Henna art captures watercolorist’s heart

By MELODY STONE, The Eureka Reporter
Published: Apr 25 2008, 1:02 AM
Category: Arts

Henna is the ancient art of temporary skin art. Ildiko Cziglenyi was a watercolor artist, and said she had always been interested in Middle Eastern cultures and dance. At one point, she shared a booth at an art fair with a henna artist, and the ancient art captured her heart.

“I did Middle Eastern dance for a while and through that I got more interested in the cultures that henna originates from,” said Cziglenyi. Cziglenyi said henna was used as far back as 7000 BCE, for fertility purposes. It was first found in Turkey, circulated around the trade routes there and eventually reached India.

In 2001, she attended an arts festival in Oregon where she tried to sell her prints and cards at a booth, but, she said, “no one was coming around to spend money on my art.” There was another henna artist there, and “he was amazing,” she said.

Right then and there, Cziglenyi decided to try it. She opened a packet of henna, prepared the natural plant dye and put up a sign that said, “Henna by donation.”

“That was my first experience doing henna, and I was able to pay my booth fee.”

After that, she dove into the study of the art. She became pregnant that summer and moved to Maui to have her baby. During her time there, she had a lot of time to practice henna. “I practiced a lot and it’s just flourished since then. I look at my art from way back and now, and it’s taken many turns for the better.”

In 2003, she moved back to Humboldt County with her daughter and started doing henna at craft fairs.

In 2004, she started teaching an introductory henna class at Center Activities though Humboldt State University.

In her research, she found www.hennapage.com, which she said was a wealth of information on the art and networking with other artists.

“I was so inspired. I was just grateful that this person put up this information for free.”

Through that Web site, she learned about a henna conference in Las Vegas that she attended in 006.

“It was absolutely inspiring. There were master henna artists from India, history classes, business classes, Celtic knot classes.”

Through those classes, she met people, made connections and was asked to teach Moroccan design classes at another henna conference in San Francisco. The next time she attended the Las Vegas henna conference, she went as a teacher. “I enjoy doing the research, and that’s what it took for me to present that material.”

Now she teaches classes locally, does private sessions, parties, bridal showers, pregnant bellies and just about anything else henna related. She even sells henna supplies.

“Half of the people that I do are pregnant mamas,” said Cziglenyi about her private sessions. “ I do henna belly blessings. It’s such a wonderful thing. I love doing them. It stains for about a week to two weeks. It’s a wonderful experience to have their belly adorned; they are only going to have that baby one time.”

Cziglenyi also does high school events. This year she is doing two safe and sober parties. She said she enjoys doing them because henna has been used for centuries to mark rites of passage. Even though the high school students think they are just getting a temporary tattoo, Cziglenyi knows otherwise.

Her rates vary depending on the event. Henna bellies are $50 an hour, with a one-hour minimum. She said it usually takes her about two hours to do a full belly design.

Cziglenyi did Simcha Mendle’s baby belly. “It was so fun, the setting was so nice,” Mendle said. “She was just so nurturing. It smells really good. She had me lay down and she did this beautiful design on my belly, and the whole time the baby was kicking around on the inside.” She said she went to a festival in Southern Humboldt two days after having her belly done and everyone complimented her on the henna design.

Alison Talbott has gotten henna designs from Cziglenyi twice. The first time was on her belly at her baby shower near the end of her pregnancy. Then she hosted a baby shower for a friend and had Cziglenyi come and do a little art on everyone and an elaborate piece for the pregnant mom.

“It’s a womanly tradition,” Talbott said. “It seemed like a good way to have the focus on the mom. It was a way to sit with friends and have a quiet adult time before the storm hit.”

Talbott said she finds it relaxing and loves the smell. “Ildiko is so nice and a great artist. She does it all freehand. It makes you wish it was permanent.”

“One thing I really liked about henna,” Cziglenyi said, “when I started, I was really attached to my art. Since doing henna I’ve become less attached my art. I really enjoy the temporariness of it.”

Cziglenyi’s next set of classes will take place Saturday and will include “Intro to Henna” (1-4 p.m., $35) and “Moroccan Designs” (4-6 p.m., $25), with materials provided. The fee for both classes is $50. To register for the classes or for more information about henna, phone Cziglenyi at 707-845-8210.

Henna styles as explained by henna artist and instructor Ildiko Cziglenyi

These are terms that Cziglenyi uses to describe the different styles of henna designs, which are defined by the culture in which they are used:

Indian Style: known for its curvy, very intricate, lacey coverage of the hands and feet. These designs comprise paisleys, flowers, leaves, vine-like shapes, dots, spirals, and a multitude of decorative flourishes and embellishments. Indian bridal designs may also include specific pictorial symbols such as a bride, groom, fish, peacocks and Hindu deities and symbols (religious symbols are only used on the hands, not on the feet). Sometimes the fingertips are completely covered, and traditionally, all the designs are the same on all the fingers.

Arabic Style: known for its asymmetry. These designs have a ribbon-like effect up one’s arm or foot. The designs are composed of very bold, thick lines used to shade or fill in shapes such as: flowers, ribbon-like bands, paisleys, spirals, dots, fan-shaped lines and abstract shapes. The patterns utilize more open space and each finger is usually slightly different. No animal or human depictions are ever used (in the Muslim religion, it is considered blasphemous to try to recreate what only God can create).

Indo-Arabic Style: known for its asymmetry and ribbon-like effect of the Arabic style, yet also incorporates Indian symbols, such as the peacock, and a variety of Indian fillers to embellish the shapes within the designs. This style utilizes the open spaces around the design, and the fingers are not always different. This style has become very popular in India due to the influence of Bollywood.

Gulf Style: refers to the Persian Gulf. There is very little known about this style outside of the culture itself. So whether or not this style is really definable as “Gulf Style,” it is called this by a handful of henna artists. Similar to the Arabic style, it is asymmetrical, utilizes the open spaces, and it does not use animal or human depictions. It comprises a variety of flowers, some bold, some very delicate, and a variety of fine wispy lines, shading, fan-like shapes and dots. They tend to look like small bouquets adjoined by lines, shapes or dots that link them together.

Moroccan Style: known for its intricate, geometrical patterns that cover or partially cover the hands and feet. There are a variety of symbols that are traditionally used to act as a means of protection, blessing and to promote fertility, such as flowers, date palms, and snake or fish bones. Because of its Berber origin, which predates Islam, some animal depictions are still used by artisans, but are well hidden within the lines, except for some symbols, which are representational, such as the human eye. The result is a very dynamic, energetic design that has a textile-like appearance.