Live Aloha

Some places have a deep soul to them and Hawaii is one of those places. There is something about the people, the land, the sea and the sky that all swirl together into a fragrant and inexplicable magic. So when one of my most charming customers, Patricia, told me she was getting married and wanted me to do her henna on Oahu, of course I was more than thrilled to accommodate. And I was a little bit nervous too, since she had since become quite an accomplished henna artist herself!

I arrived to the island and she and her fiancé, Joe, picked me up from the airport and greeted me with a beautiful ginger lei. I immediately felt the sensations of belonging, kinship and that Aloha spirit, which has no encompassing English translation.  I wish I could describe the scent of ginger blossoms too, but words fail again. Intoxicating, effervescent, exotic?

I wish I could wear this every day!!

I wish I could wear this every day!!

That night, I fell asleep to waves lapping the shore, and was soon awaked at sunrise by the sounds of birds getting ready for their day. 

Sunrise

Sunrise

After a morning walk to charge me for the day, Kiyomi picked me up and took me to her home for the mehndi day. Kiyomi is also a phenomenal henna artist and the most welcoming hostess. I instantly felt a bond with her, and her precious pup, Pansy. The other women: Maya, Tiffany, and Monica arrived and each of them had a special energy to share, and the incredible henna-sisterhood that exists on the island of Oahu became very apparent to me and I let it all envelop me like a warm wave.

Patricia gave me "artist's choice" for the direction of the henna, which made me a tiny bit nervous again, but I had watched the children's animated film Moana three times on the flight over, so I already had some island inspiration to weave into the henna patterns. I pretty much cried the whole way through Moana, it's just so beautiful. The one element she definitely wanted to include was vines on the inside of her fingers. Only another henna artist would have the dedication to keep their fingers still and open for this arduous process! 

Because Patricia was so incredibly kind as to invite me to her intimate wedding reception, I stayed on the island a couple days longer. One day I explored a farmers' market near the university, and even though I was totally unprepared wearing a dress and sandals, I hiked to the top of Diamond Head. Some teen girls at the top of the mountain saw the henna on my feet, and mournfully said "I wish I could have henna". I procured some cones from my bag and gifted them with henna designs at the summit of an incredible view. Ask and ye shall receive! It was so much fun to give them a little treat, especially after how kind and generous all of my new henna friends had been to me. 

The next morning, my new henna hermana Tiffany kidnapped me bright and early to take me to a farmers' market she does henna at in Kailua. I decided it would be fun to be her booth babe for the day. I hustled customers into her wild animal-print booth like a proper busker and it was so much fun to be on the other side of the cone, so to speak. I did do a few hennas though, I just can't resist! Tiffany has a contagious energy and we laughed so hard my belly hurt. The farmers' market was a thing that dreams are made of, live music, fresh shots of ginger juice, homemade passionfruit scones (OMG), and even a few wild chickens wandering through. After the market, we did a quick drive-by of Lanikai beach, took a few selfies, then hurried home so Tiffany could start on Patricia's wedding makeup and hair! What a whirlwind of a day, and the fun was only just getting started! 

This was the henna I did for Tiffany and her awesome photo of it. Sorry I don't have a pic of her booth, but trust me, it's awesome.

This was the henna I did for Tiffany and her awesome photo of it. Sorry I don't have a pic of her booth, but trust me, it's awesome.

Next stop was Patricia and Joe's wedding reception. Kiyomi picked me up and gifted me with a beautiful hand-knotted lei she had made, the kind that lasts forever, made out of yarns and ribbons, so I felt properly bedecked for a Hawaiian celebration. The party was held at a really special restaurant called Mud Hen Water. The food was life-changing. I'm a picky eater, so you can trust me when I say that it was filled with umami flavors that will leave your taste buds wondering what just happened. I didn't photograph the food but I did snap a few shots of Patricia because she was looking absolutely radiant, bedecked in lush leis.

 

Now, I don't really have the photos or words to describe the party, but there was African dance, live drumming which made your spine tingle, and a soothing Hula dance, all in the company of delightful and fascinating people. I can honestly say it was my favorite wedding event I have ever attended. As the grand finale, Patricia came out, with a new hair and makeup look from Tiffany, and performed a mesmerizing Indian-fusion bellydance. The whole room was speechless as her choreography (and eyes!) were absolutely smoldering.

Smokin' hot badass mamacita

Smokin' hot badass mamacita

It was hard to say goodbye after a weekend that left my heart feeling so full, but the memories will be with me forever, and I know I will see my henna sisters again soon. A hui hou, until we meet again. 

