If you’ve ever day dreamed about having your own ‘she-shed’ you’re going to be envious of Karina Ferrante of Black Arrow Candles. Karina and her husband built her workspace at the bottom of their long sloping block, amongst the trees, vegie patches and near a fantastic firepit.
Karina’s business, Black Arrow Candles, is boldly eco-friendly and beautifully packaged. The 100% natural soy wax candles in reusable glassware are so beautifully boxed in fact that they just won a packaging award.
I recently visited Karina at her home on the northern outskirts of Sydney, and yes, I do have she-shed envy!
Where do you live?
I live in a leafy suburb in Sydney’s North near Berowra with my husband, our daughter a few animals (both owned and wild). The house is a typical 50s ex fibro shack that has been clad and renovated over the years to take advantage of our fantastic views over the valley behind us. When we moved in the colour scheme was a fantastic pink and purple with apricot carpets throughout, we’ve slowly been updating when we have time – but as with all renovations it feels like it will never end!
Where do you create?
My candle making used to take over the lower level of our house, which was great to begin with. But depending on the fragrance it could get a little overpowering – especially when I had a fragrance like Chocolat setting or multiple fragrances, some scents just do not go together (but oddly some do, like our Cleanse and Chocolat, totally works). So to counter this my husband and I built a little “she shed” in our backyard. It’s far enough away to keep the smells down and not annoy the neighbours, and allows me to make a bit of a mess and not worry about the animals getting into it. Clean work like box making is generally made in front of the TV accompanied by a good netflix binge.
When do you create? Is it a full time job?
I am always creating in one way or another. I do have a ‘conventional’ full time job, but there will be times throughout the day where I have a moment of clarity and need to note an idea down to try when I get home or on the weekend. The candles themselves are made every night to order, and over the weekend. Graphic work and website updates are fit in whenever I can and things like Instagram and general email replies are done on my daily commute on my phone. I generally squeeze Black Arrow in whenever I can.
What path led you to this creative place?
My mum has always been really crafty, having a repertoire that included home ceramicist and embroiderer and my dad has a very entrepreneurial spirit. Together they routinely juggled my mums skills with my dad’s brain, we were always at a craft market with a stall every other weekend. I think this rubbed off on me just a tad. I also had the benefit of a unique upbringing where our family moved around Australia every few years or so and even lived overseas (Western Samoa) for nearly 4 years. Now for those of you up on your literary lore, Western Samoa was where Robert Louis Stevenson worked and died, who was the author of stories like Treasure Island and Kidnapped, but was also the author of The Black Arrow. So when the time came where I was brainstorming candle brand names it was on an extremely geeky shortlist. In addition to that I wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was a kid, so I did my 3 years of ancient history at uni but then realised it wasn’t meant to be, but a lot of inspiration came from there. My working life has been a series of admin jobs in the construction industry where currently I work in Elevators. The candle making itself came about when I received a handmade one as a gift from a client a few years ago and thought, I could do that. So it’s been the culmination of a wide range of experiences spanning my whole life.
What’s your elevator pitch? How do you describe what you do?
Haha elevator pitch, I mentioned my day job is elevators right?.. I guess I would say that I hand make designer soy candles in very unique packaging, with style and humor.
How would you describe yourself in six words?
Sarcastic, stubborn, kind, curious, impatient, geeky.
Where do you find inspiration and motivation?
In the most unlikely places usually. Sometimes I will try to brute force a solution to something and find it a few days later while i’m on the train cruising pinterest or watching a movie. There’s then that light bulb moment and the immediate need to get that thing out of my head and into the real world, especially now where I am looking to move beyond candles and prototyping is always in play. I draw a lot from history, always looking for inspiration from the medieval time period, as well as my uni studies.
What are the essential items in your workspace?
My bluetooth speaker, Betsy (my wax melter) and my scale. And uh, wax.
Do you have a favourite tool that’s essential to your work with Black Arrow candles?
The aforementioned Betsy. She started out life as a milk pasteurizer that my brother rescued and is really just a very large double boiler with a spout. She melts our wax and keeps it at perfect temperature.
What do you love the most about your creative space?
That its a dedicated space that’s all for me! Forever I have just had to carve out a space to do craft wherever I could find it, which usually meant taking over the dining room table. The She Shed allowed me to set up properly and get everything where I wanted it. Also means I don’t have to pack up at the end of the night!
Is there something you don’t like, or would like to change?
I wish I could be more focussed. I have so many ideas of what I want to make and how I want to present things that I end up doing too much other stuff that doesn’t really fit with the brand and not focusing on what’s happening at that moment. It’s something that I am working on by also changing the way Black Arrow works in general. I figure the reason I wanted to go into business for myself was because I wanted to play by my own rules, so I am now finding the confidence to start doing that as well as finding the discipline to reign in the crazy, occasionally.
Do you listen to anything while you work?
Music, Florence + the Machine, Muse, Bowie, basically anything from the 90s too. If im box making then marathoning tv shows or watching Marvels latest offering.
Favourite work-time snack (or beverage)?
Coffee for early mornings, mineral water for the days and the occasional beer or wine on a Sunday afternoon. I can’t really eat while working, fragrance is not a flavour I recommend.
What would be your dream job or collaboration?
I would love to be commissioned to make some candles for a company like Marvel or Blizzard. Something incredibly geeky that fits with us thematically.
Who or what are your biggest creative influences?
My biggest creative influence would be pop culture in general – I really love my scifi and adventure media (movies, books and TV). In terms of creator influences I am really enjoying some more out there makers at the moment, people like Jimmy Diresta and the team at Punished Props.
Tell us five online resources or apps you can’t live without.
YouTube, Pinterest, Adobe CC, Instagram, Spotify
What’s the hardest thing about what you do?
Managing time. On the face of it the actual activity of making candles is very easy, there’s a formula and once you have it you just rinse and repeat while managing set times. The problems come when you need to cost things, get to the post office (and organise all the packaging materials), do the marketing and branding, develop new products and ideas, get the word out there with social media, purchase materials and then you know, sleep.
How do you work out the financial aspects of your business? What resources, tips and tools would you recommend?
One of the things I did when we started to see success was see an accountant. We had an hour meeting where he went through everything I needed to do to make finances easy, I had every intention of doing it. But, life, and didn’t. Bad! Things got so messy in terms of where payments were coming from and going to. Don’t do that. Take financial advice and action it. Get an accountant, get a separate bank account. Nowadays we use Xero and our accountant manages the end of years. Happy!
What advice do you have for aspiring creatives?
Be yourself. There is always something you are going to bring to the table that no one else can. There will always be trends, but find a way to fit them and be true to yourself at the same time, else you might find yourself burning out because you aren’t making what you truly love.
Do you have a dream that you’d love to fulfill?
I’d love to have our website be the place to go for our wares. We are moving away from using a stockist model and are no longer taking retail orders. So I’d love for the website to take up that demand and for it to expand with a full range of Black Arrow items beyond candles. I would also love to include some other makers items which complement ours.
I hope you’ve enjoyed meeting Karina. I loved visiting her she-shed and seeing her making process. If you’d like to see more of the Black Arrow Candles range visit the Etsy shop here. If you haven’t begun your Christmas shopping it’s a great place to start!
Keep an eye on Black Arrow Candles in 2017 when new products will be released. The candle range will be expanded and there will also be all new homewares, plates and accessories, leather and canvas wares, maker aprons and bags.
If you’d like to take a look into a whole range of other artists’ and creatives’ lives and studios, visit the Space to Create archives.