You have to get the temperature right, Celia Lerum says, as she sticks a thermometer in a pitcher of hot wax.
After mixing the wax slowly back and forth with a pitcher of essential oils, she slowly pours the mixture into small jars, the wicks held up with Popsicle sticks.
The Laguna Beach native is making candles for her company, Arovela, which began out of her one-story San Clemente home last year and whose products are now sold in Laguna Beach.
Muted rock music plays inside the house and Lerum, 30, is tranquil as she makes her soy- and coconut oil-based candles in the backyard. It's a process that could be mistaken for an improvised chemistry experiment.
"Life is chaotic, so this is a therapeutic thing for me," she says.
She's learned how to get the candle-making process right through trial and error.
Temperature, for example, got her in trouble with one her first batches when she realized the thermometer had broken into the wax, causing her to scrap a batch of 100 candles. It left her in tears, she said.
She also markets the candles as body products. Since the candle wax is made from soy and coconut oil and other essential oils, it can be used as a moisturizer, body balm or bath oil when melted.
Lerum studied fine art and painting at the Laguna College of Art & Design until her most recent pregnancy. Married with two children, she came up with the idea for Arovela when she was pregnant.
"I thought I was crazy at first," she said.
It's easy to say Lerum isn't afraid of taking risks: She left Laguna Beach at 15 to hitchhike to Canada. She also once moved to the Caribbean on a whim to try organic farming.
Back in Orange County, it took her the better part of a year to get her candle formulas down, she said.
"I probably blended 200 different blends in a matter of six months to come up with four that I couldn't live without, and that would appeal to other people too," she said.
She currently has Tangeriña, a mixture of tangerine and gardenia; Lemon Ylang, a mixture of lemon, grapefruit and ylang ylang; Blossom Blend, a mixture of florals such as magnolia, gardenia, plumeria; and Cedar Rose, a unisex scent with woody notes.
Lerum, who also spent eight years living in Spain in her 20s, admitted that the ability to fly by the seat of your pants isn't a bad quality for an entrepreneur.
"I always felt like I was good at adapting to whatever situation, and learning by doing," she said.
She started out just asking friends and family to try out her candles in exchange for feedback. She originally thought she'd only do custom orders for special events such as weddings and parties.
She then dropped off a sample with Laura Linsenmayer, a woman she knew in Laguna who was opening a non-toxic beauty shop, Roots The Beauty Underground.
Linsenmayer called her almost immediately, Lerum said, which made her extremely nervous.
Linsenmayer told Lerum she wanted to tell her what she thought in person. Lerum said she expected the worst.
"I think you nailed it," Linsenmayer told her.
Lerum said she hopes to sell in other coastal California locations, such as Newport Beach, Encinitas and La Jolla.
Arovela candles are now sold at Roots The Beauty Underground in the Lumberyard in Laguna Beach. For more information, visit arovela.com.