By Heather Graves
DE PERE – Little did Joy St. Pierre know when she made the decision to leave her office job to start doing henna, she’d still be plugging away at it 13 years later.“I hated 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 spent 10 years in the tax assessors’ office before I came to henna. I remember thinking, ‘I just need to get out of here and go do henna.’ Little did I realize that this statement I spoke 13 years ago, started the ball rolling to my awesome life that I have now.” st. Pierre said she was doing henna for a few years before officially launching Joyful Henna Designs in 2012. “I used to go to the Broadway Farmers’ Market and get henna from Henna by McKenna,” she said. “McKenna and her sisters did the market downtown before me. She was always awesome and happily gave me advice as she was hennaing me. I went to the market to get henna in 2012 and she told me, ‘I’m moving, you should apply.’ This is 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 events on weekends like Strawberryfest in Waupaca and Sunday night local food truck rallies. I do the Ignite Markets and local events like Rock the Dock on City Deck. This year, I will also be in Green Bay for the Fourth of July. I also travel to Door County a lot to do events.” st. Pierre said she is also doing henna at the Rock and Body Shop in De Pere regularly, and also does private appointments at Astha Grocery and Gifts in De Pere. “I also do private appointments, birthday parties, corporate events, fundraisers, grad night, ladies night, bridal and baby showers, vacations and reunions,” she said.
What is henna? Henna (Lawsonia inermis) is a plant-based 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 is like a bush that grows in your front yard. They break off some branches, dry them on the counter, then crush the leaves into a powder and mix it with something acidic. I use lemon juice in my henna.” She said in India, it is called Mehndi. “It is such a beautiful art,” St. Pierre said. “They use it for celebrations and weddings. It is a sign of status for a bride. The depth of color and length the henna lasts determines how successful the marriage will be – perhaps just an old wives tale. They also use it to keep cool in the desert heat, as henna cools your skin as it dries. We have totally Americanized this beautiful tradition by adding glitter and drawing turtles and dragons.” She said she uses the plant in powder form. “I mix one cup of lemon juice with it in a glass bowl, put saran wrap on it, and put it on top of my refrigerator,” St. Pierre said. “The acidity of the lemon juice makes the dye release from the plant.” She said the process then takes between 24-48 hours, depending upon the season. “I mix a couple teaspoons of sugar, so it sticks on skin better, and a little essential oil of eucalyptus which makes henna darker,” St. Pierre said. “I roll cones from balloon paper then fill the cones with henna and tape them. I preserve them by putting them in the freezer.” She said she only uses natural brown henna, but there are people who use alternative, less-quality versions. “You have to be very careful buying henna, because a lot is 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 is in their paste. If they can’t tell you, don’t get henna from them.” She said the average henna takes around five minutes to create. “It all depends upon how much henna we use, and larger designs take longer,” St. Pierre said.
Life pivotTo help support her henna dream, St. Pierre enrolled at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC) in pursuit of a degree in graphic design. “My original goal was just to make 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 print technology.” The next step in her journey – a bachelor’s degree. “I was never able to get my bachelor’s when I was younger, so I decided since I was halfway there, to continue my education at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I am now a senior with only four classes left.”
st. Pierre said one of the best canvases to practice designs on is herself. “I always have some kind of henna on me,” she said. “I practice new designs on myself first. I realized long ago that I am my own best advertising. 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 get started doing henna – is to do henna. “You really have to just get some henna and practice squeezing it out of the tube,” she said. “This is something you have to figure out on your own.” More information on Joyful Henna Designs can be found on Facebook.