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Why Angela can be found burning the midnight oil every weekend

As press officer with the Arts Council of Northern Ireland Angela Warren knows all about the province's creative talent. Now she has joined their ranks by developing her home-made range of scented candles and is enjoying the sweet smell of success, as Stephanie Bell discovers

Scent of success: Angela Warren with her Vintage Moon candles
Scent of success: Angela Warren with her Vintage Moon candles
Candle creation
Pouring the wax in with the wick secured

When she is not working to promote local artists in her day job Angela Warren is likely to be found locked away in her kitchen at home creating handcrafted scented candles for an ever growing clientele.

What started out as a hobby to make healthy candles to burn at home has now taken off as a busy cottage business after many hours of patiently experimenting with essential oils and soy wax.

It is only a year since she first attempted to make her own candles and now Angela devotes all day Saturday and Sunday to creating up to 50 a week.

Each candle in her carefully crafted Vintage Moon Candles range is soon snapped up by her social media followers and at local artisan markets where Angela has devoted repeat customers as well as those discovering her products for the first time.

Angela (39) is from Londonderry but now lives in Belfast after moving to the city to study at university when she was 19.

She completed a degree in psychology and then went on to study for a masters in communications, marketing and public relations, an area she made a career from.

For the past five years she has served as a press officer for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, a job she loves as she gets to meet so many other creative people.

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Her long-term partner Phil Donaldson is also closely linked to the local arts scene as one of the businessmen behind the hugely successful Belsonic music festivals in Belfast.

It might seem a bit of a leap from studying psychology to entering public relations, but Angela doesn't agree. "The two disciplines actually are strongly linked. The analytical skills and ways of looking at things you learn in psychology do transfer over to PR," she says.

"I think at the age when you are taking a degree you don't really know what you want to do as a career. Sometimes I think that at some point I might go back to psychology, but I absolutely love my job with the Arts Council.

Adding the essential oils
Adding the essential oils

"Working in the arts sector is such a privilege as you get to work closely with so many artists and organisations and in my own small way I get to help them.

"It is such a creative and varied role and it is a real treat to see the work of artists and the amount of talent there is in Northern Ireland is absolutely outstanding."

Her own hobbies all centre round the arts. She dabbles with playing music and her favourite night out is to catch a play.

"I love music. I never had the bravery to learn to play an instrument properly, but I do mess around with the harp, piano and guitar," Angela explains.

"It's a hobby, and a creative outlet, and you don't have to be amazing at it. It just gives you a little bit of escapism for a few hours. I love the Lyric as it is my favourite theatre and going there is a real treat."

Candle making though has become her main passion.

Labelling the Vintage Moon candles
Labelling the Vintage Moon candles

She now devotes her entire weekend to crafting her hand poured soy candles which are selling like hotcakes.

While it means Phil has 'lost' her to her hobby, she says after 10 years together he is happy she is doing something she loves.

"Phil is great about it," she says. "As a businessman he has kept me right about working out my unit costs and overheads. I would look up to him a lot as a very sound businessman.

"I'm not doing it to make money and it will never replace my full-time job. It is a hobby and any money I get is put right back into making more candles."

It all started for Angela around this time last year. Like most of us she loved burning scented candles in her home, but became increasingly concerned about what she regarded as the unhealthy ingredients and chemicals in some factory made products.

It was this desire to find a toxin free candle which ignited her interest in making her own.

Angela works only with soy wax; a renewable and sustainable wax made from the oil of soybeans which burns cleaner and lasts longer than many other types of wax.

"I wanted to make healthy candles. A lot of fragranced candles are chemical based and to my nose they never smelt that pleasing," she says.

"Also the paraffin in ordinary wax candles comes from petrol and gives off chemicals which are not good for you.

"I use soy which is sustainable and healthy to breathe in.

"I started making them for myself and then giving them to family and friends. One day a friend's mum said to me 'you really need to sell these, they are really beautiful'. That word of encouragement gave me the confidence to have a go and for the past few months they have really taken off on social media and at the monthly Fine and Dandy craft market.

"I just wanted to create something that was natural and eco friendly and vegan and something beautiful that people would enjoy and that was healthy to have in the home.

Angela Warren and her Vintage Moon candles
Angela Warren and her Vintage Moon candles

"Now every weekend I lock myself away in my kitchen. It is not a chore and the minute it becomes a chore I will stop. In a way it is therapy for me. I just switch off and forget anything that bothered me during the week."

Simplicity is the key to Angela's range and her candles are presented in beautiful glass apothecary style jars.

Creating her own signature fragrances has been very important and she has spent many hours developing scents through trial and error.

She jokes about her own sense of smell which she says has been strong since she was a child and has led to her colleagues labelling her 'the nose'.

"I have always had a very strong sense of smell and it has worked for me and sometimes against me," she says.

"At work they call me 'the nose' because I would pick up on smells no one else can.

"I have loved playing around with the essential oils and it has been a real learning curve working out what oils work well together. I always wanted to do my own thing and work it out for myself so that it would be more personal for the end user.

"I have developed my own blends. I have one which is lemon grass, basil and lime and it is really fresh, clean, zesty and uplifting.

"At Christmas I did a limited edition luxury range made with mandarin, geranium and palmarosa, which was beautiful and they proved so popular I now plan to do four 'seasonal' limited edition candles a year and am currently developing one for spring."

Honing her craft has taken many hours of labour but, as a true creative, Angela has enjoyed every moment of the process and would recommend anyone giving it a go.

"For me the morning will begin with melting the wax, then preparing the oils and jars," she adds. "It is very important to let the wax cool down to the right temperature before adding the oils as if it is too hot it can burn the oils off.

"The tricky point is getting the wick in the middle and making sure it stays there.

"There are a number of other challenges including getting the perfect burn so that people get value for money and the maximum use of the candle. I have worked that out and also spent a long time testing the fragrance load so that it continues until the candle is burned out. I love all that creativity and learning.

"I spend all day Saturday at it and just lose myself in the process and enjoy being creative.

"Then I spend Sunday labelling the jars and getting them packaged or I go off to the market selling them."

As well as planning to extend her range of luxury 'seasonal' candles, Angela also aims to get her own website up and running. But while her hobby has gone beyond anything she had planned, she still insists her candle making will remain a pastime only.

"I don't plan to grow it to the extent that it takes over my life, but I would like a website and that will take some work, not just to set up, but to figure out distribution and packaging and how best to present the product," she explains.

"It's just a pleasure to make the candles and I now have repeat customers coming back and that just makes my heart sing - the thought that someone loves something that I've created."

Angela will be bringing her natural candles to the Fine and Dandy artisan craft market in the Titanic Hotel on April 28 and you can also see her range on her facebook page - Vintage Moon Candles

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