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So ... You Want a Tattoo?

So! You want a tattoo. An ink tattoo. That's a big step!

It's such a big step, you might want to call your local henna artist first.

A lot of customers come to me, tattoo design in hand, and ask me to replicate it in henna to see if they like the design on their body. Although some designs don't work well with henna, many of them do. There are also other temporary body art techniques that can replicate the look of an ink tattoo. If you want to test-drive that tattoo design you've had your eye on, you have some options.

Option 1: Henna

Line art (one color, no shading) is the easiest kind of design to reproduce with henna. Traditional henna designs are, essentially, line art. (You can do limited shading with henna, but it's nothing like what you can achieve with a needle.)

Keep in mind that natural henna is reddish brown, not black. (It should never be black: read THIS.) But if you don't mind the henna color, a henna version of your tattoo is a great way to test its look.

Option 2: Jagua

If you really want black, you have another option: jagua. People of the Amazon rainforest use this fruit to create deep blue-black designs on their bodies that look remarkably like old-school tattoo ink. (Take a look at these fine examples here.) Like with henna, you can't do significant shading with jagua, but a well-done jagua tattoo could fool most people.

It's applied in a similar way to henna: It starts out light then darkens down to its final blackish color, eventually wearing off as the skin cells renew. One note: Jagua is pricey and not always available, so ask your artist ahead of time if she has a supply source.

Option 3: Airbrush Tattoo Paint

For true black -- or any other color -- airbrush body paint is a great choice. In fact, makeup artists use airbrush paint to create faux tattoos on actors. It doesn't stain the skin but is waterproof and very durable. With care, airbrush ink designs can last up to a week.

Bold, blocky color also is achievable using body paints. Most henna artists could easily reproduce this type of tattoo design, especially with a transfer outline.

How to Help Your Artist Give You the Best Results

  • Send your artist pictures of the design you want and ask what is available to replicate the design: henna, jagua, airbrush paint or a combination of these techniques.
  • Tattoo replication is not the bread-and-butter of most henna artists, so be prepared to pay a little extra than her regular going rate.
  • Some henna artists will not do tattoo replication work because of a lack of experience or a commitment to the pure henna art form. Be gracious if she turns you down, but don't be shy about asking for references to other artists.
  • Be realistic if your design has a lot of color or complexity. Pinpoint shading and fine color gradients are difficult to achieve with paint and require incredible skill and time. You could wind up paying as much for your temporary tattoo as you would an ink tattoo! Consider a getting simplified version of your tat in henna, jagua or paint.

One final note: If you get that design done in henna or jagua (but not airbrush paint) and love it so much you're ready for the ink version, a tattooist can ink right over the stain!

So, if you're thinking about permanent body art but are not quite ready to commit to the expense, discomfort and healing time, try your local henna artist. If you don't like the design on your body, you've just saved yourself from living with a tattoo you hate, not to mention painful and expensive laser treatments. If you do like it and decide to make it permanent, you've spent a little bit more money, but you can be confident you will love your tattoo for years to come.

Amy Miller is a henna artist and the owner of Blue Lotus Mehndi in Birmingham, Alabama.

1 Comment to So ... You Want a Tattoo?:

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Becky Byrd on Monday, April 18, 2016 9:55 PM
Great info! Very informative... :)
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