You see them at festivals, concerts, and maybe you’ve even been lucky enough to attend an Indian wedding and participate in the Mehendi Party: henna artists do incredible artwork that you get to enjoy seeing for up to several weeks, before fading away and revealing a fresh canvas for their next design. But have you ever gotten to actually hang out with a henna artist??
When I was looking to book a henna artist for an upcoming styled shoot (stay tuned!), I quickly found that JessiKay is THE one to know, the Kat Von D of henna, if you will, recommended by just about everyone. She is so down to earth and I learned SO MUCH about this line of work that I never would have known if I just went to Forecastle and got a small design on my hand.
First and foremost, JessiKay is a badass business babe! She’s had help along the way, but what started out as a gifted henna kit from an aunt ended up becoming a full-time career for her, one that allows her the flexibility of choosing which events she wants to do, like traveling to attend and work amazing music festivals, even going to faraway places like Mexico and find out that her art was recognized by some of the big names in the henna art industry. But she wants beginner artists to know that this type of success doesn’t happen overnight – she showed me a side by side of her first year doing henna, compared to each successive year, and the growth was unbelievable! She also invested in herself, attending workshops to learn different techniques, doing a lot of DIY education online, and finding a community of other artists to help her grow in her art.
Just a few years later, she now makes her own design books that other henna artists can purchase and use for their own events. Another interesting story she told me was about her signature style – to the average Johanna (aka me), traditional henna designs may seem very similar to one another, or at least feature similar patterns. I was so wrong! There are so many distinctive combinations of patterns, shading, symmetry that have to be mastered and applied to create the designs, and each artist has a unique way of doing things. She has, unfortunately, had the misfortune of having people trying to pass off her designs as their own on social media. It can be so difficult to copyright and protect original ideas now, especially when a picture gets shared and reshared and you lose the original post.
JessiKay’s trademark is her diamond – you’ll see it on all her henna designs, as well as in the books she sells where the designs are all her own. This is how she protects her designs, but she is also happy to let other artists use her designs, as long as they don’t steal her trademark or try to pass it off as their own. She also does lessons and classes for people who want to learn how to do henna!
JessiKay also knows her product. Have you ever bought henna online? I have. Or thought about what’s in the henna being used on you at festivals? I had not. JessiKay told me the risks of purchased henna kits and how, first of all, they contain preservatives that many people could be allergic to, or develop an allergy to over time (so, maybe not the first time you get henna done, but the fourth or fifth time it could). Additionally, the henna could be clumpy if you buy it at a store, leading to frustration and a splotchy design. She encourages people getting henna done to know what is in the product being applied to their skin, and she also advocates for henna artists to make their own product (or buy hers, made fresh to order!). She learned to make her own henna and says it is so smooth, easy to use, and gives her the confidence of knowing that no one will have a reaction to it.
The henna circuit in Louisville is not very big, but JessiKay says the other artists usually try not to step on each others’ toes and value #communityovercompetition. She says if one of them is thinking about working Flea Off Market, they will make sure no one else is booked for that week, and others return the favor. There is definitely enough work to go around, and since JessiKay travels often for her work, she sees no need to be cutthroat with anyone.
Here are some more things you never thought to ask a henna artist, but things I’m sure JessiKay would want you to know:
GOOD HENNA TAKES TIME
If you’ve gotten henna at a festival, chances are you’ve gotten a small, quick design that took under 10 minutes and cost maybe $10. Obviously, an artist can’t sit there all day with a line and work on one huge, intricate design for you. But REAL, traditional henna (we’re talking Indian wedding bridal henna) can take up to 4 hours to complete! If you’ve ever seen this type of design, which includes the palms, hands, forearms, feet, and ankles, you will be amazed that it ONLY took 4 hours. JessiKay says the longest continuous time she’s done henna (including bridal + bridal party) is 8 hours, and she has worked events that are 10 hours as well.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR
JessiKay has been training and practicing her art for many years, so when you inquire for prices, don’t expect it to be a $10 design for a bridal look. If you end up paying less than $75/hr., the quality you get will probably be inferior. If this is a wedding, think about the following things:
- Your wedding is one of the most important days of your life
- It will be photographed and shared
- The henna will also be on your skin for several weeks – do you want a poorly done design on your skin for that long?
FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T ASK FOR A DISCOUNT
This ties in to the previous point, and one that also would be nice for people to consider when working with other self-employed vendors, like photographers, florists, HMUA, planners, etc.: You would never ask a wedding venue for a discount, and it’s literally just a space they’re providing. However, when it comes to other small businesses that involve actual time, service, care for the customer, coordinating, editing, arranging, staying-still-for-4-hours to do your symmetrical and perfect henna without messing up, people expect a discount. If it’s not in your budget, then you may want to reconsider if you really NEED the service; if the answer is yes, then ask if you can set up a payment plan, but please remember that many businesses like these are run by real people who have real bills to pay and this is their livelihood. People asking for discounts is probably due to a lack of knowledge about how much services cost, so it can be helpful to research and see what median prices are for the service in your area to avoid making an awkward impression by asking someone if they can charge next to nothing for several hours of work.
Whether you see JessiKay at a festival, at a party or wedding, or see her signature diamond online, know you’ve chosen the best and that your hands are in the best hands.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the next vendor feature of makeup artist Lindsey Joy Sweeney of Sweet Southern Beauty, and more photos from our styled shoot!
Johanna Elise, Frames & Letters Photography