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!

Episode 1 – Robbery Victim!

My friend Lisa of Kenzi.com has an awesome new podcast, all about henna. I was so excited to be her first guest on the show. Check out the free podcast on iTunes and get a glimpse into the life of a henna artist!

Caught Red-Handed Podcast

Listen to Episode 1 with Darcy Vasudev

Subscribe to this podcast via iTunes

The premier episode of Caught Red-Handed is in the can, and by that I mean saved to my hard drive.  My guest for this episode was Darcy Vasudev of HennaLounge.com, whose work is probably the most stolen work on the internet.  I wanted my first interview to be with Darcy because she is a friend and we have chatted a LOT over the years, about everything under the sun, including henna. I was nervous for my first interview and thought talking with someone I know–as well as someone who is an awesome henna artist–would make it easier for me.  I probably still sound like a total noob in this episode but at least I was a chill noob, hanging with my friend, talking henna.

Funny thing is, I thought this conversation would be like most of…

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Geometry in Henna

Last night I decided to finally do some henna on myself  and I was thinking about some other henna artists who do really gorgeous geometric work. I usually end up with fussy Indian patterns on myself, so I figured I should try something different for a change. After I posted the photo on Facebook, lots of people were asking how to make the geometric netting. I first saw this pattern done in some Moroccan tile-work, and later done in henna by Nic of Nomad Heart who says he saw it done in a Rajasthani henna pattern.

It looks complicated, but it’s so simple! Here is a step by step.

First version, and this is the technique I use. I use a very stringy Rajasthani henna, which makes line-draping easy.

Lay out your first set of lines

Lay out your first set of lines

Add in your 2nd set of lines

Add in your 2nd set of lines

Check the angle by making a triangle

Check the angle by making a triangle

Continue draping your lines

Continue draping your lines

Add your details

Add your details

If you’re still feeling confused by the geometry, or have trouble draping lines, or have trouble getting the right angle, it’s OK, because I have a second technique for you! It’s not exactly the same end result geometrically (this one doesn’t yield an equilateral triangle), but fakes it pretty well in a pinch and you can still create some really unique patterns!

Layout your parallel lines

Layout your parallel lines

Triangulate!

Triangulate!

Keep going with the triangles

Keep going with the triangles

Voila!

Voila!

Trying something a little different this time

Trying something a little different this time

Diamonds and dots

Diamonds and dots

It creates negative space flowers, fun!

It creates negative space flowers, fun!

Fin!

Fin!

And this is how this tile-pattern looks as part of a complete henna pattern. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial! Let me know in your comments.

Fusion henna pattern with geometric elements

Fusion henna pattern with geometric elements

henna tutorial

Geometric henna tutorial by HennaLounge, check out the site for more how-tos!

 

Bindi Behemoth

Greetings! It has been a while since I posted, but today I did a fun project that I wanted to share with you. As some of you know, I have been making the annual pilgrimage to Burning Man for a few years. One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is Gifting. Gifting is different from barter or trade, because nothing in return is expected. Giving a spontaneous gift brings joy to both the giver and the receiver. So my gift this year, which I am doing in collaboration with my crafty partner Autumn Feldmeier, is Big Behemoth Bindis. Everything at Burning Man is larger than life, and these bindis are no exception. While it’s not an official Burning Man principle, many participants at the event do utilize recycled materials in their projects, costumes, and art installations. I wanted to create gifts from something old or unloved and give them new life!

I began with a pile of broken and mismatched vintage jewelry that I got on Etsy. I disassembled it into usable bindi parts and then affixed the bits to a vinyl backing, and then embellished with acrylic rhinestones and Swarovski crystals. It’s a simple project, which really requires no more than some mismatched/broken/old/vintage jewelry, needle nosed pliers for taking apart the jewelry, clear vinyl, E6000 glue, and some rhinestones to embellish with.

Several hours later, a somewhat junky pile of old jewelry becomes extravagant bindis, sparkling and ready to adorn the Third Eye, our creative center. You can affix a bindi with eyelash glue, spirit gum, or a professional cosmetic adhesive such as Prosaide.

So you really like these, but don’t have the patience/time/materials/bifocals to make them? Not to worry! I am selling a few of these bindis on Etsy. Your purchase of them will go toward my Burning Man gift-making fund, which helps to offset the cost of materials. I’m so excited about gifting these. I hope to give away at least 50-75 hand-crafted bindis on the Playa this year. Visit my Etsy Shop!

