Carmen Conrad, a senior, began her candlemaking business, Black Cat Candle Co., in April 2020, as a hobby to pass time during quarantine. 

Atop the stove, a pot of wax melts slowly as Carmen Conrad readies dried rose and angel aura quartz on the kitchen counter. She takes the wax off of the heat and mixes in scents of cherry and warm vanilla that waft through the room, filling every crevice in her small Fayetteville apartment before she pours it into the tin to set.

She carefully places every petal, crystal and speck of crimson glitter, before finally topping the tin with a sticker. An image of a black cat.

Some UA students have found inspiration in the midst of isolation by picking up unique hobbies to pass time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For Conrad, a senior, a candlemaking hobby has flourished into a small business. Conrad’s passion for candlemaking stemmed from her desire to keep busy during isolation in April 2020, she said.

“I ordered a DIY candle kit over quarantine,” Conrad said. “I just got it as something fun to do while I was sitting around at home.”

After returning to the UofA for the fall 2020 semester, she launched Black Cat Candle Co. in October with three scents: cherry vanilla, rose and magnolia jasmine. Since then, she has posted a new candle — described by her as “hand-poured happiness” — nearly every week on her Instagram, she said.

“I love metaphysical things and good energy,” Conrad said. “I put that into my candles through incorporating things like crystals and herbs. I go and base crystal colors, wax colors, glitter colors — all the toppings on my candle, I base around the scent and the vibes I get from the scent.”

Conrad operates her business predominantly through the online retail platform Etsy and Instagram as a way to conduct contact-free business, she said. Her candles can also be found in The Boho Boutique located near the Fayetteville Downtown Square.

“I don’t even know if I would have started the business without the pandemic,” Conrad said. “I don’t know if I would have had the idea. I don’t know if I would be trying to push myself to get out in the world more if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.”

Many students turned to art as an outlet, using the additional time to push creative boundaries and discover new hobbies.

Madelyn Oakley, a junior interior design major, started selling print illustrations in March 2020 after inspiration hit in the early days of quarantine. Oakley learned how to do illustrations through major-related classes, but she never thought it would result in a small business, she said.

“I started because a friend asked me to, and I wasn’t going to have her pay me and she offered,” Oakley said. “I think that, (after) the first person bought from me, I realized that it was something that not everyone knew how to do and that people wanted.”

The free time during quarantine gave her the opportunity to produce more prints, Oakley said. The extra time paired nicely with a high demand for portraits amid strict COVID-19 regulations, she said.

“A lot of people were wanting to send prints to loved ones that they weren’t able to see as often because of the pandemic,” Oakley said. “A lot of people would send them to their grandparents or to a friend that was getting married, but they couldn’t go to their wedding.”

Oakley has created more than 50 prints since last March, ranging from family portraits to graphic illustrations. But her commissioned artwork remains more of a fun pastime as her career focus is still on interior design, she said.

“This is kind of, I think, going to continue to be something that I get to do in my free time that’s super fun for me,” Oakley said.

For some students, the pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to rekindle childhood passions.

Abby Wills, a sophomore, revived her former hobby of skateboarding in November 2020.

She developed a love of skateboarding after receiving her first board in fifth grade, but her enthusiasm slowly died out, Wills said.

“This time I was very determined that I was going to make it something that I was going to push through and try hard at,” Wills said.

Skating serves as an outlet to vent frustrations and relieve stress, Wills said. She spends her free time skating with friends in a parking lot behind her apartment or at Walker Skatepark in Fayetteville.

“This year, I have really kind of taken a step back and looked at my life and been like, ‘I can make my life whatever I want it to be,’” Wills said. “I see skateboarding as something that has always been important to me, but I’ve been too scared to go and do it.”

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