Bassendean-based Sonja Danilovic is a creative director of Nude Design Studio, a mother and a self-taught ceramicist. Her hands-on approach to design weaves a theme of minimal tactility through her varied work.
Sonja Danilovic sits on a cushioned stool in a deep cloak of concentration. The clay on the humming pottery wheel before her, as it spins and responds to her hands, requires her absolute attention. It’s the middle of summer, well into the night, and a tall lamp casts an encasing light over a front porch that is decidedly her doing. Mostly opened bags of earthen and stoneware clay lie stacked against the soft pink weatherboards, lightly spattered with the efforts of previous turning sessions. Surrounding the kilos of pottery-in-waiting are twenty something plastic tubs – white with blue lids, their contents hold an array of glazes that deceptively obscure their true colours.
Unlike the paint Sonja used on her 1900s dairy cottage, a welcome pink pastel true to the colour revealed in its tin, ceramic glazes reinvent themselves in the firing process. A light, mint green glaze slathered onto a dried vase turns clear in the 1000 plus degrees of a fired kiln. Only a small, batch-printed description on the side of the tub confirms to the ceramicist the finished colour.
In an asymmetrical orbit around her wheel, upended brushes stand tall in old glass jars with muddied water; cups and vases, some bone dry, others drying and perilously close to cracking, sit atop an old, handmade bench; a hair dryer that could easily be mistaken for a well-used, tradesman’s tool waits at the ready; and a Bunnings-bought white flexi-tub is filled to the brim with discarded lumps of clay.
For Sonja, this is much more than a potter’s workshop. Her space, beneath a tin roof and shielded by an overgrown and frustratingly impotent passionfruit vine, allows her to explore, refine and develop a craft that has required no formal training or education. This space has allowed her to thoughtfully repurpose her creativity into another artistic medium.
Pottery (or Ceramics, I am unsure which is the current maker-community preference) is a dichotomous pursuit. On the one hand, the incremental improvement and refinement of ceramic pieces that are thrown, shaped, glazed and fired, an evolution with seemingly no concluding end in sight, makes the path to expertise an energising endeavour. Until of course the inexplicable and dastardly mean side of pottery rears its head, which it will. To discover a crack, by gosh to discover an irreparable crack – after painstakingly throwing, shaping, glazing and firing a piece, yes, just one piece, paints a warning to would-be potters that this craft is not for the faint of heart.
A testament to this potter’s resilience, Sonja is a mother of two boys, one nearly 3, rambunctious and prone to a decibel-breaking stubbornness, the other nearly 6, equally quarrelsome but so far sharing her interest in art. She is also the creative director of Northbridge-based Nude Design Studio, a small design and brand agency that started out in the height of the global financial crisis. One might think that her life could be better-balanced with a Netflix series, or more sleep, but instead she has chosen to focus her spare time and attention on a craft humans have been grappling with and only very occasionally mastering for nearly 26,000 years.
I finish reading a chapter in my book. It’s about 11pm, the boys are fast asleep and I head outside onto the front porch. Sonja looks up at me briefly
before throwing another lump of clay into the centre of the wheel. “One more.” I don’t believe her.