Clay is the most plentiful material on earth. And it exists everywhere. Because of its easy reach, workability when wet and hardness when dry, it was the first of all human building materials, and today roughly half the people in the world continue to live in clay earthen dewellings.
I call it the flesh of stone, because it arises out of the slow weathering of granite and other stone. It’s one of Nature’s beautiful ironies that she takes something hard as stone, and makes something as malleable and forgiving as clay. It’s this very plasticity that makes clay such a useful material for paint and plaster. It can be molded, carved, troweled, brushed, rolled and burnished to a sheen. And by it’s mineral content, in also resists mold and mildew. The result is a healthful, breathable, velvety finish, rich in subtle shifts of shade and hue.
I distinguish between two kinds of clay: processed clay, which can be purchased by the bag at pottery stores, and wild clay, which is harvested locally from the ground.
There are few activities as satisfying as harvesting your own local clay and turning it into rich and creamy paint or plaster. Because it is minimally processed it possesses a divers combination of grain size and multicolored sands, with a fresh, sintery aroma that makes you think of mountains. It’s also free.
Of course, the harvesting, processing and application of wild clay takes more time and labor than conventional latex. But because it’s of the fun and ease in working with it, it’s a natural to have friends and family help with the project. Processed clay is also an easier way to go, and their are ready mix products available for purchase.