One hundred years ago, most henna designs were simply a large dot in the palm and darkened fingertips. Maybe a few extra dots around the edge of the big dot. The more extravagant mehndi patterns were applied with a stick or a small piece of wire to get detail in the designs, but this technique was time-intensive. It is possible that the use of the cone by Indian mehndi artists began with the introduction of the plastic milk bag. Squeezing henna paste through a small hole is far more efficient than dabbing it on bit by bit! Regardless of what actually happened, mehndi patterns have been elevated to a high artform in terms of levels of detail and coverage. Once, mehndi could be used in place of jewelry for a bride coming from a poor family, today, a fabulous mehndi pattern is a sign of prosperity and it's not uncommon for Bollywood celebs or wealthy families to fly in the very best artists from Mumbai, Gujarat, or even the UK.
Over the last couple of years I started getting more requests for henna designs that include bride and groom faces, and then last year the requests started to come in for more figurative work, not just faces, but whole figures with fancy outfits and accessories. What a fun challenge! In India, for some time now, it has been popular to have whole wedding scenes done in henna - the baraat, dancers, bride and groom, even animals. While impressive, sometimes the designs are so dense that they look chaotic (not unlike an Indian wedding I suppose!). But Harin Dalal and some of his students, like Neha Engineer, have begun doing figures in a more realistic style, and leaving a little bit of breathing room so the designs are more artistic and restrained. As I fine artist, I love this trend!
I decided to try out a couple of patterns this week and I'm really pleased with the overall effect. I feel a little white space really lets the figures come to life instead of being lost in frilly dense patterns. What do you think?