I’m not sure what it is about kids and their urge to draw on themselves, but there seems to be some primal desire to do it. Smiley faces on the knees, a butterfly on the arm, intricate pirate treasure maps on the tummy (yikes, hide the Sharpies). So there’s skin-drawing, and there’s also temporary tattoos–put them together and you have a kid-pleasing green activity: Henna tattoos. I have a great book for parents called The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule (Trumpeter Books, 2008) that goes beyond basic arts and crafts and offers up some lovely activities that reach far beyond the confines of the proverbial “box.” Here what the author writes about Henna Art:
Henna is a traditional art of painting the body with paste made from the leaves of the henna plant. It has been used for nearly 5,000 years as an important element of many rituals and traditions. Today, many women are using henna as part of their birth blessings, and it is also gaining popularity as a decorative art for everyone. I particularly like henna as a way to mark a celebration of any kind–it’s a fun activity to do with others and just right for children.
A plant derivative, henna is non-toxic and safe for children, making it a wonderful art form to use as a family. Henna kits are readily available at your local natural foods store and at some craft supply stores, but it can be fun to make it yourself too. Keep in mind that it is relatively different each time you make it, depending on the henna and its consistency, the air temperature where you are, and so forth. You needn’t be afraid to experiment a bit to find the best henna mixture for your circumstances.
What You’ll Need
(All of these items can be found at your local natural foods store.)
Black tea (in a tea bag)
Eucalyptus essential oil
Approximately 1 cup henna powder
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
What to Do
1. Boil 2 inches of water in a saucepan. Take the pan off the heat and add the black teabag to infuse for several hours.
2. Add a few drops of eucalyptus oil and allow to infuse overnight.
3. Heat the mixture to a warm temperature, then slowly add it to a bowl of henna powder and ground cloves, stirring with a wooden spoon. You may not need to use all of the water. You want a thin paste, almost the consistency of yogurt.
4. Add lemon juice, then add more of the water mixture until it resembles the consistency of toothpaste.
5. Transfer the paste to a plastic bag, in which it can be stored for us to two days. Leftover paste can be frozen, though I’ve had mixed results in doing that.
Applying the Henna
There are a variety of application methods to choose from. Application bottles are available at craft supply stores, but a more available method is with an icing bag fitted with a very small metal decorating tip. If that isn’t available, you can make your own with a strong freezer bag by cutting a very small tip off one of the corners and being sure that the henna is sealed in at the top. You’ll squeeze the henna out the small tip just as you would frosting. You can also use the tip of a paintbrush to paint the paste on, but there is much less control, meaning the lines will be thicker. Once you have the henna prepared and in an applicator of some kind, it can be applied to the body as follows:
1. Wash the surface of the skin to be painted, making sure that all dirt, lotions, and oils are removed.
2. Apply a tiny amount of eucalyptus oil to the area. This will hold the art longer.
3. Using whatever method of application you’ve chosen, apply the henna to the skin.
4. The henna will dry partially in a short period of time, but try not to touch it much until it is fully dry, which can be up to a half-hour. The henna paste will fall off on its own, leaving the paint behind on your skin.
5. Once it is completely dry, after about 4 hours, the rest of the paste can be brushed off, and the skin can be washed.
6. Depending on the strength of your henna, the art can last anywhere from days to weeks. To hold the color longer, use care when washing the area, putting lotion over it when bathing or getting it wet. On the other hand, if you would like to remove the henna sooner, wash it often.