Anna Cosimini

by Nisha Btesh June 29, 2020 1 Comment

Anna Cosimini

I wake up around 8am most days. I start off my day listening to news podcasts from NPR and the NY Times while I make a french press or pour over coffee. Breakfast runs the gamut, but usually whatever I make involves a bunch of veggies or fruit. Next I wake up my snoozing pup, Kaia, by asking her if she wants her breakfast, and she responds by wildly launching out of bed. She gets her breakfast in a puzzle toy that keeps her entertained for a bit while I finish up my coffee and start planning out my priorities for the day. 

Being self employed and also particularly blessed with inattentive ADHD, I have a whole toolbox of apps and life hacks to keep some semblance of structure in my life and keep me relatively sane. In particular I would be lost without the app Todoist (referral link https://todoist.com/r/anna_cosimini_rygays) which I use in conjunction with a pen and paper scratch pad to keep track of tasks in practically every area of my life. 

My most effective AM ritual is picking out just THREE priorities and making sure I write them down and log them in Todoist. I also often tell Kaia what our priorities are for the day. She is a terrible secretary and never seems to do anything with this important information, but saying it out loud seems to help me actualize my plans. I call this process my “morning meeting” in a nod to Steven Pressfield’s classic guidebook for creatives, The War of Art

Next Kaia and I head out on our morning walk, often hitting the nearby park while we’re at it. I like to take a few minutes to sit in the grass and do a tiny meditation for 1-5 minutes with Insight Timer or Simple Habit, and my Duolingo language practice for the day. I’m a year and a half into learning Vietnamese, and I’m often astonished by how consistent little bites of practice add up! The motivation to maintain a “streak” within those apps helps me stick to practicing every day. 

After we walk, I try to go directly to the studio without stopping at home, where I’m likely to get distracted. I might clean my studio desk a bit first, but so long as I dive into a project quickly enough and get into a good flow state, it's the start to a good productive day. 

 

Tell us about how you became the woman you are today. Where did you grow up? What moments in life have influenced your character most?

I’m originally from Natick, Massachusetts. My dad is a veterinarian with a small clinic that my mom manages, and growing up in a vet hospital undoubtedly influenced my interest in science and biology. Those themes come up often in my clay work. Their example of entrepreneurship probably influenced me as well.

Both of my parents are very creative, and my extended family has a lot of creative professionals- carpenters, musicians, illustrators, chefs. I have one older brother, who was always tinkering and building things as a kid, who is now a custom knife maker and product developer. We’re very fortunate to have a family that encourages our creative interests. 

Tell us a little bit about what drew you to your medium. Did you choose to work with this medium or did it choose you?

I first picked up clay around 10 or 11, when an elementary school friend and I enrolled in classes together. It was a weekly after school class in the basement studio of an artist across town who taught middle school art for a different district. I kept going alone for years after my friend lost interest, and it was one of my best lifelines through the trials and tribulations of middle and high school. I initially resisted the idea of studying art in college, favoring linguistics or social work. It wasn’t until the start of my freshman year at Northeastern that I realized I felt most at home in the art building, even though it was mainly geared towards digital art. (Digital media is not my forte, I just do it when I have to.) Not long afterwards I transferred to MassArt across the street, which was much more suited to fine arts and 3D mediums. When I toured MassArt, I distinctly remember noticing the difference between the way the buildings smelled - Northeastern’s art building full of computers smelled mostly like the pizza counter in the entryway. At MassArt, throughout the maze of quirky old buildings, the smells of chalk and paint and cardboard, metalworking and clay and plasticine and foam made me feel perfectly at home. 
 

A lot of women believe they need formal training in order to succeed as a Female Artist. What’s your take?

There are a lot of pathways to creative careers, and unlike becoming a doctor or a pilot, you aren’t required to get a specific education to be a ceramist. I think formal training is a fantastic option for a career in the arts, but it’s important not to discount the many other potential pathways to a creative career. I learned so much at art school, but I also learned a lot from a myriad of other experiences and I continue to take workshops and classes when I can.

I’m fortunate that I went to a pretty affordable state college, so tuition wasn’t as high as a lot of private art schools. That’s a critical consideration especially when it comes to studying art (particularly ceramics or another fairly humble craft). It always helps to be ambitious for financial success in your career, but even if you’re famously successful in ceramics, you’re still likely to make a pretty modest income. If a program you’re considering is going to saddle you with debt as you’re beginning your career, keep in mind all the alternative free or lower cost ways to get practice in your medium and learn from masters of your craft. I sought out a summer internship at Santa Fe Clay for one of my summer breaks, and that experience was really valuable. Though I had a great experience myself, unpaid internships have garnered more concern in recent years. Do your best to be discerning, but maybe don’t write off the idea entirely. Don’t work as an intern for someone who’s only going to send you to pick up coffee, but if the company or artist really has your best interests in mind, you can create a symbiotic relationship where you’re helpful and simultaneously learning the same skills you might learn in school. At Santa Fe Clay, I also learned a few skills that weren’t covered at school, like the packing and shipping tricks I learned in their gallery that I now use to safely send my own work across the country. 

