Bringing wilderness into art and into your home — An interview with Coco Barrett-Tormey

 Coco Barrett-Tormey

We got the chance to talk to Coco, the amazingly talented ceramicist behind the mountain and cactus mugs. In the interview below, she tells us how she got started in ceramics and where she finds inspiration.

What initially got you interested in ceramics?

I love making pottery because it doesn’t go on your wall. I fell in love with an art that people connect to in their everyday lives. A favorite mug can become apart of someone’s morning ritual. I like being associated with that slow time that gears you up for the day.

All of my work is hand thrown, painted, carved, glazed and fired. Each step is affected by the always-changing weather of Santa Cruz. When its wet and cold the clay will take longer to dry and it can be a test of my patience. When it’s hot I have to move quickly to beat the clay before it gets to dry to carve or attach handles to mugs. This timing can go from slow to fast when it’s a foggy Santa Cruz morning and I put the pieces out to dry on my truck in the sun the next thing you know it’s a blue sky day and I have to rush the clay inside and cover it up with plastic hoping to slow it down. Because of this my work is a product even more tied to the world around me and Santa Cruz the home I love.

Where did the inspiration for the cactus and mountain designs come from?

I’m a backpacker. My designs are based on the many wilderness area of California. As Californians we are spoiled with mountains, desert, and ocean. There is infinite inspiration in the landscapes around us.

Now I see the wilderness in a whole new way. I see a rock in the desert and wonder how I can get that pink blue ombre on a mug. I see mountain range and wonder about recreating the shapes of the peaks and valleys.

Mountain Mug by Coco


Santa Cruz has a thriving community of artists and skilled makers. How has living and working here been for you?

I always struggled with calling myself an artist. It takes a lot of confidence to claim. In Santa Cruz it helps that everyone is an artist.

I split my studio space on the west side with a sign painter and surfboard shaper. My partner is a sculptor and printmaker and works on campus (UCSC) in the Art Department. My housemates are musicians and bike mechanics.

Someone is always high on a new idea. The other day I was shouting in the shop excited about trying something new. We help each other stay inspired.  

What do you do when you’re not making ceramics?

Surf // summer bbqs // walk a dog // eat good food with friends

How do you find the balance between making art and running a business? Doing what you love versus doing it as a way to make money?

I feel busy in every moment. 

You have a big and loving following. Did you see this coming or were you surprised?

I think people are deeply moved by their time outdoors and want to bring it into their homes. I like helping with that.

What advice would you give artists or ceramicists trying to launch a career in this field?

Trust what you love.


You can shop Coco's mugs with us in-store and online here.

Follow Coco on Instagram.

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