Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Review: Mini Henna Body Painting Kit by Earth Henna

PhotobucketIt occurs to me that I might be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

That's right! I wear mismatched earrings, I read children's books in public, and I exist solely for the purpose of helping my love interests find their true calling. Okay, maybe not so much the last one. My life-changing advice to be-loved ones usually turns out to be "Stop being a nerfherder and get out of bed" and "Go read [Michelle Tea, Grace Llewellyn, Kate Bornstein]; she'll rock your world." Not so much the stuff of classic movies, alas.

That said, I do like body adornment. Having been a fan of mehndi since the body art craze of the late nineties, I recently got my hands on a Mini Henna Body Painting Kit from Earth Henna. The contents: a cone of henna, a tiny bottle of solution, an even wee-er bottle of eucalyptus oil, some reusable tattoos as starters, and a couple of q-tips and toothpicks to do cleanup work on the designs themselves.

Being a real girl and not the fevered imaginings of a lonely director, I did my research on the subject to determine whether or not I felt it appropriate to undertake henna painting as a medium. My final thoughts on the subject that while I would feel uncomfortable using other culture's motifs on myself, I don't believe it is wrong to use the material, any more than it would be wrong for another culture to use egg tempera or gold leaf in their art. Besides, it's much safer than the beautifying materials of my ancestors. (The Romans favored lead and tin oxide in their cosmetics. Ouch.)

The instructions are simple. Pour the solution into the powder, seal it up (it ziplocks closed), and roll it around in your hands to get out the lumps. Wait two hours, and then squeeze it into the bottle the solution had come in. I managed to get through all of that easily until the bottle part. My advice: shove the cone as far down into the little bottle and fill from the bottom up. If you get any henna paste in the bottle neck, it's going to make things infinitely harder.

Once that's done, you attach the decorating tip and have at any bare bits of skin. I chose my foot, googling some Roman decorative motifs to practice with (as I'm a quarter Roman myself). It's a bit tricky to get used to, as painting with paste uses different hand movement than sketching or watercoloring, both mediums that I've grown up with. Catherine Cartwright-Jones has a beginner's guide to the technique of creating different tradition motifs that was incredibly useful.

After you've created your design, it takes about a half hour (for thin small designs) to an hour for the paste to dry fully. To get a dark stain, Earth Henna recommends leaving the paste on for 6 hours. I put a sock on and went to bed, waking up to a nice dark orange stain when I washed off the paste on Sunday morning which deepened to a beautiful shade of blood orange on Monday.

I would recommend Earth Henna to anybody curious to dip their toes into henna body art but not quite ready to deal with the nuances of mixing their own. Everything in the kit is naturally derived, but as with everything you stick on your body, do an allergy spot test first. My usually rather sensitive skin suffered no ill effects. The solution does use Walnut Oil, so do not use this kit if you have nut allergies. The decorating tip is very, very small; it looks as if I'm going to need to use a beading needle to clean it. As it was, I used a bit of E-string, as it was the thinnest piece of wire I had in my room. (Don't worry, Laura...your Christmas present is still intact.)

My kit was overpriced at 21 dollars, 6 bucks over the MSRP, purchased at the East/West Bookstore. I was disappointed, especially since their prices and selection of products are generally good for what you get.

PhotobucketOverall: it's messy but fun, and not a bad way to get started. My recommended reads on the subject are Mehndi by Carine Fabius for technique, Mehndi: The Timeless Art of Henna Painting by Loretta Roome for history, and The Art of Mehndi by Sumita Batra for beautiful photography and patterns. Catherine Cartwright-Jones offers a number of free henna and body art related ebooks on her website, along with information about different kinds of body painting such as gorgeous Zardosi henna (done with glitter gel) and Celtic woad.


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