Thanks for your support, and happy crafting!

Before and after!

Before and after!

 

BIG Bindi

BIG Bindi

 

The Ikebana-inspired Design

Henna Chai Conference and Retreat is just a little over a month away and I am getting very excited about teaching there. One of the things I enjoy about teaching is that it forces me to analyze my own design techniques and find ways to put it into words.  One class, which I will teach for the very first time at Henna Chai in Maryland, is the Ikebana-inspired design.

Using the Japanese floral arranging principles of Line, Volume, and Accent we will try creating henna patterns using these simple, yet infinitely variable, concepts. We will also explore secondary design elements such as natural shapes, balance, negative space, color alternatives, texture, and density.  Many of my students have been asking me about shading, so we will also take this opportunity to learn several shading techniques and explore making some more realistic-looking flowers and leaves.

This is a hands-on course suitable for all levels and can be applied to any style of henna pattern, including bridal henna. This class is also the perfect complement to my Gulf Henna course,  or an alternate class for beginning students who don’t yet have the cone control necessary for the intermediate-level Gulf course.

Ikebana inspired henna

Ikebana inspired henna

Roll Your Own

Well, that day has arrived, after 3 hours of struggling with iMovie, I am now the proud presenter of a 1 minute instructional video for you. And even if you already know how to roll cones, I think you’ll enjoy the special guest who appears in the video. I hope you enjoy it! Please let me know in your comments if you have any special requests for tutorial topics!

Secrets of the Persian Gulf

Gulf of “Khaleeji” henna designs are known for their grace, flow and unusual structures. At first glance, they seem almost simple. So why is it that when we copy the designs, they never look quite right?

Find out the answers at Henna Chai, at the Pearlstone Center near Baltimore Maryland this March 8-10th.

The Gulf style is a highly creative, ever-evolving style, and we are going to dive right into this intermediate-level class with some cone control warm-ups. Gulf henna motifs are often the result of varying cone-pressure mid-flow, so you can start practicing your teardrops now, as we will only do a quick review of pressure control. Line-draping is another skill that is a prerequisite for this class.

Next we are going to look at some of the basic foundation motifs found in Gulf designs, such as roses, florets, leaves, vines, ribbons, feathers, and dots. We’ll discuss how to group them, mixing and matching different shapes and textures and using negative space or ribbon-work to create movement in the design.

khaleeji henna

Motifs in Persian Gulf henna

Gulf-style henna

Gulf-style henna

 

We will explore a secondary type of Khaleeji design, comprised of larger abstract design shapes in unusual layouts. We will learn how to create your own unique design placements, try some different fill-patterns, while still maintaining balance and flow. We will learn about creating abstract graphic edges, fractal patterning, negative space, repetitive motifs, and connective elements. I know, it’s a lot! These designs are very cutting edge and fashion forward, so put your fussy Indian bridal mehndi thoughts aside and get ready to express yourself!

Modern henna

Modern henna

Finally, we will touch briefly on Sudani design, while not really “Gulf”, this style is gaining rapid popularity and uses many of the same concepts as Gulf design, on an even bolder scale.

Sudani Mehndi feet near Playa del Carmen

Sudani Mehndi feet near Playa del Carmen

Time permitting, we will close our notebooks, and each create our own Gulf design on skin or paper, flowing directly from our inner creativity while remaining focused on texture, negative space, and balance. You will want to bring what you’ve learned about flow and negative space into all of your artwork!

Learn to Photograph Henna at the Henna Chai Workshop

One of the classes I will be teaching at Henna Chai in March is all about photographing henna. A beautiful photo can make mediocre henna look good, or a poor photo can do even the most gorgeous henna a disservice. We’re going to break it down into bite-sized pieces so even a novice photographer can take fabulous henna photos. While we hope you have a real camera to bring to class, and not just an iPhone, many techniques will work with even a camera phone. There will be an emphasis on creating your own unique ambiance, that is perfect for your own henna style, because no one wants to see henna photos that look like “stock images”.

First of all, we’re going to find out if our cameras have manual settings. Most importantly, we’ll find the “A” (aperture) setting and discover how to get that coveted “bokeh” or background blur that helps make a photo look professional. And it might seem old-school, but we’re also going to work with Manual Focus.

