Meet Jen Schafer, an Internationally Certified Natural Henna Artist. She began practicing henna six years ago and currently runs her own business, Body Art by Jen, offering henna services for events, parties, festivals, and fundraisers, as well as teaching classes and workshops on henna application. Check out the interview with Jen to learn more about henna.
Interview with Jen Schafer of Body Art by Jen
Talk About Yourself and Your Company.
I'm 30 years old with two kids. We homeschool, so running a business out of my home is especially practical. I'm from Toledo, Ohio, but I recently moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana in order for my husband to pursue his career. I like to paint, draw, read, sew and garden.I run Body Art by Jen on my own with some assistance from my best friend Danya Miller. I do occasionally enlist the help of other friends or high school art students when I work larger events. My goal for the business is to provide safe and natural henna body art and offer completely natural and vegan-friendly beauty products. I pride myself on my availability to my customers and clients or anyone interested in henna as well as fast and accurate shipping of our products.
What Is Henna? Is There More Than One Type of Henna?
The word henna and its various other translations (mehndi, mehandi, heena) refer to the plant, the paste and the art. The henna plant grows in the desert regions of Northern Africa, India and the Middle East. A paste is mixed from the dried and ground leaves by adding lemon juice, sugar and essential oils. Women (and men, to a lesser degree) have been wearing art created from such paste to celebrate holidays, wedding, and many other happy occasions for thousands of years.
Cassia Obovata is often called neutral henna, but it's really henna. It does condition hair like henna, but it does not color it. Lawsonia Inermis, the latin name for henna, is the only true and natural henna, but its properties do vary by region. Henna grown in Morocco and Yemen, for example, tend to have a stringier consistency. Other qualities depend on weather conditions. This year Yemen had significant sandstorms and the spring henna crop was full of sand!
Black skin dyes are sometimes marketed as henna, but they are not! They are actually "PPD" or other related chemicals that are used in hair dye. They can be very damaging when applied intentionally and directly on skin. Do not use anything called "black henna". People who sell this poison will often say that the black dye comes from the roots, bark or a different type of henna plant. This is absolutely untrue. Henna plants only make a dye that ranges in color from orange/browns to burgundy/reds, and the dye is only in the leaves!
How Is Henna Applied?
There are a great number of ways to apply henna. Most consist of using some type of squeezable tube or bottle. My favorite is a cone rolled out of a triangle of cellophane. The henna paste is squeezed out onto the skin, much like decorating a cake, to create the design. The henna dries and is left on the skin for 4-12 hours. During this time, the dye in the henna is absorbed into the dead surface cells of the skin. When the paste is removed, the stain is orange. Exposure to air over the next day or two will develop the color. The design slowly fades over the next few weeks as those surface cells exfoliate. Other methods of application include syringes (without a needle,) paint brush, dabbing with a tiny stick and others.
How Did You Become Interested in Working With Henna?
I was first exposed to the art while working in the children's department at a public library. We were offering a henna program to our teens, and it piqued my interest. Later, long after the program, I stumbled on to the The Henna Page. It wasn't nearly the vast sea of information it has become, but it was the most reading material on the subject I'd ever seen in one place. After reading about the culture and history of henna, all the different techniques and recipes, and seeing photos of amazing henna, I was hooked!
How Long Have You Been Creating Henna Designs?
I began learning about henna about seven years ago, but I didn't actually pick up a cone for another year after that. I started Body Art by Jen after I'd had about three years under my belt.
What Is ICNHA Certification, and How Did You Get It?
ICNHA stands for International Certification of Natural Henna Artist. It is a voluntary certification aimed at setting a professional standard for henna artists. It is not required in any way, but it does insure customers and clients that artists have proven their knowledge in the field and do not use any sort of PPD or other poison in their art. The exam includes multiple choice questions on health factors, methods, culture and more. Artists are also asked to give their recipe (to ensure it is natural and safe) and methods and submit some photos of their art. The test is offered online and at the Annual Las Vegas Henna & Body Art Conference.
What Kinds of Services Does Your Company Offer?
We do all kinds of events, parties, festival, fundraiser, presentations, classes, workshops and whatever else! Aside form henna, we also do indigo and glitter body art, but there hasn't been much demand for it yet. I import henna from India, Pakistan, Yemeni and soon Morocco. It's offered for sale at our website along with essential oils, henna tools, natural bath products and more. I plan to offer a line of natural cosmetics soon as well.
What Are the Most Popular Henna Designs You Do for Customers?
Many of my clients are teenage girls. As teenage girls love to shock, they go for things that look "tattoo-ish" like tribal designs and kanji symbols. The next most common thing, and much more fun, is simple hand designs like vines and swirls that stretch from the wrist and go up a finger or two.
What Is Your Favorite Henna Design That You've Done?
I love it when clients say things like "Oh, just do something flowery" and let me wing it rather than working from a pre-selected design. That is my favorite way to work. I began free-handing fairly early in my henna career, and it's by no means perfect, but it was just so much fun to do! The only instruction I had was the my client liked butterflies and Greek architecture. It was the first time I was offered such a large piece of skin to decorate almost entirely at my own discretion.
Is There Anything Else You'd Like to Share?
I am especially interested in the arts and culture of women. I think that the struggle for equal rights and opportunities among men has been so consuming that women have begun to leave such traditions aside. As the glass ceiling begins to dissolve, we should refocus our energy on what makes us special rather than equal. Teach your daughter to knit!I've just begun to offer a free newsletter that will come out about twice a month. It will have tips, designs, cultural articles, recipes and much more. Anyone interested in subscribing can send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Newsletter" in the subject.
LTK would like to thank Jen Schafer for sharing her passion for henna body art.