Soda firing by Robyn Gough
I have long admired the aesthetic of soda glazed surfaces but was unsure how to go about developing clay bodies and a body of work to do justice to this unique method of glazing. I was fortunate to find one of my lecturers at the Australian National University Ceramic Workshop to be none other than Dr Gail Nichols, renowned soda vapour glaze artist. Under her guidance the past fifteen months have been an exciting journey, a constant experience of cause and effect.
I began with the thought of developing a range of functional ware. I've always felt a desire to make vessels for use, vessels that give the user pleasure in the small things that everyday life is made up of. In this high-tech world of ours, for me it's special to go back to basics, growing my own produce, taking pleasure from serving friends and family fresh food, enjoying good company, taking time out to relax, treasuring the moments shared. If I could create a range of functional ware where others felt these things I would be happy. For some years I was resident potter at the Japanese Gardens in Cowra and it was there I discovered tea. I became fascinated by the rituals involved in serving tea and sharing those moments with others.
Whilst the desire to make functional ware is still there, I've found my adventures into soda vapour glazing has broadened my horizons. Each clay body I tested, some commercial, some I made myself, gave me so much information I realised I would need a couple of lifetimes to follow it through! It wasn't just a matter of developing a range of functional ware - the responses of the soda vapour glazing to the different clay bodies led me in different directions, and I learnt that even at my age, things change.
One small drop of glass and I discovered the thrill of the elusive - my work did not only have to be about function. This small clear blue drop of glass occurred on the tip of the cone during the very first firing. I saved the cone pack, placed it on the window sill in my workspace. I came back to it time and again. The sun glinting through the drop each morning brought a touch of magic into my days - surely I could go somewhere with this!
I continued with my other clay tests, finally settling on two bodies that gave me results I was very pleased with, one an earthy brown, one a glossy pitted surface reminiscent of water over rock.
I still kept coming back to the glass drop - how could I cause this to happen?
After a number of experiments I achieved my wish. Glass drops on the rims of small dishes and bowls.
I was working then with three clay bodies, and found that my work was not developing around a concept, but that it was the process of developing clay bodies, the firing cycles and the responses of the clay to soda that was giving me direction.
I have worked towards three exhibitions in 2005 which I hope will be a happy mix of functional and non-functional work, a lesson to myself that I can provide myself and others with a range of functional ware for everyday enjoyment and also, give myself the opportunity to play a little.
Robyn Gough is the recipient of the 2004 Canberra Potters' Society EASS Award