Glitter mehndi hearts

Glitter mehndi hearts

Zoom zoom zoom…To zoom or not to zoom? The answers may surprise you.

We’ll discuss lighting issues, including some quick hacks for less-than-optimal lighting conditions.

Natural indoor light

Natural indoor light

We’ll address some of the golden rules of composition, making use of grid-lines on our cameras, directional lines, and subject placement. Hint: it’s not always in the middle of the frame! We’ll talk about backdrops, where to place them, and how to position your subject’s hands or feet in relation to the background.

Fun and funky feet

Fun and funky feet

Finally we will discover how to use color theory to determine the best ways to show off a beautiful henna stain! We will quickly review how to select photos for your portfolio using very basic criteria. Time permitting we will play with some hand poses and take some test-shots.

Please bring your cameras, a pretty piece of cloth, object or jewelry, and a notebook for taking visual notes! We hope to see you there! For more information on this amazing retreat at the Pearlstone Center near Baltimore, Maryland, please visit the Henna Chai website.

Mehndi feet near Playa del Carmen

Mehndi feet near Playa del Carmen

All oiled up

Today I’m going to discuss the difference between essential oil and regular oil, and how they both relate to henna.

First let me clear up some confusion. Essential oils and regular oils (such as coconut oil or olive oil) are completely different. The term “essential oil” is really a misnomer. Essential oils are chemically more similar to an alcohol and are a plant essence (usually steam distilled, but sometimes pressed). A regular vegetable oil, such as coconut oil, olive oil, or mustard oil (a staple in some Indian kitchens), is thicker and may have a greasy consistency.

Some  essential oils have properties which can increase the staining potential of henna. This is why some people apply “nilgiri” (eucalyptus) oil to the skin before a design is applied. Most reputable henna artists add the essential oil (such as tea tree, cajeput, cardamom, or lavender) to the actual henna mixture, making this pre-application unnecessary.  You can read about how to use essential oils in your henna paste here.

Further adding to the confusion is the fact that some henna-for-hair recipes call for vegetable oil. This is for conditioning the hair and does not help the stain. In fact it can inhibit the staining properties somewhat.

A thick vegetable based oil can be applied after the henna paste has been removed. Real vegetable oils (not their distilled counterparts) protect the skin from water, and nourish the skin so that it doesn’t take on an ashy appearance.

Here we can see henna made with essential oil, and once the paste has been removed it is protected with coconut oil. Both parts of the process resulted in a rich dark stain 24 hours later.

cajeput oil

This henna paste was made with essential oil in it

coconut oil henna balm

The fresh design is protected with coconut oil

dark henna, any questions?

A lovely dark henna stain

Henna trend alert!

One hundred years ago, most henna designs were simply  a large dot in the palm and darkened fingertips. Maybe a few extra dots around the edge of the big dot. The more extravagant mehndi patterns were applied with a stick or a small piece of wire to get detail in the designs, but this technique was time-intensive. It is possible that the use of the cone by Indian mehndi artists began with the introduction of the plastic milk bag. Squeezing henna paste through a small hole is far more efficient than dabbing it on bit by bit!

Regardless of what actually happened, mehndi patterns have been elevated to a high artform in terms of levels of detail and coverage. Once, mehndi could be used in place of jewelry for a bride coming from a poor family, today, a fabulous mehndi pattern is a sign of prosperity and it’s not uncommon for Bollywood celebs or wealthy families to fly in the very best artists from Mumbai, Gujarat, or even the UK.

Over the last couple of years I started getting more requests for henna designs that include bride and groom faces, and then last year the requests started to come in for more figurative work, not just faces, but whole figures with fancy outfits and accessories. What a fun challenge! In India, for some time now, it has been popular to have whole wedding scenes done in henna – the baraat, dancers, bride and groom, even animals. While impressive, sometimes the designs are so dense that they look chaotic (not unlike an Indian wedding I suppose!). But Harin Dalal and some of his students, like Neha Engineer, have begun doing figures in a more realistic style, and leaving a little bit of breathing room so the designs are more artistic and restrained. As I fine artist, I love this trend!

I decided to try out a couple of patterns this week and I’m really pleased with the overall effect. I feel a little white space really lets the figures come to life instead of being lost in  frilly dense patterns. What do you think?

Neha engineer inspired

A Krishna and Radha design

Harin Dala

Flirty Radha Krishna pattern

Radha Krishna pattern

Closeup of the figure details