After I graduated and moved to San Diego, I was lucky to work for a year in the studio of the potter David Cuzick. If you’re able to work as a studio assistant/ mentee in the studio of an artist you admire, and one who is willing to pass along some wisdom, take the opportunity. Much like an internship, your compensation for your use of the studio may be mixing glazes, pugging clay, grinding shelves, etc. - a lot of the same stuff that you should be practicing in college anyway.

I also try to pay attention to the aspects of my side jobs that teach me useful and relevant skills for my own ceramics business. Over the past 6 years in San Diego I’ve worked side jobs and gigs for a bunch of small businesses, independent artists, and a few bigger businesses. I’ve been able to see how each of them ran their business, managed orders, goods and supplies, how each one approaches branding and marketing, customer service, etc., and get a sense of the effects of their strengths and weaknesses. There’s a lot of value in that education as well.  

Let's talk about vulnerability. What role has being vulnerable played in your work, success or failures?

I think this is something I’m still figuring out. Artmaking is often such a personal thing. It can be hard to tell where to place your boundaries when it comes to talking about your work. The meanings and concepts behind my work are often more complex than the summary I might give to someone who comes to see it at a show. I’ve found it can be successful to give an idea of the concepts that were important to me in making the work, but largely to let the viewer interpret the concepts that they draw from it on their own. 

I used to shy away from making work exploring personal concepts because it was intimidating, and I told myself I just wasn’t interested or that it wouldn’t be interesting to others. Over time I find myself more drawn to using those ideas, safe in the knowledge that I don’t actually HAVE to tell everyone exactly what I was thinking. I think that by doing this over time, I’m finding more ways to translate those thoughts and ideas in different ways to an audience.

Otherwise, the fear of vulnerability, of asking for help, of not being perfect, has kept me from doing a lot of things. It’s hard to break out of those habits, but I think the first step is practicing simple awareness of when they're happening. By consciously noticing those tendencies I can practice challenging them more often. 

How do you stay motivated?

It’s a challenge. I have been really focused on figuring this one out in recent years. I try to be really attentive to maintaining mental health and a positive mindset. That takes a lot of time, but that’s probably the point of the “life” in the work/life balance that everyone likes to talk about. 

For me that looks like:

  • When I’m regularly meditating 1-5 minutes per day, I’m definitely more aware of what’s going on in my head and why
  • Eating 95% plant based and limiting sugar/ highly processed stuff keeps my head clearer 
  • Walking about 3 miles a day (thanks to Kaia) because an object in motion stays in motion
  • Making a point to schedule time with friends
  • Listening to music 
  • Armchair-studying psychology via audiobooks, podcasts, and reading
  • Making a point to always be practicing or learning something new
  • Continuing education in ceramics, i.e. occasional workshops and conferences 

All these efforts add up to keep my brain happier and more engaged, so I have way more motivation. Right now everything is in total chaos with the pandemic, so even with my best efforts at all of the above, finding motivation is HARD.

I pull out other tricks when I need them:

  • setting deadlines for myself by telling my client when to expect updates 
  • I’m much better at keeping commitments to others than to myself, so I enlist friends in “accountabilibuddying” 
  • I try to set a timer when I need a break from working, so I don’t wander off for hours on end. 
In spite of that exhaustive list, I think the most important thing to know about motivation is that it kind of doesn’t matter. It’s possible (and necessary) to start even when I don’t have motivation. The magic of motivation is going to show up once I get going, but rarely before that. 
 

What is your biggest focus and/or goal in your career right now? What plans do you have for yourself 1,3,5 years from now?

Right now, with everything in crisis with COVID, I feel pretty unmoored from the goals and plans that I made in December and January for this year and the years to follow. The way the world will function in the future and my finances as I weather the loss of shows and sales are more uncertain than ever. I wish I could say that in the midst of the pandemic I’m one of those people who’s doubling down on productivity and using all their free time to develop 15 new skills, but it’s hard not to feel drained and disillusioned right now.  

That said, some of my current goals are:

1 year: 
  • Practice putting myself out there more on social media, my website, in conversations at shows, etc.; being open about mental health; practicing vulnerability
  • Develop stronger business strategies and professional practices (i.e forms/ documents for new commissions) 
  • Find new ways to volunteer in my community
1-3 year:
  • Pursue formal education in psychology, nutrition and fitness in an effort to better understand mental health and support myself and others
5 year:
  • Visit Vietnam (I visited Vietnam for a few weeks as a senior at MassArt in 2014, and wanting to return is the reason I picked up learning Vietnamese again)
 

How do you define your creative gig? Full-time career or side hustle? Explain why you’ve chosen one over the other.

I figure that my work as an artist is a lifelong career, if not a full time career. I always have side gigs and jobs for extra income, although my self employment is growing over time to be a larger proportion of my income. As I mentioned elsewhere, those side jobs are also a useful way to see how other creative businesses function. Having side jobs makes my finances a little more consistent, which eases some anxiety. 
 

Big or small, what’s the single best money making tip or piece of advice you can share with up and coming artists?

Live below your means if possible; try to save what you can, when you can. There’s this old WWI and depression era slogan:  
 
“Use it up, wear it out, make it last, or do without” 
 
Adopting this attitude seriously encourages more creative thinking in all sorts of areas of your life. It can inspire a different approach to materials around the house and in the studio. You might learn how to darn a sweater (I’m not kidding, all you need is a needle and thread and the internet) or make recipe substitutions, or cut up old clothes to replace paper towels. Forget buying storage containers and save the glass jars and containers that package your food. There’s a fantastic intersection here of sustainability, saving money, creative thinking, and being a shameless weirdo.
 
Plus if you can build up any extra savings, the little boost to your peace of mind can give you more freedom in your creative work and more funds to feed your career. 
 
(Side note - I haaaate articles about how “millennials can't buy houses because they need to stop buying avocado toast and lattes!” That’s not what I’m implying here. The modern economy is truly fucked up, there are massive structural problems and insurmountable barriers in front of far too many people, and people complaining about millennials buying toast make me want to scream.) 
 

What tools, apps, websites, blogs, books, or podcasts help you the most when it comes to financials?

  • Todoist reminds me when it’s a bookkeeping day
  • Quickbooks Self Employed tracks my business and personal expenses, logs my business miles, and exports easily into TurboTax Self Employed at tax time
  • A filing box with hanging files keeps my records and documents organized
  • the woman owned company Ellevest for financial advice, retirement and investing accounts
  • the podcast Death, Sex and Money for frank conversations 

What do you know for sure?

I am more capable than I think I am.
 

Give us three of your favorite/ most inspiring things right now. It could be a book, a food, a destination, a song, a person, etc.

  • My dog Kaia - she is such a good soul. I adopted her almost exactly a year ago and I can’t believe how lucky I am. Having a dog is such a positive influence! My days are now full of walks. So much affection and snuggles and unconditional love. She also influences my thinking about training and perception and learning. She lives in the moment. She’s such a happy little being.  
  • Growing sprouts on my kitchen windowsill, and growing a garden. There’s something profound about seeing the changes day by day in the tiny sprouts, and protecting and caring for plants. And then you get to eat them and they’re delicious, haha. 
  • Working with paper clay - it has a variety of enhanced properties compared to regular clay, and as I’m getting familiar with it, it forces me to work a little looser when it comes to my surfaces and not be so much of a perfectionist. 
 

What's the best advice you've ever been given?

I first read Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art when I was 23, and I’ve re-read it and listened to the audiobook countless times in the last 5 years. I have a hundred favorite lines, but one of them is, “Socrates demonstrated long ago, that the truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”

Lately another favorite, especially on days that resistance is showing up as depression and anxiety and general malaise is, “As soon as I sat down and began, I was okay.”

Finish this sentence. I find myself most inspired to create when I am…

Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working” (Picasso) puts it best. All it takes is walking into the studio and getting underway.  

Name 3 of your guilty pleasures.

-Listening to way too many podcasts 

-Puttering around at home doing inconsequential projects like organizing and little home improvements

-lately, I’ve been going down rabbit holes of looking at vintage jello ads and recipes on Instagram, from the gorgeously enticing to the fascinatingly weird. I just can’t look away.  

Name 3 Artists you would like to see featured on Hola Gwapa next and what you love about them.

Mariah Hoffman (Micro Modula) - Mariah has impressive vision and taste. She built her tiny house from the ground up and I’ve always admired her tenacity.
 
Liz Osche (Junon Jewelry) - I know Liz from working farmer’s markets around San Diego. She's hard working and she makes such gorgeous jewelry.
 
Nicole Ghray- She makes compelling and interesting series and conveys emotion so well through her illustration and painting.
To learn more about Anna Cosimini, please visit sdvoyager.com/interview/meet-anna-cosimini



Nisha Btesh
Nisha Btesh

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1 Response

Gary Welsh
Gary Welsh

July 03, 2020

I have a couple of pieces of functional work by anna…..I have been impressed with her work…the surfaces and the abstract organic pieces are really amazing to me….I am so impressed by her interview…so thoughtful and growth motivated…..I am a hibernating artist living with bipolar disorder and being 60 I must count surviving is a bit of a miracle….this has inspired me……thank you for giving her the opportunity to express her ideas and thoughts….💜

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