Hold on to your seats. I’m about to blow your mind. I’ve just witnessed the most stunning clay plaster I’ve ever seen. It’s on an earthbag house too, which I can tell you is one of the trickier substrates to achieve a decent finish on.
The masterpiece in question is courtesy of the wonderful Geeli Mitti community in northern India. Geeli Mitti was founded by Shagun Singh, who is pretty much as incredible as her houses. What she has created up there near Delhi is nothing short of a dream.
This earthbag house is the latest in a number of revolutionary architectural projects at Geeli Mitti. Shagun and friends love experimenting with different kinds of natural building, and have perfected clay plasters to such an extent, I’d rate it as some of the best out there. And that’s no exaggeration.
I’m a bit lucky because Shagun is a member of our private Facebook group, so I was able to get some details on how these colours and finishes were achieved. It’s all surprisingly simple.
How did they create this finish?
I originally assumed this was a clay paint finish, but I was wrong. “No paint used,” explained Shagun. “It's the finish plaster coat itself on the exterior. We used red clay soil dug out from a nearby land, and similarly some whitish-yellowish soil that had been dug out, then added some yellow oxide minerals to it to achieve the colour.”
Yes, amazingly and wonderfully, this beautiful result wasn’t achieved by importing a bunch of materials, but by searching out and using clays in and around the structure itself. This is so often possible. Unless you’re at the beach, it’s highly likely you have many different types of clay in your neighbourhood, and it’s worth hunting for them because you don’t need huge amounts for a finishing layer of plaster.
“On the inside, we lime washed the walls with the yellow oxide added to lime,” says Shagun.
But what about this truly eye-opening Shiva sculpture? How was that finish achieved?
It's actually a clay, sand, dung mixture sculpted into shape. Then, once the sculpture was completely dry, it was sanded smooth with sandpaper. After that it was coated in linseed oil for sheen, hardness and weather protection. Nice huh?
How did they achieve this milky finish?
This guy is a real masterpiece. I wondered how Shagun and friends achieved the milky finish. “This finish plaster was a mix of our site soil which is 60% sand, some clay to balance it, cow dung and very little lime. The lime to rest ratio would be 1:6 and then once the plaster was still slightly moist, not completely dry, I burnished with crystals using small circular motions. So lots of elbow grease needed,” says Shagun.
As you see, the mixture itself is incredibly simple. It kind of proves why I’m skeptical about adding a million things to your earth plaster. The application technique, along with perseverance and effort, is at least half of the story.
Over the course of time, some of the Geeli Mitti team have become real pros. "I'd love to mention the name of one of my oldest team members, Ganesh," says Shagun. "He has worked with me throughout on all the plasters and finishes showcased in the article, and has become quite the plaster wizard now!"
If you think Geeli Mitti is content to rest on its laurels here, you’d be wrong. They’ve already got another ground-breaking project organised for the end of May. What’s next? A bamboo geodesic dome! So if you’re in northern India and want to experience the Geeli Mitti natural building phenomenon, I’d sign up for that course quick.
More about Geeli Mitti
You can find out more about Geeli Mitti from their Facebook page or their website: http://geelimitti.in/
Do check out “The Team” page on Geeli Mitti. I love that the animals are placed at the top of the team, and the cooks are second. Sounds exactly right:)
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