Updated: Mar 6, 2021
Before I first started doing henna in 2006 henna was not really on my radar, I didn't know much about it. Many people are curious about how I got started in henna and I tell the following story over and over to my clients.
My daughter was 6 when she got a henna kit for her birthday. She was too young to apply it with her tiny hands and lack of fine motor skills. So we mixed up the paste together and I started putting henna designs on her, copying the art work that came with the kit.
I had a lot of fun applying the henna to her and wanted to keep doing it, but the henna soon ran out. Not too long after that, a friend, not knowing that I had developed an interest in henna or that I had an art background, said she wanted to get a henna and I told her I could do it for her. She bought a cone from a market (little did I know how bad of an idea that was: please read here for more information) and I did a design on her lower back. She LOVED it, and I was hooked!
Soon after that I was finding myself going to the internet every day researching henna. There was not a lot online at that time, this was before Facebook and Instagram. But I found a great website and forum and was soon meeting people from all over the world who did henna, many of whom had their own henna businesses.
I went online every day to learn. I bought some henna powder and followed my new found community's instructions on how to mix it into a paste. I also downloaded lots of designs, and when I first started, I was a true beginner, my lines were uneven, wobbly, and wonky. Even though I had done art throughout my life, learning how to manipulate the henna cone took a long time to perfect.
But I practiced....a lot.
I practiced, practiced, and practiced some more!
Here is the design I did on my friend in 2006:
This is what I can do now, 12 years later in 2018:
Six things you can do to improve your henna art skills:
1. Use good henna paste.
Make sure you have good paste. Either purchase cones from a henna artist who makes their own natural henna paste, or learn to make your own. If you want to make your own paste, make sure to purchase henna powder from a credible henna artist. Powder bought off a shelf in a market will likely not produce a good stain because it needs to be stored in the freezer for best results.
Henna Planet teaches beginner workshops, or you can go to Youtube for help.
2. Figure out what type of cone you like.
Some people like a short fat cone, others prefer a long thin cone. Whichever one you prefer is fine, you need to find what works for you. Experiment holding it and squeezing it. Try some simple lines and shapes to get a feel for the cone in your hand until you are satisfied with your ability to squeeze the henna out easily with your choice of cone style.
3. Practice the basics.
You'll want to practice drills everyday.
Lines are the first step. Try creating lines moving your hand at different speeds, squeezing hard and then lightly. This will help you to learn how to create thin and thick lines. It will also help you to learn how to create a line without breaking the stream of henna from the cone. Make sure that the tip of the henna cone is not touching the surface, it should be slightly above the surface and the henna should drape out of the cone onto the paper or skin.
Create row after row of lines, humps, circles, paisleys, triangles, vines, etc. before you even attempt to create simple designs. Shapes and lines are the building blocks of Henna design.
If there is one thing that you take away from this post it is that practice is the key! It takes years to develop new skills and it is no different with henna. Many people think that they will be able to master henna quickly and that is simply not the case. It takes practice, persistence, and a desire to learn and grow as an artist. You can do it! It just takes time, so don't give up!
Even professional artists still practice, there is always room for improvement :)
4. Copy henna designs.
Once you have lines and shapes down, start finding simple patterns to copy. There is a multitude of designs online to try. Copying other people's work is a fantastic way to learn at first.
Out of courtesy and respect, please make sure that you credit the artist you copied from if you post your work to social media.
5. Find people to learn from.
Learning on your own can be challenging. Having a community of artists who can help you in your journey is a great way to improve. There are some wonderful Facebook groups that can do just that. Henna Community has a very good files section on all topics henna and you can post your work and ask for feedback. They are a very supportive community and will be gentle in their critique of your work, and not only that, they will be encouraging!
There are also henna conferences that you can go to including Henna Hangout in Toronto, Henna Con, Spring Fling, The Henna Society, The Henna Huddle, Henna Intensive and Retreat, and Polar Sling to name a few.
But if you can't afford to go to a conference, there are many artists on Youtube who have created some good tutorials.
6. Develop your own style.
Once you've had some practice under your belt, you've gotten some feedback, you've learned and are learning from other artists, it's time to break out and develop your own style.
Copying is a great way to learn, but now it's time to put what you've learned into practice. Step away from the internet and start creating your own designs. Find what you like and are good at and start applying the motifs to create designs that inspire you. Soon you will develop your own style and before you know it you too will be able to compare what you were capable of years ago compared to what you can do today.
That doesn't mean you won't ever copy anything ever again. And you'll probably want to look at other artists' work for a long time for inspiration or to learn new motifs that you don't have down yet. Also henna is constantly evolving so following artists on Instagram is a great way to keep up with new trends, design styles, etc.
Good luck and have fun! Be sure to take lots of photos!