Sunday, January 19, 2014

Indian Art: Mendhi (henna), Yoga life drawing & Mandalas

We are studying India at school thanks to Cultural Arts Day. The 3rd-5th graders and I just began learning all about Mendhi (or Mehendi). It's also called Henna, as you make the paste from the dried leaves of the henna plant. It is applied to the hands and feet traditionally just before a really big event like a wedding or baby's arrival. Henna is also practiced in Arabic countries, Northern Africa, and in the Jewish culture. Their designs are not quite as detailed and filled in as the Indian designs (which almost look like lace). The Arabic designs have a bit more negative space and use floral motifs while the African designs are more geometric.

The Mendhi designs fit in perfectly with my curriculum. I was recently saddened at the loss of cursive in so many states' new Common Core standards. California is one the few to KEEP cursive in the curriculum (3rd/4th standard)- bravo California. I had been interested all year in finding a way to incorporate some cursive into the art curriculum. You must look at the link below for the Elements of Henna Patterns, by Catherine Cartwright-Jones. Ms. Jones is the Henna guru- the art, the science, the recipes, the designs, the history of henna. Everything is documented on the Now back to'll see how some elements of henna, like "foofy" and "sloopy", are similar to English cursive. These elements, when repeated in a thoughtful way, make the most beautiful designs. Also the art of Zentangle ( and calligraphy are other ways to incorporate cursive and cursive-like marks into the art curriculum. But for now, I'd like to focus on my experience with henna/mendhi (handouts, design ideas, recipes, experience) and Indian arts...

Resource used in and out of classs:
Elements of Henna Handout
   from the 
-Mendhi Designs (Dover book) & Dover temporary henna tatoos (hearts, peacock, paisley)- thank you Ms. Ward's class for the Amazon gift card!
-Other henna handouts check out Mrs. Noon's Encinal Art Webpage - look at the very bottom of the page under "files" or click here henna handout from conference
-SMARTboard/google images. - Stephanie's henna portfolio from January & February 2014
-Online shops for henna powder and other ingrendients: 100% pure organic henna can be bought at and and Etsy and  *Rajastani Organic is a great henna to buy from Artistic Adornment. A note about "terps" or essential oils, which darken the stain: you can add a little eucalyptus oil (eucalyptus globulus) or cajeput oil to the henna paste for many people. For kids and pregnant women, you can just mix lemon juice, sugar and henna paste (or maybe add a little lavendar oil /Lavandula Angulstifolia which is very safe). Skip the lemon juice with citric allergies. Always use 100% essential oils. All this info is on Catherine's website, the, and she owns  I will be soon using Sonya's henna powder that she is bringing me back  from Dubia, an Iranian pure henna powder, "the good stuff". I tried some premade henna paste cones from Amazon and the stain wasn't very dark on friends' skin but it was a good, easy way to practice designs on paper and skin with these easy and ready to go cones. Who knows what else is in the paste besides the henna and eucalyptus oil that is listed as ingredients though so I'd like to make my own next. Thanks Sonya!

1/18/14- Last night was my first time ever applying henna. I was excited to try out the designs I'd been practicing on paper and utilize all my hard work researching the techniques, tools and traditions. It was fun and I was happy it was successful. I used the Jacquard kit that Michael's sells but just ordered some cones on Amazon with the paste ready to go (more economical). I made my own cone from cellophane triangle using the Boat People Vintage's DIY video  Controlling the flow of the henna was fairly easy and I enjoyed using more pressure to make "knots" (little balls at the ends of lines). Those were actually easier to pick off later than the thinner strings of henna. Vrinda and Sonya are going to bring me back some goodies from India (henna, clothes, spices). They'll also share photos and videos of Vrinda's sister's wedding and "the Mehendi" (the ceremony before the wedding). Thank you, thank you, thank you ladies!

I let the paste stay on my hands and feet 1-3 hours. Every 15 minutes or so I'd add lemon/sugar/water (just a little with a cotton ball, don't want to smear it or let it run) to the drier parts so the stain will stay moist and darken the skin more. I scratched off the paste on my hand before going to bed but left the paste on my feet over night. Heat darkens the color, which is more desirable in India, so I wrapped my feet with tissue paper and big socks for heat but also so it didn't get all over my sheets. After scraping the paste off, the stain is bright orange on the skin. Later it oxides to a darker orange/red/brown (thicker skin like hands=darker stain, thinner skin like arms=lighter stain). I recommend scraping with a credit card and your fingernail. This morning I made a peacock on Eliana. It was a really "fun morning" for her, watching shows and eating in bed while it dried. She only bumped it once, not bad for a 3 year old. Remember the henna stains so have old towels and wet & dry paper towels all ready to go. I also used the pin, toothpick and q-tip that was included in the kit to wipe off mistakes (which you can do very easily right away). By the way the henna is really forgiving. It's almost like a clay paste with nice form and moveability. I like Jacquard's tip to turn mistakes into an opportunity to try something new. Also the henna really uses all the senses: it smelled delicious thanks to the eucalyptus oil you mix in plus it had a cooling effect on the skin. It asks as a sunscreen as well and must feel great in the heat of India. This has been a good connection to nature (and more coming with our yoga studies).

Day 1 hand much lighter. Day 4 hand very dark. The cracks in the peacock is now showing (from bending my hand while henna was still wet). Yucky! Do I fill in the cracks with more henna or let it fade? Looks like alligator skin :(

Day 4 feet look great, no cracks and very dark. Like the new jellies?

Since we won't use henna paste on kids' skin at school I researched some alternatives to henna. Henna paste is all natural but people have been known to be allergic (you can test a small bit the day before). And you're committed to a few hours of not moving or touching the adorned body part and some maintenance later in the day or the next morning with scraping it off (also trying not to get it wet too much). Here's some ideas for temporary Mendhi without henna:

-Mendhi rubber stamps and a brown stamp pad. See photo of Eliana's design. Nice that they aren't mounted on wood so you can bend around skin. Oversized brown stamp pad is great. Thumbs up! 
-Fiskar's gel pens drawn onto paper then transferred onto your skin with a wet warm cloth. Double thumbs up!
-Tulip brand body art marker (Michael's). It was okay but not nearly as much fun or work as the henna paste. They were also expensive and seem like they'll dry quickly. Thumbs down.

Next up with poses & life drawing and possibly mandalas. The "Yoga Kids" video with Marsha Wenig (and her website) has been a good resource for me, Eliana enjoys it also. I purchased a resource online called Young Yoga Masters (ABC Yoga) Also big kuddos to Eliane I. Pierce on the recent publication of Deep Green Yoga, a harmony of tensions . Elaine taught all us mommies prenatal yoga at Kaiser SF. Vrinda and Sonya are some of the mommies who've kept in touch, and our kids are the "yoga babies". The photographs in the book will be helpful for my students as they make poses with homage to animals, trees, mountains and the ocean. It shows how "patterns in nature align our poses and everyday posture". It's a pretty amazing and thorough concept and book. And of course the cutest model is in the chapter on faces, Eliana :)

Eliana has been showing me poses she's learned from Teacher Karin. I've learned starfish, lily pad, butterfly and airplane from her just this week. My little helper also helped me make the Calming Jars I may try them in the classroom (should transfer from glass to plastic containers). They could be good for very energetic kids and moments. I like the concept of how the calming jar can show the kids how to slow down and quiet their mind.                                              Namaste!

More East Indian art resources at