Potter and UC Santa Cruz student Anna Cummins has amassed hundreds of thousands of followers across social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok through her distinctive style and personable videos. Cummins spoke with Lookout about her process of promoting herself, how artists can develop an online presence and her artistic technique.
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Anna Cummins, 20, is a potter who has successfully created an online and offline business. A UC Santa Cruz student heading into her third year, Cummins discovered her love of pottery in school. After graduating high school in 2020, Cummins earned a scholarship to study in France, which fell through because of the pandemic, leaving her with a year before she could enroll in college. Her love of pottery led her to join a local community studio and she began crafting pieces.
There isn’t one way to define a potter; Cummins is a production potter, someone who creates large numbers of ceramics with clay, by hand or a wheel, to create a functional product. Don’t let this confuse you with commercial pottery, where pieces are mass-produced in a factory. Everything about Cummins’ work, from the painting to the carving and shaping, is all done by hand in a studio.
While Cummins was working in the studio, she was also an assistant for a local artist in Chico, and she began reaching out to different local shops and markets there to sell her artwork. In spring 2022, she was working from the studios at the Tannery Arts Center, where she met a woman who offered her an opportunity to take over her studio in the Santa Cruz arts complex. Cummins and two friends were greeted by an empty studio and a run-down kiln, but built it out over the span of a few months.
Through consistency and grit, Cummins has built a reputation that stretches beyond the city of Santa Cruz. She has amassed a following of 116,000 on Instagram and nearly 150,000 followers on TikTok. She regularly features narrated videos of behind-the-scenes looks at her process, montages of her products, and shares occasional updates on her life. Cummins evolves with the ever-changing platforms and has learned how to balance the business and artistic sides of her career all while taking advantage of her knowledge of social media.
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Her self-described “witchy cottage-core” style is inspired by mushrooms and the nature of Santa Cruz, combined with sisterhood and feminine energy. Cummins pulls from the elements and people around her to create a soft, ethereal and unique artistic style that makes her work distinct. She specializes in dishware and smokeware, but has other items such as ashtrays, incense holders, pendants, stickers and T-shirts. Her clay products range in price from $8 to $140.
She is currently gearing up for her June 10 website drop, when people can purchase her work. When Cummins isn’t in the studio, she’s drawing, enjoying acro-yoga, lying in bed and taking naps.
- Inspire School of Arts & Sciences, Chico: High school diploma
- UC Santa Cruz, majoring in art history
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Lookout: How would you describe your career?
Anna Cummins: I tell people I’m a production potter. So I make dishes, dishware and smokeware at high volume and then I sell it on my site and at local markets.
Lookout: How did you become involved in this field and why?
Cummins: I started making my work at a community studio and because I was working [there] rather than a high school, I had the opportunity to expand and start making more functional work and work in high volumes. When you make a lot of pottery, you can only have so much pottery in your house. So really quickly it got to the point where I was like, “I have too much pottery, I need to do something with this.” The most logical thing seemed to [be to] sell it, so I started selling in stores in Chico and at little markets. At first, it was just a cool thing to do to pay for my studio fees and material fees. This evolved into, “Oh, I can pay for my life with this,” which is really cool. I really enjoyed that more than working for somebody else; I made the shift to say, “I’m going to try really hard and this and I’m going to make it work.”
Lookout: What does a typical day look like for you?
Cummins: Right now I am in school, so it does rotate around what I’m doing in school. I like to get what’s hardest for me out [of the way] early in the morning. So when I wake up, I do a bit of schoolwork. I like to have morning classes, so I either go to class or I do homework. Then after that I try to get into the studio. I like to get into the studio by 11 [a.m] or noon on a good day.
I usually start the day by throwing — it’s when I put a ball of clay on the wheel and I turn it into a vessel. After [throwing clay], you can’t touch it right when it comes off the wheel because it’s really, really wet, so then it needs a couple hours depending on how hot it is to set up. Then I’ll get to finishing those pieces. A good workday for me is eight hours. I’ll take a lunch break. I really like to eat burritos [her favorite is Salsa’s Taco Bar at 17th Avenue and Brommer Street in Santa Cruz]. Sometimes I take a break and I go do some active stuff like partner yoga or go for a walk. Then I usually come back to the studio; I like nighttime work.
Lookout: What are your biggest challenges?
Cummins: Probably the biggest challenge is finding a space to make my work. I worked in community studios up until the start of this year. I feel very lucky that I found community studios and people in those spaces who could support me, but making so much work is really impactful on community spaces. A lot of those spaces would rather not have working potters in there, so it’s not convenient. Then also it’s difficult too because you don’t have full control over the space. In my last studio [Floasis], because it was a community studio, I [was] competing with 40 to 60 members to get my work through the kiln. This year, I got my own studio with two other working potters and that was a really big challenge.
Lookout: What was it like moving into your own studio at the Tannery Arts Center?
Cummins: It was a really hard decision because it’s more expensive than being at a community studio, and we were like, “Are we going to be able to afford this?” But then we decided to do it.
