Know everything (or almost everything) about henna thanks to Sumayah!

Henna tattoos are mesmerizing. Do they have a symbolic meaning? Could they be dangerous? Are they cultural? Sumayah tells us everything! She is a 20-year-old talented henna artist from Sydney, Australia. Her passion started when she was only 15 years old. It’s only been a couple of years since she’s decided to turn it into a small business. That’s not all though, she is also studying to become a primary school teacher. However, she said that “henna will always be my part-time job. I feel like henna has become a part of who I am.

When did you start?

I started doing henna when I was 15, so it’s been 5 years of doing it. I started when my dad went to India and when he came back he brought me henna. It was obviously store bought henna but back then I didn’t know the difference between chemical and natural henna. Since then I have always been doing henna and I’ve learned so much over the years.

 
 
 
 
 
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Do you have a favorite pattern? A tattoo that you were very proud of?

I love to do all kinds and styles of henna designs. I am very good at replicating other artists work so I guess that is what I am good and known for. But I would have to say that I love to do mandala designs and the more Indian based henna designs are what I prefer to do. I am very proud of my Polynesian designs recently and my bridal hennas designs which go all the way up to the elbows.

How long does it take on average to make a henna tattoo and what is the longest time that you’ve spent on a tattoo?

A simple henna design, for example, the hand, from fingerprint to wrist can take 5 minutes. When I do party’s I usually spend 5 to 10 minutes doing a henna design for a person. The amount of time it takes to do a henna design depends on your experience and practice. When I first started I was very slow and I’m sure a simple design would have taken me half an hour or even more to do.

Some henna designs are very time-consuming. Especially if they are large and have a lot of details, like the Polynesian henna design I did on the guys forearm, which wrapped around (the arm). It took me 2 hours to do with no breaks. Bridal hennas take very long because most Indian brides get their henna done on their hands till elbows, both sides and their feet till knees. My first ever bridal was the longest and took me 6 hours. The longest I’ve done henna for, with no breaks, has been 8 hours, I spent 4 hours on the bride and 4 hours on the guest, about 40 girls.

 
 
 
 
 
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You’ve mentioned that you’re a self-taught henna artist, where did you learn? Where does your inspiration come from?

Yes, I am self-taught so when I started I would look at a henna design and try to copy it as best as I can, and I continued to do that. I started following a number of famous henna artist and I would learn from them. Most henna artist will share their tips about henna on their Facebook and Instagram.

 
 
 
 
 
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How would you advise anyone making their first step into the art of henna tattooing?

I would advise them to watch other henna artists who make their own henna paste and learn from them. Watch how henna artists use the cone to make designs because there are techniques to holding the cone and drawing lines for example. Just watch, read and practice. If your starting, I suggest find a henna artist who makes and sells their own cones then use those cones until you learn to make your own and never give up. @hennaoasis is who I buy my supplies from, but there are heaps of henna artist around the world and some even host workshops on how to make henna and how to design patterns, eg: @syraskins @thehennarealm @alisaparveen @ritualbydeisgn just to mention a few.

I’ve always wondered, does henna have a particular meaning or is it just for beauty?

Some designs do have meanings and it depends on your culture and beliefs. For me when I do henna designs it’s just for beauty but when I do it for brides and for people celebrating a festival, henna means something to them. Some designs that I do are sometimes religious symbols which people request.

Note: Definitely one of my favorite!

I’ve seen that you’ve done henna for many weddings and they’re often from different cultures, do you adapt your art to the culture of the family?

Yes, I ask my clients what they want and I do whatever they like. I show them different henna styles and designs. Eg: Indian, Arab henna designs, Moroccan, Polynesian, floral.

There are so many different designs and styles. With henna you can draw and create anything. Henna artist makes up different designs all the time. Each person has their own unique style.

You’ve probably been in the organization of many people’s “big day” and worked within families. Was it hard for you to find your feet and do (or did) you ever feel under pressure?

Yes definitely, at first I use to be very nervous. I would go red in the face when I first started the henna and my hand would shake a lot. Especially when there were so many people. However, over time when I gained more experience, I got faster and my technique improved. I became more confident and I wasn’t worried or nervous anymore. Like now I can do henna whenever and for whoever. I don’t shake at all and I always get told that I have such a steady hand (hahahaha) even though that was not the case at first. It just takes a lot of practice.

 
 
 
 
 
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I’ve seen that you make the henna yourself, why? Do you have secret ingredients which make it perfect? Would you still recommend any industrial powder?  

I make my own henna because it is the best way to know that there are no chemicals in the paste and that it is 100% natural. Also making your own henna is fresh and gives the best results. No, making henna is no secret at all. I use henna caravans henna recipe. Most henna artists that make their own henna share their recipes so that their clients can trust that it is natural.

I know of people who have had bad experiences with henna, in particular with “street henna” made by random women sitting in the streets. What do you think about it?

Yes, it is so terrible how people have bad experiences with henna and that is because what they get is not real henna. Anything bought in a store and if the henna cone is sitting on a shelf you can know 100% that it is not natural and has chemicals to keep it going. Natural henna has to be kept in the freezer and can only stay at room temperature for three days before it loses it staining power. Another way to tell if henna is not natural is if the henna stains the skin dark straight away and chemical henna usual has a bad smell.

Natural henna takes 24 hours for the stain to develop, when the paste is removed it is orange and then the next day it becomes a beautiful reddish brown stain. Natural henna has 100% natural henna powder, lemon juice or water, pure essential oils and sugar in it. Any natural henna paste should have these main ingredients in them. Always make sure the henna artist you go to makes their own henna or gets it from someone who makes it themselves and doesn’t be shy to ask them what is in it.

 
 
 
 
 
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I definitely can’t wrap up this article without mentioning that Sheng Jade was tattooed by Sumayah too! Go readSheng Jade’s revert story’ if you haven’t already and tell us about your henna experiences!

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