Keep Calm and Get Your Henna On

Certainly this has been a challenging winter so far, but where there are challenges, creativity takes root. I started to have a vision for a new photoshoot and it all came together beautifully, although every project also has its challenges. This one, coming on the heels of Valentines' Day had left the local florist high and dry, so I took a walk around my neighborhood and collected fallen camellia and rose petals from the previous night's storm, and surreptitiously snipped a couple of plum blossoms. A hot bath was prepared with two luxurious gallons of milk, bubble bath (which didn't actually bubble much), and of course many fragrant blossoms. There was a brief moment of panic when I thought I might have inadvertently dropped a worm into the bath with my model, but it turned out to just be a bruised petal. Yikes! After the initial moment of panic, the soothing bath and early spring aromas calmed us down, and the results were pure magic!

Model: Shawna S. Henna, photography and styling by Henna Lounge.

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Top 10 Ways to Style Metallic Tattoos

If I've been a little quiet lately, it's because I have been busily working on a project for Nüd Ink,  a start-up metallic tattoo company! My first collaboration with Nüd Ink is complete and we have launched the Henna Lounge exclusive collection titled "Sundara", which means "beautiful". I also wanted the name to reflect my passion for the Mexican sun, and you will see some sunny motifs in the collection, and Mexico is, of course the place that I also photographed our beautiful models. "Dar" is also the Spanish verb "to give" and the first letters of my name, so all in all every little bit of the name is filled with significance. I hope this collection inspires you to "give beauty" everywhere you go!  So, now the fun part, how to style the trend!

1. apply them perfectly

For a crisp, clean look, cut to size, then peel the plastic protective sheet off, press onto clean and dry skin, wet the backing for 30 seconds and peel off! Ta da!

Cut, press, wet, and peel.

Cut, press, wet, and peel.

2. Try a traditional mehndi-inspired placement on the hands

3. Freshen Up Your Feet

Another traditional placement, and oooh shiny!

4. Glam up your little black something

Metallic tattoos are all the jewelry you need.

5. Be a Bohemian Beach Babe

Go ahead and mix up crochet, beachy hair, a sun-kissed skin, and Nüd Ink for an effortless boho look on the playa.

6. Get Sexy

Show off gorgeous gams with an bold piece on the thigh.

7. Expect the Unexpected

Sometimes a change of perspective is just what you need. The collection is designed to complement different body parts, and to mix and match. A true fashionista knows how to take a trend and make it their own.

8. Rock NüD with an Undercut

It's all in the details - and edgy haircut, gauged earrings, and subtle flash of gold and silver ink. 

9. With Something Backless

Make a statement whether you are arriving or leaving. 

10. Wear It With a Friend

Share the love and it's twice as nice.

A huge thank you to our models Sofia, Jill, Alia, and Lara. 

Henna Artists are Human too!

About 9 months ago I received an inquiry from a client interested in booking me for her destination wedding in Tulum (one of my favorite spots in Mexico).  In the end, with expenses adding up quickly, she  went with an artist from closer to her home-town. 

Fast forward to late November. I was just finishing up my trip in Mexico, and was all finished with my other bridal hennas. With only two days left South of the Border, I was enjoying some sunshine, fish tacos, and maybe a Margarita on the beach. I think you can guess what happened next; I received a rather frantic Facebook message from the henna artist who was going to do that bride's mehndi. She was unable to make it to Mexico at the last minute, and she wanted me to do the bride's mehndi and party the very next day! My first thought was, "there goes my day at the beach", immediately followed by "thank goodness I brought extra henna supplies with me!".  Suddenly I didn't feel bad about my pricing anymore; I have over 20 years of international travel experience, and that alone is worth something. I was happy to help out, but feeling so bad for the other artist, who I knew was looking forward to working onsite in sunny Mexico. 

I mixed up a fresh batch of henna later that evening. I went to bed early, and in the morning I awoke before sunrise to get ready for the long day. I had a cup of coffee on the beach and as the sun rose, a small, intimate wedding ceremony took place on the beach, with a Shaman performing their rites of union. What a beautiful, calm way to start my day!

Sunrise over the Caribbean

Sunrise over the Caribbean

Mayan wedding ceremony on the beach

Mayan wedding ceremony on the beach

I arrived at the bride's resort, where excitement levels were running high. The bride's henna  took nearly 6 hours for her elaborate designs, but after that I still had another 4 hours of mehndi to do for her guests. I literally used up every last drop of my henna, even going so far as to squeeze the little bits left in my cones into another cone! The group was crazy about henna, so much so that they didn't want me to even take a break to eat a sandwich during my 10 hour shift. Hey now, henna artists are human too! In the end, the mehndi came out beautifully and all of the guests got several designs each. It was a privilege to be able to come to the bride's rescue and save her special day!

