Leah K. Khalil is a high school senior making rounds online for turning the art of henna into imaginative and original drawings. Straying from the norm of shapes and flowers, Leah creates inventive designs relying both on her imagination and her interests. The young artist grew up in Kuwait and is in her last year at Lycée Français de Koweït, a local French high school. We reached out to her to learn more about her intriguing hobby, and find out what inspired her to take a well-known practice and turn it into art that transcends traditional expectations.
When did your passion for henna emerge?
I have always had a passion to draw on my hands, and I was looking for a way to make it more permanent. The moment I had access to a tube of henna, I started experimenting and drawing. My sister and I tried henna tattoos in salons in Kuwait, but it always had a traditional twist to the end result. And they never could replicate a complicated design. The henna tube was the magic wand to do my own thing and experiment on designs.
Why choose henna over permanent body art?
The henna gives me tattoos without being totally and permanently committed to them, or having to live with them for the rest of my life. I have a fascination for body art, and using one’s skin as a canvas but I am nowhere old enough to get a tattoo. I use the henna to get a version of a tattoo!
What other interests do you have beside henna?
I like to work with my hands; most of my hobbies involve working with my hands. I am easily bored and constantly need to do something more, whether that be writing poetry, drawing henna, crocheting, or folding origami. It’s the ability to create something out of simple stuff. Transformation is what interests me really.
Who are some of the people who inspire you?
Famous tattoo artists are those I look up, to see their latest designs. And I also look at art around me to be inspired for the next stunt. Writers such as A.A. Milne, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Allen Poe also inspire me a lot, as do many books, quotes, and sayings. Words can strongly influence the creative aspects of my drawings.
How do you come up with non-traditional henna designs?
Most of my henna art is inspired from permanent tattoos found online, but there’s a lot of improvisation that happens when I have the tube in my hand and I concentrate on an arm or a back. Because it has a non-permanent feel to the henna tattoo, I look for what could be pretty or to express an idea.
What are the motivators behind your creative projects?
My main motivator is aesthetics. I look for beauty, to put beauty on the skin. We have on our hand a very complex machine: the body, and I try to embellish it. It’s about reflecting some expression and emotions. The henna is tailored to the person it’s done on. I highlight the beauty first and make an elegant, delicate, attractive drawing. It has to be pleasing to my eye; otherwise I can’t feel I have achieved much.
What are some of the challenges that arise with henna artwork?
That’s a good question! The biggest challenge is doing something and realizing that it doesn’t look good, getting disappointed by the end result. The other challenge is finding the material: finding good quality henna with the least chemicals possible. Sometimes it could be an idea that’s too complicated to draw.
What henna piece are you most proud of?
I am proud of a few ones I made, because I put so much effort and time in it. It’s an ephemeral art and it will disappear. So it’s more about the next drawing I’ll make rather than the one that is washed away with time.
We were amazed to discover that the talented henna artist was skilled in many other hobbies, and was able to demonstrate a strong grasp of art and wisdom at such a young age. From origami to poetry to crocheting, Leah’s online photo albums are littered with samples of her original transformative art. The young student will hopefully be graduating this year, and plans on continuing to share her love of unique henna and endless creative abilities with the world.
If you’d like to see more of Leah’s creative henna artwork, ask for a custom drawing, or learn about her other hobbies, look her up on Instagram @leahkkhalil.