Potter Coco Barrett-Tormey

Instant Coffee Break with Santa Cruz Artist Coco

We popped into Santa Cruz potter Coco Barrett-Tormey's artist oasis to catch up over a quick cup of coffee.

Local artist, Coco, in her workshop

Over on the dreamy Westside of Santa Cruz near 1010 Fair, we popped into local potter Coco Barrett-Tormey's artist oasis to catch up over coffee. After wandering around for a few minutes looking for Unit N, we turned a corner on the tucked-away driveway to find Coco’s shared industrial studio. Our first glimpse through the large roll-up door was met with an avalanche of visual inspiration and the feeling of being invited into a special space. If you’ve ever gone on an open studio tour, you’ll know what we’re talking about. When you enter into an artist’s creative area, you’re stepping into their heart and mind. They’re opening themselves up and it can be a beautiful, intimate experience. Coco’s studio loft was no exception. Each corner, cubby, and crevasse was taken into thoughtful consideration to create her functional and beautiful studio.

Coco ChisPa pottery art work

Inspired by the diverse California landscapes, Coco pulls inspiration from a wealth of natural beauty in the deserts, mountains, and oceans surrounding her. Her love for “the art of long mornings” started about a decade ago when she was living on a farm in a tiny California town. Driving hours on the winding roads, through mountains and pastures instilled the slow coast lifestyle. When she started working with clay, it became a medium to bring those beautiful rural memories to life through her signature handmade mugs.

“I would wake up in my dark tent in the garden and start my morning ritual.” There were always a couple of things needed to get the day going: coffee and her favorite mug. “A favorite mug can become a part of someone’s morning ritual and becomes associated with a time to slow down before gearing up for the day.”

Coco creating her pottery art

The magic surrounding a favorite handmade mug is not lost on Coco. “It feels like a part of your identity because it’s the only one like that in the world.” Every time someone picks up one of her pieces, they’re reminded to slow down, take care of themselves and enjoy versus rushing through the motions of life.

Coco making her favorite handmade mug

Even when her hands are cracking from spending seven days a week touching clay, Coco couldn’t be more grateful for the privilege to pursue her passion. “I love making pottery because it’s a way to connect to people in their everyday lives.” Every piece is hand thrown, painted, carved, glazed and fired by Coco. While the finish pieces are always a thing of beauty, sometimes the hours and steps that went into each one-of-a-kind creation can be overshadowed. There’s no behind-the-scenes crew moving mugs out of the kiln or trimming cups off bats. It’s a one-woman operation. There’s an art to creating a cup that naturally feels good in your hand and Coco makes it seem effortless.

Coco painting her custom art mug

“Pretty much every day, I remind myself that I’m so lucky. That’s important to remind yourself that you are lucky all the time.”

Pouring Verve Instant Craft Coffee into custom handmade mug

Fellowproducts EKG pouring hot water into Verve Instant craft coffee


With the kettle fired up and mugs at the ready, we caught up with Coco over a quick cup of Instant Craft Coffee.

Q: When do you feel most energized and ready to create?

A: I am definitely most energized to create in the morning after I drink coffee in bed and stare at the wall for an hour in the dark. That's when I go to the shop and get my best work done.

Q: How do you balance production with staying creative?

A: I think a lot of people don’t know that I’m the only person making my mugs. I’m weighing out one pound for each mug, throwing each cylinder, attaching every handle, painting and carving every design. When someone says they are drinking out of one of my mugs, I know I made it. I always try to make time for creative design even when I’m slammed with production. I actually find my style growing with each mug, being inspired by new colors and shapes. The possibilities with clay are infinite and that’s really motivating.

Q: What song or album is on heavy rotation right now?

A: The Talking Heads on the shop stereo and Selena Gomez in my headphones.

Q: If you could time travel, where would you go?

A: Early California and Santa Cruz before it was settled and developed. Sometimes in my daily life, it occurs to me to imagine what it was like here back then like when I'm driving around downtown or some lucky times when I've been on a boat looking back at the land or looking from the west side past the wharf and the river mouth or even coming down from the 17 highway. It would be amazing to spend a month back in time camping and exploring this area.

Q: What’s your go-to coffee order?

A: I've been hooked on the "Bowl of Soul" order with chamomile and whip cream as a rainy day treat. I also really appreciate the carafe and wood plank that tea comes in. And now I'm really looking forward to bringing the instant coffee backpacking so I won't have to hike with a coffee cone anymore! :)

Follow Coco’s creative journey on her Instagram.

Local artist, Coco, enjoying her Verve Craft Instant Coffee