Old-school mehndi style with vines on the fingers

Old-school mehndi style with vines on the fingers

Elaborate mehndi feet

Elaborate mehndi feet

As successful as the day was, it was a long one, and I left  exhausted, hungry, and feeling a touch grumpy. I took an over-priced taxi (which made me all the grumpier) back to my beautifully rustic spot, aptly named Utopia, on the beach, and all of the house-guests there had gone out for dinner. I didn't know if I had it in me to go out for dinner alone, and I thought I would just go to bed with an empty stomach and brood about fact that I had to fly out of paradise the next afternoon. But then, a small miracle, some of the adorable Argentinian girls (Mavi and Sofie - love you!) who work at the beach house, and their sweet boyfriends, invited me for home-made ceviche, cerveza and wine. I can honestly say that the ceviche was to die for, and I may have been a little quiet at the dinner table, just enjoying the feeling of the sultry night air, pleasant conversation mostly in Spanish, and the warm glow of the Malbec. I slept very soundly that night.

The next morning, I crammed in my last hour of sunshine, took a quick dip in the ocean where the waves were already getting big from an oncoming cold front, and consumed a final fish taco. I said my goodbyes hurriedly, and just as I stepped into my taxi to the airport, the first drops of rain began to fall. 


Crickets, gangstas, and laundry

Mexico, their slogan is "Expect the Unexpected", at least, I think that is the official slogan of tourism. If not, it should be.  Sometimes the unplanned events are the most memorable. Two separate and unrelated conversations about chapulines (crickets) were no longer a coincidence when they appeared on the menu at Tulum restaurant Cenzontle, that very evening. Clearly, it became necessary to order the chapulin enchiladas. No, I did not expect to be eating insects that night, but their crunchy and spicy flavor in a five-chili sauce will have me coming back for more.  If you haven't tried them, they don't taste like chicken but they are a bit nutty! Perhaps more akin to eating a fried shallot or garlic, full of umami flavor and delicate crunch. After our insectivorous meal, our little international posse (a German, a Mexican, a Chilean, and myself the lone American) went to the beach to look for shooting stars. 

The next day, while chomping 30 peso fish tacos at a rickety plastic table on the beach, I found myself dining with 4 or 5 heavily tattooed Latino men. They looked a little (okay, largely) intimidating and were smoking cigars and being a bit boisterous.  To break the ice, as I was sitting at the head of the table, like a literal boss, I mentioned the ubiquity of their tattoos, and the leader of their wolf-pack started conversing with me and my friends in a surprisingly open and friendly manner. Turns out he is the founder of One Shot One Kill Cigars. How the heck am I supposed to find common ground with this guy? Well, he had a camera tattooed on his arm, not just any camera, but a medium-format film camera. I am having lunch with Edgar Hoill! Cigars now, but previously, a famous photographer of ganglands, Yakuza, gritty border towns, Cuban slums, and low-rider cars)He offered me a label from one of his cigars, which had skulls and Mayan warriors on it, but also had delicate paisley symbols. I pointed out that it is a common symbol in henna patterns and was informed it is also a gang symbol! You learn something new every day.  The following day, in rather stark contrast, I would be doing henna at one of the classiest hotels in the Riviera Maya, the Fairmont Mayakoba. Perhaps the groomsmen will be smoking his cigars.

One Shot One Kill Cigars

One Shot One Kill Cigars

Henna with a lush jungle setting at the Fairmont Mayakoba

Henna with a lush jungle setting at the Fairmont Mayakoba

At the other extreme, I took my damp and stinky laundry to a lavanderia. The lavanderia is basically someone's garage. The laundry is weighed and you are given a pick-up time and a slip of paper with your name and price on it. A few hours later I returned to retrieve my now bone dry, sparkling clean, and fresh-smelling, in that way that only Mexican laundry can be, clothing. At first it appeared that no one was on staff to get me my goods, but then a tiny little girl, no older than 5 or 6, peered from behind the counter, and greeted me cheerfully in Spanish. She asked my name and if I recognized my laundry (all in squeaky Spanish). I did, and handed her a 200 peso note. Unfortunately they were out of change, so she beckoned her father from what was possibly their backyard, and he took my 200 pesos out to go and get change. While I waited for my change, the little girl licked a thick smear of butter off a piece of toast, while staring at me with her gregarious smile.  My laundry smells so good, I am going to keep it hermetically sealed in the plastic bag. Me encanta a Mexico!

