Thursday, September 15, 2011

AJ's Country Cottage Feature

This morning I woke up to a chilly 45 degree morning. The sun is shining brightly, but the summer heat is gone for today. Two days ago, the temperature reached 102, but not today. There's a hint of Fall in the air! With the return of Autumn comes more baking, hot rolls and breads, apple pies, pumpkin pies... Soup is once more on the menu, and we rejoice in the crisp, cool days after the intense heat of the summer. Autumn also brings out the candles at our house! We love having candles burning especially during the long evenings of Fall and Winter! There's something so comforting and homey in a burning candle!

And speaking of candles, I'd love to introduce you to AJ's Country Cottage and the  lovely lady who run it!

How and when did you become interested in your craft? 
I’ve been fascinated by candles since I was a kid, and poured my very first candles when I was about 13 or 14 in my parents’ basement.  I not only collected but also made my own novelty candles at that time and experimented with whipped wax creations.  Mom was a trooper; she let me use her electric hand mixer.  I was really pleased with my ice cream sundae candles.  Wish I still had one of them!

What inspired you to open your shop? 
As an adult, I became interested in fragrance and decided to combine this interest with my love of candles, which add such a warm glow and cozy feel to a home.  Scent is a powerful and fascinating medium; it also creates atmosphere and warmth.  A certain aroma can bring forth long-forgotten memories.  Fragrance is universal, yet so personal.  But the commercially-produced candles I bought failed to scent even one room of my home, and I wanted more.  I figured there must be a way to make a candle make the air smell good while burning, so I began experimenting with scented jar candles designed to fragrance a room.  When I succeeded, I found I soon wanted and needed to sell some of my candles because I not only do I have a creative temperament, but I also have an entrepreneurial bent.  I love to create, but in a practical sense, I can only make so many candles and soaps to give away to friends and family, and I need to bankroll my work! :)  So I opened up a shop to give all my babies good homes.  To satisfy both my creative drive and business bent, I must make LOTS!  I don’t do things half-heartedly very well.  It’s all or nothing for me, so I go all out.  I’m a classic firstborn overachiever.  :)

Where did your shop name come from? A favorite uncle nicknamed me AJ, after my initials, when I was little.  I live in the country, and often draw inspiration from the peaceful, green countryside.  And I live in a small home, but “cottage” evokes comfort, warmth, and cheer better than “little house,” doesn’t it?  :)

What inspires you to create your work?  Why do you do what you do? 
I’m a homebody at heart, and I desire to make my home a peaceful haven for my family and myself – a refuge from the sometimes-harsh realities of living in our modern world.  My handcrafted candles and soaps help make our home warm, inviting, and personalized, and I enjoy pleasing everyone with their favorites.  It’s my desire to help others also achieve this tranquil, cozy atmosphere in their homes.  I like to treat myself to new fragrances now and then and want to help others do the same.  I feel just a bit pampered and indulged, like I’m getting a little reward for all my hard work when I carve out some “me” time!
Have you taken any courses or classes? How did you learn your craft?
 I’ve always loved to learn new things, so I scour the internet for information and read books like a librarian.  You should SEE how many books we have here.  (blush)   I seem to learn best by reading and researching independently, along with the self-discovery method.  Once I’ve done my homework, I like to just dive in and DO it!  I practice a LOT and have literally made hundreds and hundreds of candle and soap batches.  I learned soapmaking primarily from reading books then just trying my hand at it and getting advice from seasoned soapmakers via internet forums and chat rooms. I’m a meticulous detail nut.  And as I mentioned before, I’ve been playing with wax since I was a teenager.  When my own two children got old enough to craft, they wanted to learn candlemaking as well, so I started by teaching them how to make votives.  They were so thrilled with their colorful little creations!  The fact that they made something useful gave them a great sense of accomplishment.