We signed the lease and moved in on Jan. 1 [and] the studio was empty. We built the whole thing out; it had a kiln but it didn’t work so well. Luckily [her friend and fellow potter] Aria had found a kiln on Craigslist and we drove an hour and a half north. We took the kiln apart and then brought it back to the studio and reassembled it in Santa Cruz. Then we had to get somebody to do the electrical work on it; the whole process [of getting a working kiln] took about two months. Before that, we got a bunch of old tables [and] refinished them. We built these floor-to-ceiling shelves, we repainted the walls and just did a bunch of stuff in there.
Lookout: How do you navigate building a business at a young age?
Cummins: My business is really based around social media and because I’m 20 — go Gen Z! — I have that in me to promote myself. I also see what other potters are doing on social media and I do what they’re doing.
I make videos; I’m also aware of how the platform is changing constantly. It’s a heavy combination between making my own content and what other people are doing. You’ll definitely see creators [who] find something that works and get stuck in that, and it’s going to work for a little while but it’s going to change. My videos are all based around me; people really love a personality and a person to follow. I include myself in my videos, I talk in my videos and that does really well and it helps people relate to my art. So when they buy a mug from me, they can envision the person that made it.
Lookout: What tips would you give artists that are wanting to sell their work online or through local businesses?
Cummins: For online, I would say first research, find creators who are in your niche and see what they’re doing and recreate that brand of content. I’m not saying to recreate what they’re creating — don’t recreate their product, but recreate how they document their product. See what’s doing well and copy that. Be consistent and share your process; people love [the] behind-the-scenes. I also tell people [to create] a good-quality post, video or picture every two or three days, or as much as you can manage, and then [post] stories more casually every day. [Also] connect with people, it’s important to engage with people. If you’re getting comments, engage with those people and also comment on others’ stuff and engage with other people in your community.
For local businesses, I would say don’t be afraid to reach out — if you don’t already have a presence in the community, they’re not going [to] reach out to you. When I was first starting, I reached out to plant shops because that’s who I [saw] selling pottery. So I would reach out and be like, “Hey, want to sell my work?”
Lookout: What do you love most about your job?
Cummins: I love my job so much. I love many things about it. I love the freedom, specifically to let my creative juices flow. I love being able to come into the studio and do whatever I want. I love being able to show up and say, “I’m going to make planters with bugs on them” and I can just do that. There’s lots of wiggle room.
Lookout: Can you talk to me about your artistic style and what inspires you?
Cummins: My artistic style is witchy, cottage-core vibes. I’m super inspired by nature and I love mushroom season here in Santa Cruz and in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I love drawing mushrooms; there’s so many different types of mushrooms to draw and I really like the way they look in my art. I love critters. I love vermin and anything soft and naturey. I feel like all my work has a really soft vibe and I really love that.
Lookout: Can you speak to the combined elements of feminine energy and nature, and it means to you?
Cummins: I am surrounded by the most amazing women and I have so much positive and beautiful feminine energy in my life. I feel like everything I make has that translated into it. It’s kind of unconscious and conscious at the same time. I have said I make work about sisterhood and I don’t think that any of my work is right on the nose about that, but I think that’s a vibe there. I love drawing women, I draw exclusively women. I just really love the way that makes me feel and I hope that when people see my art, they feel the same way.
Lookout: How can an artist starting out hone their artistic style?
Cummins: People ask me that question all that time. This is super mushy advice, [but] be authentic to what you are and what you love. Don’t follow trends that you think are popular if you don’t like them. Jump on trends if you love to make that kind of art, but be authentic to yourself and then you’ll be creating the best art.
I feel like in middle school [and] high school, I spent a really long time chasing my style. I remember watching YouTube videos, “how to find your art style” and then I let go of that concept and it just came from within me. Things that feel good to me [are] what I put into my art and then they became my style. At the same time, don’t be afraid to do things that don’t feel like they’re in your style because they will be if you make them.
Lookout: What do you feel are the skills needed for someone to succeed in this career field?
Cummins: I think you have to have self-motivation, self-management, time-management skills and you have to have that sweet combination of a little bit of business talk. I know lots of wonderful artists that have other jobs because they don’t have the business in them. If you lack in that side, that is something that is super important to home in on and work on. I think that being self-driven and self-motivated is probably the most important thing because nobody’s going to tell you it’s time for you to come into the studio.
Lookout: How can young artists price their work?
Cummins: I would say that’s a hard one, because I’m not very good at pricing my art. People are always like, “How do you price your art?” [and] I’m like, “I make it up.” I would tell people to pay yourself hourly. I don’t hard-set [prices], like this took me 2.5 hours and this is how much [the] materials were, so this is how much the price is. I roughly pay myself $50 an hour and I price things based on what it feels good to sell and what I know they’ll sell for. I think the main factors are how much I think it’s worth and how much money I need to feel OK with saying goodbye to this piece.
[Also] look at other people in your niche and see what they’re selling their work for. You don’t want to be too high but you also don’t want to be too low.
Lookout: What does the future look like for you and your career?
Cummins: Well, I’m in a really good spot right now. I’m kind of chilling. I am working in my studio with my two amazing studiomates. I have my June 10 restock. I haven’t accepted yet, but I’m hoping to participate in Open Studios again in the fall, so that’ll be [the second and third weekends] in October. I’m looking forward to school ending and making a lot of pottery in the summer.