The laguna supposedly has crocodiles in it.

The laguna supposedly has crocodiles in it.


Halloween Henna!

Late October/early November Mexico weather is warm and stormy by day, which a friend suggested seems like a good name for a cocktail. Indeed, warm and stormy is an ideal combination. While most ducked beneath the shelter of their resorts' bars, I took advantage of deserted beaches, and let the warm rain fall down on me. With cloud cover, there is little need for sunscreen and my walk left me feeling elated and purified. Negatively charged ions anyone?

Killer henna stain, the warm and humid weather helps!

Killer henna stain, the warm and humid weather helps!

Yours truly sporting some jewelry made by my henna brother, Dan Rostin aka iliyakis

Yours truly sporting some jewelry made by my henna brother, Dan Rostin aka iliyakis

Along my walk I encountered this incredible Lesser Yellow Headed Vulture consuming a dead fish. It is all part of the cycle of life and death. Many people thing vultures are scary or gross, but this one was absolutely gorgeous with his rainbow colored head. Whoever named it "yellow head" clearly lacked imagination, or maybe they lacked color receptors. 

And of course the purpose of my journey  south of the border was to bring my art to a wedding. The bride had been experiencing the usual chaos that happens before a wedding, so getting to sit down for a few hours and receive the henna was hopefully very relaxing for her. Can you find her husband's name in her palms? 

Can you find her hubby's name?

Can you find her hubby's name?

Jewelry-style mehndi for the top of her already graceful hands.

Jewelry-style mehndi for the top of her already graceful hands.

Bold but elegant flowers for her feet.  

Bold but elegant flowers for her feet.

 

The bride and groom had the delightful idea of a Masquerade themed mehndi party due to their event falling on Halloween. Everyone looked so mysterious with their colorful Indian outfits, and ornate masks, especially the bride, but due to being mobbed for henna all night long I didn't even get to capture one snapshot. So you'll have to use your imagination! The bride's mehndi came out incredibly dark and I'm looking forward to seeing the wedding photos, taken by her best friend/photographer.  As much as I love doing henna, it is energetically pretty exhausting for me, so I decided to head south to visit my friends in Tulum. Before doing that, I had to snap one last shot of my feet, these feet that take me to amazing places, these feet that carry me home safely on a moonlit beach after work, these feet that have no sense of borders or limitations.

Walkabout.

Walkabout.

Once I arrived in Tulum, everyone was talking about Dia de Los Muertos. Supposedly, on these two days (November 1st and 2nd) the veil between worlds is so thin, that one can access their ancestors and those who have passed away before their time. Death is discussed almost casually here, and it's accepted that life, much like henna, is impermanent in some ways, but eternal in others. The maid at my friend's place nonchalantly told me she was building an altar in her home, for her son who died at age 3. He had fallen from a roof. It seems almost inconceivable to talk about a tragedy with such an easygoing tone, and it's something she will never ever forget, and yet, in that way, he lives on forever, as an angelito. Later that night my friend and her 5 year old son built an altar together, and a few others added things to it for our own friends and family who had passed through to the other side this year. It was a quiet evening, we had some wine, and talked in Spanish about relationships, our familias, our pets, and though it wasn't spoken, we were all so grateful to be alive and in that moment. The heart made of marigold petals was completed by a candle with a textured glass, which gave the heart rays beaming out. Life, and death, is good. 

Puro corazon, puro amor.

Puro corazon, puro amor.

Home is where the henna is.

I have been a bit quiet lately, I know. After living in the same apartment for 5 years, I unexpectedly had to move. Stability is something that is important to me, especially as a self-supporting artist, so it was a shock to have to move on such short notice. On the bright side, I now have a space almost twice as big, which is sunny, and has views of the Oakland hills. It's a fantastic spot for doing henna with all the natural light. But the truth is, wherever I have henna is home. Sometimes I'm based in a tiny thatched roof palapa in Mexico, and sometimes in my spacious live-work loft, but as long as I'm able to continue creating, I'm happy! Here are a few shots taken by the fabulous MandJPhoto, a dynamic husband-wife photographer team based in Cozumel. 

This was one of my more unusual Indian destination weddings, because it was a South Indian Christian wedding, so the bride didn't want a lot of mehndi, but mehndi was still important enough that she had me go all the way to Mexico to do it for her. Both families were incredibly respectful and polite, I don't think I had a single person say "just a little bit more". How refreshing!