In your opinion, what sets you apart from the rest?
I offer a wide variety of fragrances, so there’s something for everyone.  I love variety!  We test each fragrance diligently.  We do our homework.  We can’t account for the variables in how people burn our candles, such as the length they trim the wick, weather conditions, airflow patterns in various homes, vaulted ceilings, drafts, and so on.  But we work carefully to make the best possible product that will burn well and fragrance at least one average-sized room under normal conditions.
Describe your creative process.  What inspires you? Nature inspires.  How I aspire to capture the colors of a lovely sunset or a beautiful flower’s fragrance in my work!  The scent of fresh rain cooling a hot pavement – I love that.  Sometimes I smell a gorgeous aroma in a bakery and try to re-create that in a candle.  I must admit, the kitchen is quite often the source of my inspiration!

What are 5 things that you could never do without in your craft? 
1.   Thermometers.  Temperatures are crucial in working with hot wax and fragrance. 
2.  Wick setters.  What a wonderful invention.  They keep the wicks centered as the wax cools and wants to pull the wick askew. 
3.  Silicone soap mold liners.  Ah, I absolutely refuse to pour soap without these godsends.  The soap unmolds with ease.  Technology rules.
4.  The internet and libraries!  Great places to research trends and learn about new techniques and products.
5.   Most importantly:  my teenaged daughter!  She loves to craft with me and is my partner in this venture; we make a great team and support one another.  We adore what we do.  In many ways, she is a slightly shorter version of me.  :)

What is your favorite item in your shop? 
This is like asking me to choose a favorite child!  But  I do love vanillas and citrus scents best.  Vanilla is so comforting and calming to me, and citrus just makes me feel energized and upbeat.  So I’d have to say my vanilla blends and citrus blends -- Satsuma Citrus candles for the warmer months, and Vanilla Bean Noel, which is a sweet caramel and vanilla duo, for fall and winter.  In soaps, I love my goat’s milk soaps for facial use, but in the shower I always have a lemon bar or a patchouli bar going.  Actually BOTH at this time, if you must know!  :)

What is the most exciting thing that has happened since you've started? 
When I was a girl just starting out, the wax options for chandlers were paraffin and paraffin.  With the advent of vegetable waxes such as palm and soy, we have whole new worlds opening up to explore!  I have an adventurous streak, so once I had paraffin waxes under my belt, I tackled the new vegetable waxes, which can be a real challenge to achieve good results with.  There’s quite a learning curve, and lots of homework to be done before starting.  Working with wax, color, and fragrance takes lots of practice, and although I’ve had plenty of that, I feel there are always new things to learn and paths to explore along the way.  I love learning and trying new things!

What’s the best advice you’ve been given in regards to what you do? 
Channel your passions constructively to make life a bit better for others.  This world can beat us all up a bit now and then; purpose to be a light rather than increasing the darkness.  Treat others with kindness and empathy, the way you’d like to be treated.  There’s a very good reason that rule is called GOLDEN!
Besides crafting, what else do you do?  What are your other interests? Biking and camping with my family and friends.  Missouri has some great bike trails and campgrounds!   And I love to play with yarn, whether it’s knitting or crocheting.  I need 2 or 3 lifetimes to try all the crafts and projects I’m motivated to try!  I also love to read, love music (especially hymns and contemporary Christian music), and my guilty pleasure is playing a few selected video games when I have time.
How do you make time to craft?
I am blessed with a husband who is absolutely fine with me being a full-time crafter and home-based businesswoman.  Staying at home doing my thing – what a guy!  We also homeschool and are part of a local home church, so we are pretty much a homespun kind of family. 

What advice would you give someone new to online selling? 
Make sure you offer a product or service that is marketable, then work your tail off.  Research, research, research.  Don’t give up on your dream, but do work SMART and be aware of your limitations. 

Don't they look lovely! AJ's Country Cottage has SO many different scents! I'm so glad I found this shop. My mom loves candles and Christmas is coming up... :) This is definitely a shop I'm keeping in mind for gifts!

I didn't have nearly enough room in this post for all of the many candle choices at AJ's Country Cottage, so I'd encourage you to head on over to her Artfire or Etsy shop. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

No comments: