x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Burning the midnight oil

Meet Aayeda Al Zaharna, an Emirati mother-of-four who's started a business decorating incense burners.

Aayeda al Zaharna decorating a clay incense burner at her home in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National
Aayeda al Zaharna decorating a clay incense burner at her home in Abu Dhabi. Silvia Razgova / The National

At her Mohammed bin Zayed City home, Aayeda Al Zaharna is keeping the tradition of incense burners alive. Inside a dedicated room that she calls her workshop, the Emirati mother-of-four embellishes incense burners using the decorative technique of ­découpage.

And what started as a hobby has now turned into a business.

Creative process

How exactly does Al Zaharna decorate the burners? First, she buys plain pottery burners from shops. “When the burner has any defect or breaks, I fix it with clay myself,” she says.

After sanding each burner, she paints them and , once they are dry, she proceeds to the actual craft of découpage: decorating the surface with layers of colourful paper. Al Zaharna says that she likes using napkins in different styles and patterns. The more intricate, the better. Her favourites include python, floral and maple-leaf prints.

Each incense burner is covered in about three layers of napkins, before she peels apart the white areas, leaving the prints and patterns. The burner is then varnished. The process demands time, energy and precision, says Al Zaharna, who is in her 30s and works full-time as a human resources specialist.

“If I sit from morning to evening to découpage, I would probably make around 10 burners.”

She adds: “I make sure my work is accurate and neat. Customer satisfaction is what I seek.”

Artistic spirit

Before devoting her time to beautifying incense burners, Al ­Zaharna used to make handicraft gifts and trinkets for events and ­celebrations.

“I used to prepare gifts for occasions and hold buffets for people,” she says. “This was the beginning of my entrepreneurship.”

Al Zaharna says that she’s always possessed a creative spirit and a passion for innovation and has been fond of art and interior design since she was young.

“Many times I’ve drawn and decorated on my furniture to give it a new look.”

Family affair

Al Zaharna says that her youngest daughter, Fatima, who is 9, gives her a helping hand in decorating the burners, but notes: “I redo what she does because I like to ensure my work is of a top standard.”

Her eldest daughter, Alanood Lari, says: “When my mother launched the incense burner business, it was just within our circle of friends and family – nothing big.”

A media student at Zayed University, the 20-year-old showcased her mother’s designs at a university festival last year. “One of my professors initially thought the burners were plant holders,” she recalls. “I told her she could use them for that purpose, too.”

That showcase got the word out on Al Zaharna’s business. “We were pleased with the outcome,” Alanood Lari says.


• Visit thenational.ae/multimedia for a video of Aayeda Al Zaharna at work. The decorative burners are priced at about Dh100 each, but vary depending on design. For more information or to place an order, call 050 622 9363 or follow Al Zaharna on Instagram ­(@occasions_aida)