Then Soda, Clay and Fire by Gail Nichols is an indispensable resource on the materials, processes and aesthetics of soda fired pottery!

Nothing
matches the rich, vibrant texture and colors of soda firing. The orange
peel, the flashing of the flame, the various effects of soda during the
firing—they all add to the beauty and intrigue of this unique firing
technique.

Soda firing is unique because it keeps you engaged in
the creative process until you turn off the kiln. And where you place
your work, how you adjust the flames, when you introduce soda—every
action affects your final result.

No matter what size kiln—from the smallest converted electric to a large downdraft production model—Soda, Clay and Fire covers all aspects of soda firing providing you with technical expertise and directions for experimenting.

Whether you’re involved in soda firing, or just looking to get an understanding of the principles, Soda, Clay and Fire is the best place to find answers and inspiration.

 


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Soda
glazing is a relatively new development in ceramics, with
exciting scope for research and experimentation. It’s a more popular
ceramic practice, particularly in the U.S., where it’s widely taught in
college ceramics departments and workshops, and has attracted a high
number or professional practitioners.

Soda
glaze surfaces typically include a thin sprayed-on sheen or light
flash, some supplementary fluxing of an applied glaze, and attempts to
imitate the orange peel texture of salt glaze. As the process has grown and matured over the last few decades, people have explored
the potential for serious engagement of soda vapor with clay bodies,
the dynamics of atmosphere during firing and cooling, and the unique
aesthetic potential of soda in its own right. In Soda, Clay and Fire, Gail
Nichols, one of the artists who has explored the technique extensively meets the demand for more advanced technical knowledge of
materials and processes and innovative approaches to soda glazing.
“…a must-read for anybody who is interested in salt or soda firing…” – Sumi von Dassow

 


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What you’ll find in Soda, Clay and Fire

Soda

High temperature soda glazing has its origin in the 1970s, when there were attempts to find less-polluting, chloride-free alternatives to salt glazing. Vapor glazing with sodium carbonates is now a widely accepted ceramic practice, particulatly among North American potters. There has been considerable development, both technically and aesthetically, and soda glaze is no longer assumed to be simply an alternative to salt. Soda glaze has its own unique characteristics, making its choice primarily one of aesthetics. Had it not been for concern over air pollution from salt kilns in the 1970s, however, it is unlikely the early soda glaze experiments would have taken place.

Gail discusses what soda is, how it’s introduced
into the kiln, and what the differences are between salt and soda. You’ll also discover how some of the world’s foremost pioneers including Jeff Zamek, Bernice Hillman, John Edye, Warren Mather, John Chalke, Chris Staley, Val Cushing , Ruthanne Tudball, Jeff Oestreich, John Glick, Brad Schwieger, and Victoria Christen use soda as part of their aesthetic.

<br />

Clay
The second key
ingredient is clay. What kind of slips, how to choose a body, and what
roles clay body components play in color development are all covered. Soda glazing presents technical challenges that at first may seem contradictory. On the one hand, the aim is to produce glaze on clay surfaces. This can prove more difficult to achieve consistently with sodium carbonates than with salt. Sodium carbonate vapor is less heavy handed than salt vapor, and less prone to penetrate into protected areas of the kiln pack. It would seem that the clay body for soda glazing must be more receptive to soda vapor, capable of forming glaze even in areas where there is little vapor present. Gail’s detailed discussion of developing and working with slips, choosing a clay body, developing high alumina clay bodies, and the roles of clay body components in color development are all covered in great detail along with her extensive test results.

 


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This book is a marvel. It’s going to take a while to digest all the
incredible information that Gail Nichols has shared from her years of
exploration into soda firing. I highly recommend this book for anyone
interested in vapor firing.  – June P Bakersville, North Carolina

and Fire
The
third essential ingredient beyond clay and soda is the firing–the process that brings clay and soda together to create glaze. Soda glazing is an atmospheric process, with results dependent on flame and vapor movement. Kiln design, choice of fuel, and strategies for loading and firing are crucial to the final result. Not surprisingly, potters who have gone down this road have developed individual methods to suit their work. There are many possible approaches and no absolute rights or wrongs, just a variety of styles to choose from. Gail guides you through the process, discussing kiln design, refractories suitable for soda firing, wadding, liner glazes, firing strategies, monitoring the progress of the firing, fuels, and health and safety.

