Polli Youngbeck was destined to be an artist, beginning to draw at the young age of four. “I recall my mother showing our neighbor my drawings, and our neighbor insisting that no 4 year old could draw that well… she said it must have been traced! That’s when my mother pulled out stacks of my drawings,” remembers Polli. Graduating with a degree in design from Auburn University, Polli continued her art training in Europe at the Universität Salzburg and also Heidelberg University. After working in advertising in Milwaukee for a brief period she knew in her heart that her true passion was painting; which soon led to henna. She moved on to spread her love of art with others by teaching painting and general art classes in the Atlanta area, as well as here on the Emerald Coast. Polli discovered Henna by accident and was instantly intrigued. No one was hand drawing henna tattoos nine years ago anywhere on the beaches between Destin and Tampa or Pensacola. “I had no idea what I was doing and tried to find someone to give me guidance, but I couldn’t find anyone on the panhandle,” remembers Polli, “I think I was the first and only hand drawn henna artist within a hundred or more miles. I had to learn the hard way–jump in and just DO IT!” Henna was associated with tattoos by many and wasn’t widely accepted at the time, so this beautiful new art form had to be explained to tourists and those interested in getting henna. It is now so popular and has such a following that Polli teaches classes in the summer.
Henna is an art form rich in tradition and for the past five years Polli has been doing henna tattoos for weddings. Henna is a plant, so it’s all organic. Polli mixes her own henna, using two different types from Pakistan and India that leave a rich reddish orange stain on your skin. Using a small bottle with tiny metal tip, Polli can draw effectively and shade, just like a painting. Henna lasts up to a month if you leave it on your skin for about 24 hours; the longer the henna remains against the skin the darker the stain. After the drawing is complete, Polli taps the drawing with a traditional mixture of sugar and lemon juice that helps the dye release and also helps the henna adhere to the skin. It’s a process that requires time, a lot of patience, and planning.
Hennas are becoming a unique form of expression for one of the most important days of your life – your wedding day. Polli describes, “As I am a professional artist, I’m not limited in what I can draw or paint and can turn a bride’s henna into a beautiful painting and an original expression of her special day. I’ve had bridesmaids each tell a story on their hands about the bride and groom. I think that is a wonderful way to incorporate hennas into a wedding.” Polli spends a lot of time with the bride and the bridesmaids to determine the theme and the different thoughts. The goal is to make the brides feel special, and creating that feeling is what Polli loves most. “It’s an artistic endeavor and one that is going to be forever in the Bride’s memories and pictures,” describes Polli, “I want my brides to be thrilled with their hennas, so we, together, give this great thought and planning.” Henna is the perfect medium to tell a story, the color starts off bold and then slowly fades away, but the memories last a lifetime. The truly special thing about henna is that each one is completely unique and a special form of expression to each individual. Polli recalls one of her favorite memories doing henna for a wedding, “I love the beautiful surprise the attendees had when the bride walked down the aisle as her back showed…. It was a beautiful white henna down her back, and glittered like white lace.”
Henna is an ancient art; it was used by Cleopatra as a make-up for her hair and lips and has been used for centuries in different kinds of body art, clothing dyes and hair dye. “I love that this art form has so much history, and tradition. It has many meanings as it is used in India for wedding rituals, and is now more commonly used in traditional weddings here in US,” explained Polli, “As an artist, I love learning, and henna has been a wonderful learning experience. Not only is it an amazing medium, it is also a historical form of art.”