By Heather Graves
DE PERE – Joy St. Pierre didn’t know when she made the decision to quit her office job to start doing henna, she would continue to use it 13 years later.“I used to hate working in a cube under fluorescent lights, but now I have a 10×10 cube outside with a breeze,” St. Pierre said. “I worked in insurance and I spent 10 years in the tax office before arriving at henna. I remember thinking, “I just need to get out of here and do some henna. I didn’t realize that that statement I made 13 years ago started the ball rolling in my awesome life that I have now. St. Pierre said she did henna for a few years before officially launching Joyful Henna Designs in 2012. “I used to go to Broadway Farmers’ Market and get henna from Henna by McKenna,” she said. “McKenna and her sisters did the downtown market before me. She was always great and happily gave me advice while she put my henna on. I went to the market to get some henna in 2012 and she said, ‘I’m moving, you should apply.’ That’s how I got the Wednesday night market. St. Pierre said things took off from there. “In the summer, I do the Wednesday night market on Broadway and the De Pere market on Thursday nights,” she said. “I do weekend events like Strawberryfest in Waupaca and local food truck rallies on Sunday nights. I do Ignite Markets and local events like Rock the Dock on City Deck. This year I will also be in Green Bay for the 4th of July. I also travel a lot in Door County to host events. St. Pierre said she also regularly does henna at the Rock and Body Shop in De Pere, and also does private appointments at Astha Grocery and Gifts in De Pere. “I also do private get-togethers, birthday parties, corporate events, fundraisers, grad parties, ladies nights, bridal and baby showers, vacations and reunions,” she said.
What is henna? Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is a plant dye created from the henna tree. “Henna is the nickname for the plant that only grows in the Middle East,” St. Pierre said. “It needs to be hot and dry like the desert for the plant to grow. In the Middle East, it’s like a bush growing in your yard. They break off a few branches, dry them on the counter, then grind the leaves into a powder and mix them with something acidic. I use lemon juice in my henna. She said in India it is called Mehndi. “It’s such beautiful art,” St. Pierre said. “They use it for parties and weddings. It’s a status sign for a bride. The depth of color and the duration of henna determine the success of marriage – Maybe just an old wives’ tale. They also use it to cool off in the desert heat, as henna cools your skin as it dries. We totally Americanized this beautiful tradition by adding glitter and designing turtles and dragons. She said she uses the plant in powder form. “I mix a cup of lemon juice in a glass bowl, put some saran wrap in it, and put it on top of my fridge,” St. Pierre said. “The acidity of lemon juice causes the dye to release from the plant.” She said the process then takes between 24 and 48 hours, depending on the season. “I mix a few teaspoons of sugar, so it adheres better to the skin, and a little eucalyptus essential oil, which makes the henna darker,” St. Pierre said. “I roll balloon paper cones, then fill them with henna and glue them on. I keep them by putting them in the freezer. She said she only uses natural brown henna, but there are people who use lower quality alternative versions. “You have to be very careful buying henna because many are filled with chemicals to preserve it and even black hair dye to make it look like a real tattoo,” St. Pierre said. “Ask people what’s in their paste. If they can’t tell you, don’t get henna from them. She said the average henna takes about five minutes to create. “It all depends on how much henna we use, and larger designs take longer,” St. Pierre said.
pivot of lifeTo help her achieve her henna dream, St. Pierre enrolled at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) to pursue a degree in graphic design. “My original goal was just to create everything I needed for henna – like all my posters, banners, business cards and design sheets, which I can do. I graduated from NWTC in 2019 with an associate’s degree in graphic design and printing technology. The next step in his career – a bachelor’s degree. “I was never able to get my bachelor’s degree when I was younger, so I decided, since I was halfway through, to pursue my studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I am now a senior with only four classes left.
St. Pierre said that one of the best canvases to practice drawings on is herself. “I always have some kind of henna on me,” she said. “I practice new designs on myself first. I realized a long time ago that I am my own best advertisement. But it is much easier to henna others than yourself. I am so blessed and lucky for this beautiful art that i can share with others and make them happy. St. Pierre said the best way to start doing henna is to do henna. “You really have to get henna and practice getting it out of the tube,” she said. “It’s something you have to figure out for yourself.” More information about Joyful Henna Designs can be found on Facebook.