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Painting with Fire
Learning to fire a kiln is much like learning to throw clay on a wheel. Once the essential mechanics are mastered, there is an exciting scope for creative use of the process. A surprisingly rich palette of colors and glaze effects can be achieved in a soda kiln by simply varying the kiln atmosphere and firing schedules.  The art of controlling these reactions and repeating them with some degree of accuracy comes from experience with soda, clay and fire.

As a painter learns to mix colors, a potter needs to learn the nuances of atmosphere and fire, and their effects on clay and glaze. Vapor glazing provides a special opportunity to use the firing process as a decorating tool. Gail describes a strategy for firing experiments, developing a decorative palette, creative kiln loading with placement and wadding, using water vapor in the kiln atmosphere and creative cooling.

<br />

 


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Beyond Materials and Process
The precise methodology of scientific investigation is often avoided by artists who consider it irrelevant to their preferred intuitive and expressive means of working. In a field like ceramics, in which artists have intentionally limited themselves to specific materials and processes, the need for technical research can scarcely be separated from the creative process. when the glistening dimpled surfaces first appeared on Gail’s pots in 1997, the unexpected discovery from experiments with high alumina clay bodies was like nothing she had seen before. Her technical quest for the glaze was driven by an aesthetic curiosity and an obsessive desire to make it work. You’ll
be inspired by Gail’s account of her quest for a new aesthetic where she encounters not only forming
processes, but also tackles the uncertainty of the firings and heavy reliance on intuition.

About the Author
Gail
Nichols is an Australian ceramic artist who has been recognized
internationally for her innovative approach to soda glazing. Born and
educated in the US, she moved to Australia after a stint in the Peace
Corps in Malaysia where she met and married her husband. She discovered
ceramics in 1980, initially as a hobby. Her interest rapidly led to
full-time study and a focus on salt glazing. Gail began her career as
professional potter in 1985, after completing a three-year technical
college course. Her first experiments with soda glazing began four
years later, in her inner-Sydney studio. In 1996, she began part-time
post-graduate study at Monash University, under supervision of Dr. Owne
Rye. Gail‘s clay and firing research in soda glazing earned her a
scholarship as a full-time research candidate, and by 2002 she
completed a PhD. Gail continues to work from her Sydney studio, as well
as her second studio on a rural property near Braidwood, New South
Wales.

Gail has exhibited her work in
Australia and the U.S., has published articles in numerous journals and
periodicals, and has won numerous awards. She has taught at Canberra
School of Art (Australian National University) and the National Art
School in Sydney, regularly leads workshops and participates in
conferences overseas. Her work is represented in public and private
collections in Australia and the U.S.

Gail Nichols’ volume is a welcome compendium
of the rather sparse information published to date regarding soda fired
clay. And although it is a first, it hits the target nicely. She
balances technical information with aesthetic information (in the form
of well-shot photographs) so that it will appeal to the soda
pyromaniacs as well as the gallery enthusiast. Soda-fired clay is a
relatively new phenomenon growing out of the tradition of salt glazed
ware. However, technically and aesthetically, the two traditions are
not twins, nor even siblings. They are more like cousins. Nichols’
research on the subject provides a wealth of data from which anyone
serious about soda firing clay will benefit. Take her up on her
offering. Read this book! – William Buckner, Atlanta, Georgia

You’ll be inspired by Nichols’ account of her quest for a new
aesthetic.
For anyone interested in soda or salt firing, Soda, Clay and Fire
covers the topic in great detail. The technical research and
presentation surpass all existing literature on the topic, and the
rich, vibrant examples of finished work are stunning and sure to
inspire.

 


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