Handmade Books and The Exotic Art of Henna

The art of henna caught my eye several years ago. As an American, I viewed it as a cultural symbol of India. At first I thought it was mysterious–what was it? How was it applied? What did this form of mark making mean? I soon learned that it was accessible; learning to draw with henna was as simple as going to the nearest ethnic grocery store and buying a cone. But that was the easy part.

Henna itself is a brownish-red dye that is very dark when first applied, and it turns lighter as it dries and flakes off. Although I like the exotic smell of henna paste, it’s a little messy. It takes some getting used to, as the paste can come out too quickly or get stuck in the tube. Henna designs are known for their intricate lines, and so any little globs must either be wiped away immediately, or turned into something that looks like it’s meant to be there (remember this recent post on wabi sabi?).

Henna books by Shayna Butler, featured in PAGES

By now my skills have improved enough to give a henna tattoo to an expectant mother (this is no task to be taken lightly–the resulting art will forever reside in her proud baby book of memories). And don’t tell anyone this, but I have a henna-inspired permanent tattoo as well because I so love the art. I started to draw henna designs on my garage with markers, but the sun quickly faded the marks. It seems like an obvious mistake now, so I learned my lesson!

While the original uses for henna are ancient, today it’s seeing a surge in popularity. I even found temporary henna tattoos (the kind you transfer onto your skin with water), which I use for design ideas. Shayna Butler, contributor to Cloth Paper Scissors, has combined her love of henna with bookmaking in the Winter 2014 issue of PAGES. Her feature article on how to make henna books is included in this PAGES collection. What makes her technique unique is that she uses a combination of acrylic paints to add a variety of color. It’s like getting the best of both worlds.

Tell me about your experiences with henna, and what you think of incorporating it into an art journal. And let me know how it goes if you try Butler’s techniques!

Until next time,


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