The bride's simple mehndi, glorious colorful sari and precious metals. 

The bride's simple mehndi, glorious colorful sari and precious metals. 

Jewel tones are perfect for a destination wedding. Yummy!

Jewel tones are perfect for a destination wedding. Yummy!

At the mehndi party, I offer designs from my hand-painted design canvases with the latest trends and original patterns. Glitter adds a hit of bling! 

At the mehndi party, I offer designs from my hand-painted design canvases with the latest trends and original patterns. Glitter adds a hit of bling! 

Doing what I love, henna just makes me really happy and I often find myself smiling while working. 

Doing what I love, henna just makes me really happy and I often find myself smiling while working. 

The henna was starting to fade, but still obvious enough to make it into the Trash-the-Dress shoot in one of the Mayan Riviera's crystal clear cenotes! What fun!

The henna was starting to fade, but still obvious enough to make it into the Trash-the-Dress shoot in one of the Mayan Riviera's crystal clear cenotes! What fun!




Anatomy of a bridal mehndi

Sometimes people ask me if I get nervous having people watch me do henna. The truth is that I do get butterflies in my stomach before a big bridal henna. I know it's going to require me to concentrate, without stop, for 4-5 hours. I know I will probably forget to eat a snack during that time and get a bit grouchy, and I know the bride will probably start to get wiggly after about an hour or two and aunties will be checking in at the 3 hour point wondering if we're finished yet.  I know the lighting, the seating, the temperature - none of it will be perfect. Working on the patio under the Mexican sun can be delightful, but a sudden rain-shower can have me scrambling to protect the bride's henna! And last but not least, I might have to listen Om Shanti Om for the two hundredth time. 

But those butterflies are caused by none of the above. Even after 10 years of doing henna professionally, I still have a little excited anticipation before every bridal mehndi. The excitement of creating a new art piece is what does it! For me, the mehndi starts before I even enter the location of the event. I love drawing, so I may do a little warm-up at home or in my hotel room while burning some incense and listening to some good tunes. Here, I used the empty cardboard of a Ghiradelli Sea Salt and Caramel chocolate bar (good chocolate is hard to get in Mexico, so I bring my own). 

Warm up doodles.

Warm up doodles.

Brainstorming and loosening up helps ensure that when it is time to do the bride's mehndi, I am warmed up and have a concept ready to execute. The act of doing henna actually slows my heart-rate and causes a peaceful calm to wash over me.  Once I am at the location, I arrange my items so they are close at hand. All of these little rituals prepare me for a long day of work. 

Mehndi table styling.

Mehndi table styling.

Graphically bold lotuses, Krishna and Radha are just some of the features in this custom pattern.

Graphically bold lotuses, Krishna and Radha are just some of the features in this custom pattern.

Peacock feathers adorn the bride's fingertips.

Peacock feathers adorn the bride's fingertips.

Barefoot and loving it.

Barefoot and loving it.

And all that hard work pays off, the next day, the bride is free to mingle or pose for romantic pictures at her mehndi night! Here the bride and groom enjoy a picture perfect evening complete with cloudy castles in the sky. 

Picture perfect evening for a mehndi party, at Playacar Palace, Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Picture perfect evening for a mehndi party, at Playacar Palace, Playa del Carmen, Mexico


Body of work

A couple of days had passed since I did bridal mehndi in Cancun, and already I was getting antsy to do some more art. After all, there is only so much sunbathing on the beach one can do before getting a bit restless. Luckily, my friends at Utopia Tulum, the gorgeous yoga retreat I am staying at, were up for some artwork, as well as some of my "regulars" here in Mexico. They usually let me freestyle, so I get to be really creative and try out new ideas and styles. Also, check out the ring in the last photo. One of the girls staying here is an amazing jewelry designer who lives in Bali and creates gorgeous, nature inspired silver and semi-precious stone jewelry. I may or may not have acquired a couple of pieces for myself.  You'll notice the stain that my friend gets is pretty incredible. While her skin is fair and there is a lot of contrast because of that, she is able to get great color by being really diligent about avoiding water for the first 24 hours and using oil on it before getting it wet. 

Evening at Utopia Tulum is just magical!

Evening at Utopia Tulum is just magical!

King of the Palapa!

King of the Palapa!

Jewelry style mehndi

Jewelry style mehndi

Henna and technology

Henna and technology

Modern Moroccan henna

Modern Moroccan henna

Moroccan fusion mehndi

Moroccan fusion mehndi

Mehndi in Mexico

Mehndi in Mexico

Flower of life henna 

Flower of life henna