An inability to settle on a major at K-State led Ann Warren to a life as an artist working with canvas, ceramics and skin.
Her interests in history, anthropology and fine arts blossomed into a business doing henna body art. Veronica’s Veil has grown into a full-time business bringing art to the skin of hundreds of people a year.
Henna is a natural dye often used to create designs on the skin that last about two weeks.
Warren’s work provides a little something familiar for K-State students from Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan and India.
“It’s kind of nice to have a taste of home when you are in a place that the language is not even remotely the same, the food is very different, the music is very different the comforts are very different,” Warren said.
Other people of Norse or Irish backgrounds come to her and want symbols of those cultures in henna.
“I’m working in signs and symbols that have meaning for people,” Warren said. “If I get asked about signs or symbols I’m not familiar with I get to a chance to learn something thing new, which is exciting.”
For some, getting henna work is cultural; for others it is just a decoration to show off their body.
“It’s kind of like getting dressed up for a party or a celebration. It’s an extra layer of makeup or jewelry,” she said.
Warren has taken her artistic skills to the Kansas City Renaissance Fair, County Stampede, Purple Power Play and farmer’s markets. Customers also book birthday and bachelorette parties in their homes. Warren does baby showers where she paints the bellies of mothers-to-be.
She tears up as she talks about her latest passion, henna crowns.
These intricate henna patterns, which resemble veils draped over the top of the head, are for cancer patients who have lost their hair during chemotherapy.
“If they don’t like the way they look or how they feel, this can help to uplift them,” she said. “If you feel good about how you look, sometimes you feel good on the inside too.”
Donations help to provide this as a free service to offset the cost of supplies.
People kicking around the idea of getting a tattoo come to her with their ideas to test out the design and location in henna.
“About 50 percent of people who come by and get it done decide to get the tattoo,” she said.
That means half of the people are changing their minds; henna allows them to avoid the cost of removal or cover up of more permanent body art.
Everything in Warren’s henna kits is edible, and she tests each batch for consistency and staining power on herself.
She mixes henna powder with lemon juice and black tea until it reaches the consistency of mashed potatoes. The mixture sits for 12 hours, and then she adds lavender essential oil and the mixture sits for another 12 hours. The last step is adding some sugar to help keep the mixture stringy and nice to work with. Sugar also helps keep the henna moist so it doesn’t crack and fall off as quickly for better staying power and a darker result on the skin.
The end result is a paste with the consistency of toothpaste that smells like a pleasant combination of lavender and lemon. The mixture is put into a triangle-shaped cone, and the tip of the cone is snipped off much like a bag of frosting for icing a cake.
“Everything is freehand,” she said. “People can bring me anything, and i just draw it on.”
In addition to the brown-toned henna, Warren uses jagua, a South American fruit, which is ground into a powder and produces an indigo blue stain. Warren said jagua is nice to couple with henna because it adds dimension.
“On darker complexions the brown henna might not stand out, but the jagua comes out a beautiful black.”
She is planning on getting licensed to be allowed to draw K-State Powercats in henna this fall. But she won’t be able to use juaga because the licensing stipulates the logo may not be done in blue or red.
She warns people about using something called “black henna.” Warren said that stuff isn’t henna at all, it is basically undiluted black hair dye. Having contact with this dye can cause painful swelling and blistering of the skin.
“You don’t know how it is going to react until it is on you and sometimes you might not have a reaction for maybe for weeks afterward.”
Warren makes and sells henna kits at On the Wildside and People’s Grocery for those wanting to try their hand at the art. Mixing the henna and doing your own artwork can take up to two days.
“The whole process in an exercise in patience,” she said.