One of the main focuses of my own henna work is re-creating older traditional style designs. But what is that process like? Take a spin with me through my interpretation of a design…
The postcard in question
The multitalented Noam Sienna emailed me recently with a link to a French Moroccan postcard he had found which shows some really nice old style henna. We’re not sure what the year on this is, but it’s definitely pre-syringe work, which puts it in the 1970’s or earlier, probably no earlier than the 1950’s. This work was done the old way with a stick, dipped into the henna paste and then used to drape the lines of these great bold designs. It also shows some interesting design features, mainly the symmetry of the design on the hand on the left- those types of designs are not seen any more in Morocco.
What I really love is the design on the palm though- the composition there really speaks to me. So, I set out to create my own interpretation of that design on my own hand. The result:
You can see that it has changed quite a bit from the original, but I think it still retains the same style and overall effect. Here’s how I go about doing this type of thing…:
First, I take a good long look at the original and establish two things. One, what are some of the elements of the use of space and layout that make the design do what it does on the hand? And two, as far as motifs, what type of style is the original design and what can I do to emulate that style? There are also other little details, like what kind of hand did the artist have? Are the lines very smooth and strong, or are they thinner and wispy? Are the shapes very even, or more irregular? Is there any line variation in the design? There are probably hundreds of little assessments you can make of a design like this that will help you to re-create something that carries its essence.
So for me, when looking at the original, the two most important parts of the design are that band of triangles across the palm and the double line which starts at the base of the thumb and presumably runs around the outline of the heel of the hand. Those are the two elements that I decided must be present in my re-creation.
Stylistically, the lines are wide and far apart but drawn very confidently, without any shakiness or hesitation. I chose to use a very heavy line in my interpretation to get this feeling across.
As far as the design itself, you can see that it’s a lot different from the original- I took some liberties. For one, the fingers are patterned and not solid. Though I adore that solid look, henna artists will know that this kind of thing doesn’t wear very well, and in a couple of weeks I’d have very splotchy fingers. So I went with patterns instead, which were partially drawn from the other hand on the postcard.
The rest of the fill is slightly more intricate as well, because I didn’t use quite as thick a line as in the original. When I needed inspiration for what types of fillers to use, I tried to look just at these two hands and use the shapes that this artist had used originally. I’ve recombined them, but within the same basic structure as the original design, laid out mainly by the band across the palm and the double line border.
The row of peaks around the outside was improvised by me because it’s impossible to see where the design actually ends- this was one of a few different ways I could envision this design being tied off based on where it falls out of view in the original photo.
This is the process I typically go through when doing a re-creation like this one. Summed up: 1) Visual assessment for style and important elements. 2) Creation of the main building blocks of the design, and fill in areas that are easy to interpret. 3) Improvisation of any areas that can’t be seen in the original, using the observations I’ve made to guide stylistic choices. Try it the next time you want to take on something like this!
Another view, with a yellow talhakimt pendant