Her first experience with henna was "terrible," Jennifer Garcia will tell you today. The body adornment, applied at a theme park, looked nothing like she expected it to. But it sparked her interest in mehndi, traditionally used by Indian women who have elaborate patterns applied to their palms and soles before their weddings.
The designs are thought to bring their wearers good luck; the longer they last, the stronger their marriages will be.
Undaunted by that first application, Garcia began to experiment.
"I started out with smiley faces and hearts," she says, "the basic stuff."
During her research, she "fell in love" with intricate Indian bridal mehndi. She practiced often and learned about Indian wedding traditions, soaking in cultural details.
"I guess you could call it an obsession after a while," she says, laughing.
Garcia, 23, sits at a table in a coffee shop and unpacks her pencil box of supplies. She opens a new, hot-pink tube of henna paste and begins painting, freehand, a design on her left hand. As she answers questions, she continues the design, sometimes not looking up from her work. People nearby look up from their laptops and tablets to watch.
Through her business, Jen's Henna (jenhenna.wix.com/jenshenna), she has attended numerous weddings and painted many mehndi on brides, their guests and family members.
The details and levels of intricacy come from different traditions. Garcia's favorites are Indian bridal designs, in which it is customary for the tips of the fingers to be filled in completely, with elaborate patterns on the hands, lower arms, lower legs and feet.
Garcia offers consultations for brides, during which they discuss custom designs, the wedding party and guest-list details. She learns as much as she can about the bridal party - the number of women, their ages and relationships to the bride as well as the number of guests who will attend the wedding. And she enjoys experiencing different cultures through mehndi.
"Especially with weddings," she says, "it's all about the relationships for me. I feel like I'm part of the wedding."
She incorporates clients' requests - peacocks, fine lines, flowers, white space - drawing with markers or pens on paper. Afterward, she sends the bride the image, asks for feedback and adjusts as necessary.
Garcia compares tubes of henna to tubes of cake icing and says applying mehndi is more easily accomplished with a pen than with a tube. A single bridal session can take eight hours or more before a wedding.
She is often invited to the sangeet, or pre-wedding, party and says she has stayed as late as 3 a.m. to make sure all the wedding guests who wanted mehndi received a design.
For her own wedding in May, Garcia says she is planning her own mehndi design, which she will apply to her feet.