Gulf in 5 steps – Part 1

This will be my first ever tutorial on henna design technique. Please be sure to let me know if it helped you!

So contemporary Indian henna patterns seem to have a somewhat frenetic “more is more” look. Not unlike India herself, the patterns are jammed together in a sort of happy chaos, a dulhan here, a peacock there, maybe a Ganesha, oh and don’t forget some flowers and hearts, and dots, yes dots, and can you make it go just a little further, and maybe some bling.

In stark contrast the designs of the Persian Gulf, also referred to as Khalijee, exercise restraint. No faces, animals, Gods or Godesses, just a few carefully placed elements which always seem to flow together harmoniously. When learning about this style, I tried copying designs that I had found on the web, yet my attempts at copying looked static and lifeless. I knew I had the manual dexterity necessary to make leaves or petals in one stroke, and the delicate touch to shade flowers for a more realistic look, but something was missing. After looking at more patterns, I realized no two were ever alike. There was no “trendy” pattern that all the artists were doing. Trendy motifs, sure, but it appeared that no artists were copying other designs. In this, I discovered the secret to capturing the Gulf vibe. The time had come for me to create my own, and rediscover the spontaneity of henna designing.

Pattern creation is really quite easy but varies from the Indian technique of adding layer upon layer of motifs. Today I am going to focus on a type of Gulf pattern (and yes, there are several distinct techniques) that consists of several separate areas of unconnected motifs.

Step 1 – look at the hand or foot (or other body party) and take a moment to find the beauty of it, where a graceful curve exists, or a stretch of flawless skin that you want to highlight. Perhaps you even want to make a design that complements your favorite pair of sandals. This week I am traveling with just one pair of shoes, they’re spare and bare and dare I say it, sexy. Hard to believe they are Crocs!

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Step 2 – create a “river” or abstract shape and gently outline it with a faint mark of henna. Sometimes if my skin is dry, I’ll even scratch the outline into my skin. You can also use a watercolor pencil to create your outline.

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Step 3 – create a contrasting secondary shape elsewhere, paying close attention to the space that is created in the blank skin area. Try making your secondary shape different than the first, so for example if your first shape was a meandering river, your second shape could be symmetrical. I chose to do a band of repeated half-mandalas along the arch of my foot, so I didn’t sketch in the outline first.

Step 4 – Choose several organic motifs, such as flowers, leaves and vines or dots, and fill in your first “river” with them, being careful not to let anything extend outside your demarcations. This area should be relatively dense, without big gaps.

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Step 5 – Last step, complete your contrasting fill-pattern for your secondary shape. If you used flowy motifs in your first section, try using more structured or geometric patterning in this one.

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Pro tip: Quit while you are ahead. Resist the temptation to fill up too much of the open space, or connect your two major design areas with more patterning. I decided my design needed on more thing to make it complete so I added a vine which is only visible when my Crocs are off. In our next tutorial we will explore one of the other Gulf variants, which involves connecting motifs together with ribbons or bands.

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I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Be sure to share your Gulfy experiments with me! Here is a quick peek just moments after I scraped off the paste this morning.

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rajasthani henna is the best

Got a lovely stain despite swimming in the ocean!

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