangle (eyebrow), Diamond – eye, protection against the evil eyeÃ?¯Ã?¿Ã?½

Hand, Number 5 – protection against evil

Source for symbol definitions:

There are thousands of designs and patterns available that exemplify the nature and tradition of this fine art form.�¯�¿�½ Take a look at tradtiional Middle Eastern weddings and ceremonies, and you will be amazed at the level of detail.�¯�¿�½ Even the simplest designs can turn into something greater with the addition of the above symbols, or your own message.�¯�¿�½ Create a design that best suits you, and remember that practice will help you create even more!

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