How To Make Your Own Clay Paint
For some reason, it’s taken me a long time to try mixing up and using a clay paint (also known as a clay alis). Whatever the reason is, after attending the Natural Building Colloquium in October and talking to several folks about the ease of applying clay finishes on drywall, I knew I finally had to try it out in our new home here in Kentucky. Clay paint has many possible applications. Perhaps one of its best uses is to give an otherwise boring interior wall an earthy pick-me-up. It’s actually quite compatible with drywall, as you’ll see.
Read ahead for a recipe and instructions for making your very own clay paint.
How to Prepare Ingredients for Clay Paint
Making clay paint is really simple: the three ingredients are clay, sand, and wheat paste. You can choose to buy bagged powdered clay, or dig up your own in the backyard. Here’s a more detailed look at the ingredients, and finally, a recipe for stirring some up. (This is just one possible recipe — you can eliminate the sand altogether, but you’ll lose a special textural quality without it.) Thanks to Eva Edleson for inspiring me and sharing her recipe!
Both the clay and sand in your paint should be quite fine, meaning that the particle sizes are very small. If you want to use bagged clay and skip the processing necessary for site-dug clay, go ahead. All you’ll have to do is stir it up with water. If you want to use your own local clay, you’ll have to screen it to remove stones and other particles. I like using local clay because it infuses a bit of very local flavor in the building. (Don’t forget, you cancheck for clay content in your soil with a simple test.)
Once you’ve dug up some clay, add it to a bucket with some water, and use a drill with a large paddle to mix it up as best you can. You may choose to let it sit overnight to let the clay absorb as much water as possible, and then mix a second time. Once you’ve got creamy clay (it should be wet enough that it “runs”, at least as wet as chunky yogurt), you can go ahead and screen it. (If you live in an arid place, you can screen dry, crushed site clay — I almost always deal with wet clay, so that’s my bias.)
The wetter the clay, the easier it is to screen. Use a window screen (which is generally 1/16″ gauge) and push the clay through, removing all the bigger stuff. A square plastic or metal edge (like a pool trowel) will make pushing the clay through the screen easier. Note: don’t forget to use a clean wheelbarrow or other vessel to catch your newly filtered material! Set the filtered clay to the side.
As for sand, there are many many options for what you might use as well. Usually, it depends highly on what you can get locally. If you want to use sand that you dig up yourself, go for it. You’ll need to process it similarly to the clay. (You do need an even finer screen than window screen, ideally, something I have yet to really find myself… actually, those grease splatter protector thingies usually have a very fine mesh). You can also buy very fine sand from a pottery supply store. I actually ended up buying “play sand” from the home center. It’s really finely sifted sand intended for sandboxes for kiddos. It’s inexpensive and works great without any extra processing.
Recipe: Make Your Own Clay Paint
The only other ingredient you’ll need is the wheat paste, which is very simple to prepare. The following recipe will net you a creamy, versatile clay paint ready for use on a variety of surfaces, including wood and interior drywall, and even drywall that’s already been painted. (More details on that below.)
- 1 part screened clay
- 1 part fine sand
- 1 part wheat paste
Simple, huh? To prepare the wheat paste, follow these simple instructions.
Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. While water heats up, add 1 cup white flour to 2 cups cold water. Stir well to remove chunks. Once 4 cups of water comes to a boil, add water & flour mixture, and stir well. Continue to stir over low/medium heat while the mixture thickens, and be careful not to burn the bottom. Once the liquid is thickened, remove from heat.
The final texture should be smooth, and the consistency should actually be quite thick, almost like peanut butter. This is not the kind of paint that you can roll on. Instead, you will use a wide paintbrush to apply the paint to your surface.