The Development of Becoming Moonlight.

photo of one of the original uses of medical adhesive with glitter as body art

From the time that Catherine Cartwright-Jones PhD began managing, she has focused on innovating safe new techniques for henna artists, as well as providing the history, science, and traditions of henna.

Catherine wrote the ‘how to’ beginning in 2003. She then added sections for incorporating glitter and new materials to henna art in 2004 and 2005. The image at the left was from the original Hennapage 2005 tutorial using medical adhesive with and glitter to create a ‘golden henna’.

article cover featuring henna styled body art

In 2004, Dipti Desai contacted to produce articles and book on Gujarati henna, featuring the colorful variants on henna that were popular in India at that time. These were done to emulate the embroidery on dupatta and saris.

To publish her work, Catherine Cartwright-Jones began working on formulating gilding techniques that would be made from skin-safe ingredients available in the west.

Henna has limitations. Henna’s natural color range is narrow. Henna has to stay in contact with skin, undistrubed, for a long period of time to produce a good stain. These factors made henna a poor fit for consumer consumption in a global economy.

People love color, sparkle, and convenience. If henna is a benefit to women world-wide working in informal economies, artists will attempt to adapt to the marketplace. The most unfortunate effects of this has been the addition of para-phenylenediamine to henna to create ‘black henna’, causing over a million injuries since ‘black henna’ first became fashionable. The addition of benzene to henna to create faster, darker color has caused an epidemic of adult leukemia in the Arabian Peninnsula.

in progress photo of artist using becoming moonlight body gilding
Robin Jaeckel experimenting with the early development of Becoming Moonlight® gilding paste techniques.

HennaPage worked on developing safer alternatives to help henna artists serve their clients who wanted a wide color range, familiar application, non-traditional skin placement, a high level of safety, accessible, safe … and if possible, approved by the FDA and manufactured with clinical safeguards. Medical adhesive turned out to be one of the best options.

Every year, a work crew of artists were invited to produce the HennaPage calendar, and every year, they were encouraged to ‘push the envelope’ with innovative techniques. Each work project had a theme, usually involving solving a technical challenge for henna artists. In 2012, the hennapage calendar artists met to work on dark skinned people, with the ideal of getting the best henna results on dark skin.

finished Becoming Moonlight design in the style of 'gold henna'
Early experimental work by Deb Brommer with Becoming Moonlight® gilding paste.

Olena Wilshanetsky had been experimenting with medical adhesive so it would be easier to work with than the less-than-ideal Pros-Aide products that we had previously been using. She brought her mixtures to the hennapage calendar work week, and the artists fell in love with it! Because this improved medical adhesive was introduced into a collaborative effort, each artist tried different approaches, and bounced ideas off each other, advancing the experimentation and getting results more quickly.

During the HennaPage calendar experimentations with ‘white henna’ in 2012, the head of the KSU African Studies department and the organizer of a women’s economic development groups in Nigeria visited with us.  We talked about the potential for ways to introduce this to women’s economic development cooperatives in Africa where ‘black henna’ made with para-phenylenediamine has been injuring women for decades. Becoming Moonlight gilding paste, ‘white henna’ could be helpful in helping women in Africa, or anywhere in the world, have an independent income without harming their own, or their client’s health with para-phenylenediamine.  We hope that sometime in the future, this will happen.

finished becoming moonlight design depicting 'silver henna'
Becoming Moonlight® gilding paste
‘white henna’ in silver by Penni AlZayer

Becoming Moonlight gilding paste was chemically too complex to mix in small batches.  Dianna Savick, HennaPage operations manager, contacted the originating chemist, showed him the photographs of the artwork produced for the HennaPage 2013 calendar, and he was delighted that his invention could be used for something so beautiful.  

We asked the chemist if he could develop a new body adhesive more suited to henna artists’ needs.  He did so!  His new mix was closer in thickness to what henna artists were familiar with, and it didn’t go flat and transparent when it dried.  That made it possible for henna artists to keep track of more complex work as it progressed over the body.

Then, HennaPage/ developed a line of coordinating artists’ materials.

Soon after the calendar work was completed in the 2012, Penni AlZayer illustrated, and TapDancing Lizard published “Enlaced,” the most influential book showing white henna: over 2500 copies have been downloaded in the first two years of publication.  People especially loved the cover with Penni’s work in Becoming Moonlight on a young woman’s arm … and they understood the work as ‘White Henna’.

We refer to Becoming Moonlight as ‘White Henna’, because of the thousands of people who have seen this work on HennaPage call us, they ask for ‘white henna’ … that’s how they understand it!

 If they love it, and it’s safe and beautiful, who are we to argue about what to call it?  

If you are a henna artist, HennaPage recommends that you add Becoming Moonlight ‘white henna’ to your repertoire, and that you go ahead and call it ‘white henna’ if that’s what your clients assumed it was when they saw a picture of it.  

If somebody comes to you and asks if you have ‘white henna’ say, “Yes, absolutely!”  You can explain that it’s not henna while you’re doing beautiful artwork on them, and that’s OK … because every time someone asks for ‘white henna’ henna artists win a little bit against ‘black henna.’

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