Maker Profile: Coco Barrett-Tormey, Ceramicist of Coco Chispa - Santa Cruz


Hi Coco! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I am a California-born and Santa Cruz-based potter inspired by the outdoors. I love connecting the experience of being in the outdoors to taking a slow moment with your mug.

What is your background (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
I grew up backpacking from a young age all around California. Studying gardening/farming, leading outdoors trips, getting inspired by the outdoors...all of this lead into the slow lifestyle, and using important pieces of pottery every morning was a part of this. Next I started to make my own pottery. At UCSC I studied art activism, learning how art influences our culture and how that can be used to shape our reality. I like to think there’s some activism in using my art in our daily city lives to remember our wild outdoor selves.

When did you begin working with ceramics? As someone who is inspired by the outdoors, were you ever drawn to a different art form or career path encompassing nature?
I started pottery when I graduated college and had some free time. I thought that I was going to lead backpacking classes and farm in Northern California but then I fell in love with the ocean and pottery in Southern California so now I try to share those wilderness experiences with people through pottery.


After you began your ceramic work, how long did it take for you to create a business? What was that transition time like?
I am still doing that! Always starting a business, just figuring it out as I went because I have been lucky enough to have momentum. A lot of that is just from one boutique leading to another. Which also feels really lucky to me, because growth leads to more growth. Now I’m figuring out how to keep up with it. Lately I have been thinking a lot about balancing what I want my life to be like and trying not to live in fear of momentum stopping. I feel so lucky to have enthusiasm behind my brand and I also want to live the lifestyle of slow time, that’s part of my business.

What does your design process look like?
I always try to make time for creative design even when I’m slammed with production. Being that everything is handmade, design feels like it happens in every step and every individual piece even though I’m making batches of over 100 mugs a week. I actually find my style growing with each mug, being inspired by new colors and shape. The possibilities with clay are infinite and that’s really motivating.


What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I’m passionate about my work because I’m passionate about my morning ritual and how connects I get to whatever vessel I am using to help me transport to my deep slow place before starting my day. I stay passionate when I hear how mugs I make help other people with that experience too.

What are some of the setbacks or challenges you face with your work?
Balancing production and handmade has been a challenge for me. There’s this handmade culture people idealize, but people are use to a production product. So how do you make something unique and magical but also make sure people are getting what they’re expecting, and then make 100 of them? Also making time for new ideas and making sure I have energy for being creative, those are both things that can get swept aside in the hustle of production.


At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
Women are so good at uplifting each other but at times this world feels so competitive, it’s important to not forget we do our best work when we are working together. For so many of us our business is our life and so our lives become better when we share them with each other.

What creative women do you find inspiring?
My girlfriends who insist on being feminine in every situation. Wearing long skirts on hikes. Making elaborate meals in backcountry. Organizing their farm/garden with such attention to beauty. Women with growing small business who are working relentlessly to put themselves out there which is not always easy!


What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
I’m learning about self care. Which leaks into every part of my life. It means keeping my shop space clean and inspiring. It means making time for my girlfriends and maintaining those relationships. It means getting out in the ocean and remembering how much bigger the world is than me. It means drinking coffee and staring at the wall to turn my brain off for some time.

What are some of your favorite places in Santa Cruz?
I like that Santa Cruz is a big small town where familiar characters appear in my life everyday because we share the same spots. Sometimes I feel like I know everyone in this town and then go to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and get my mind blown by how many different people enjoy this place. I feel endlessly lucky to have landed here.


Find Coco at: