While studying to be a physician assistant at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Anna Simmers de-stressed by making intricate polymer clay earrings in her McAllen apartment. Her first pieces, based on South Texas flowers, quickly sold out online thanks to Instagram, where she built a loyal following for her Ann Made Clay line. She sold enough to even cover her summer tuition. The 25-year-old now works as a breast surgical oncology PA at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, but at night she swaps her scalpel for an X-Acto knife to create mini masterpieces. Her collections have grown to include cityscapes as well as designs inspired by artists such as Vincent van Gogh. “I never really considered myself to be a creative person,” she says, “but I’ve always been very detail oriented.”

Texas Monthly: What drew you to clay?

Anna Simmers: I started following clay pages on Instagram in the midst of the pandemic and was inspired to try it, but I probably started selling a little sooner than I should have. Initially, I didn’t invest in the right equipment. I was using a wooden rolling pin and other little tools that I had around the house to make them at my kitchen counter. I was shocked by how fast things sold out, and that motivated me to make more and get better.

TM: What’s your process like now? How long does it take to make a pair of earrings?

AS: A simple set takes roughly an hour, but the more intricate designs can take twelve hours over the course of several days. I’ve invested in a desk and some new tools—like a pasta machine to ensure a consistent thickness—but I still do all of my designs freehand. I have a reference photo or painting up on my laptop in front of me, but that’s it. 

TM: Has your science background informed your art or vice versa?

AS: I don’t think of clay as being really scientific, but I will say that since I started, it’s helped with my surgical skills. But really it’s more therapeutic. I’m in an operating room from about seven-thirty a.m. until five p.m. If I’m working on something I’m really excited about, sometimes I’ll come home and sit down, still in my scrubs, and start working on clay. Next thing I know, I’ll look up and it’s been three hours.

TM: How has your work evolved?

AS: Early on, most of my pieces were inspired by flowers, specifically flowers in South Texas, where I was living. One of my signature designs came from these really beautiful bird-of-paradise plants in the yard at my boyfriend’s parents’ house. Those three-dimensional flowers were the foundation for the cityscapes and everything that came after.

TM: The cityscapes feel very realistic. Are they based on actual buildings? 

AS: I’ve been lucky enough to go to Europe three times. Last year, we went to London and Madrid, and while I was there, I took photos of the architecture. Those became my inspiration for an entire collection of cityscapes. But I also find images on Pinterest.

TM: What’s been the most challenging design?

AS: The London cityscapes were challenging because previously I had only done one building per earring, but I put two little townhouses on each, and that was a lot more detail than I’m used to. The art-inspired pieces, like Claude Monet’s Water Lilies and Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night, were also pretty challenging because it involved a pointillism technique with tiny bits of clay.

TM: Do you ever make the same design twice?

AS: Series may have a similar design, but I never make the same cityscape. Some customers have three or four cityscapes and consider them to be more of an art collection. I don’t really think of myself as an artist, but it’s always a very cool compliment.

TM: But they’re meant to be worn, right? How fragile are the earrings?

AS: Yes, people are always worried they’re breakable, but after it’s baked, polymer clay becomes almost like plastic. 

TM: What’s your favorite thing you’ve made?

AS: Probably my Mediterranean cityscape. I really like Mediterranean architecture, and the neutral palette goes more with my personal style.

TM: Do you wear your own designs?

AS: Ironically, no. Dangly earrings are not really conducive to working at a hospital.

TM: What does the future hold for Ann Made Clay?

AS: I would love to experiment with even more three-dimensional pieces and do some commission-based work where I design cityscapes based on others’ favorite places. I’d also love to host virtual classes and maybe showcase other artists’ work—I like the sense of support in the art community.

TM: How often can fans expect a new collection?

AS: I would like to say every week or every month, but realistically it will probably be every other month. The best way to stay in the know is by following me on Instagram.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

An abbreviated version of this article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “The Earring Artist.” Subscribe today.