How to Plaster Walls With Clay Instead of Painting

Real Texture and Real Colors

American Clay Plaster
Lee Wallender

Homeowners looking for a richer, earthier look for their walls often "texture" their paint with sponges. But our thought about this has always been: Isn't this just trompe l'oeil? It looks like texture but isn't.

Or, you can apprentice yourself to a plasterer for the next 6 years and learn the lost art of plastering. Building plaster, the type that a pre-WWII house might have, is likely a half-inch thick or thicker and is set on lath nailed straight onto the studs. Not fun to work with. No thanks.

But there is a plaster product made by American Clay that seems designed exactly for the DIY home renovator. It comes pre-pigmented in (obviously) earthen tones. The distinguishing factor is that this plaster goes on top of your existing substrate (i.e., wall material). So, you can spread it over your current drywall, though American Clay does caution that some surfaces would need additional preparation.​​​

Colors Are Already in the Dry Mix

dry powdery american clay plaster
Lee Wallender

The plaster comes in dry, powdery form—as fine as ash. Be careful when sneezing! But you'll see the pigment already. Don't be worried that the pigment doesn't look very rich. The color will start to come out when you add water.

Add Water to Mix to Make the Plaster

Plaster turning into clay after water is added
Lee Wallender

The next step is to add a nominal amount of water to the dry plaster mixture until it turns into a thick, heavy clay. While we did this on a small scale and found it easy to do, we can imagine that it's a beast when you're dealing with fifty-pound bags. Our tip is to think of it as concrete.

It's difficult to mix up an entire bag of concrete at once. So, you need to halve the bag. We imagine you would need to do the same thing with these 50 pound American Clay bags.

Spread Plaster on Walls With Trowel

Spreading American Clay plaster at low angle with trowel
Lee Wallender

Now, here's the fun part. With a trowel, you spread the plaster very thinly across the surface at a low angle. What this means is that you're not laying it down in thick, drywall compound-like sheets, but even thinner. The good thing about this is that it extends the product so that a 50-pound bag with the correct mixture of water is estimated to last an average of 160 to 180 square feet.

Lay Down a Smooth Plaster Wall

Creating a smooth plaster finish
Lee Wallender

Rework the plaster with the trowel until it is as smooth as possible.

You may ask, why smooth? Isn't texture the very point of plaster? Well, not so fast. Because even though it is smooth on the small scale (see photo), when you're dealing with many square feet it is impossible not to create a subtle texture. 

Get a Rougher Plaster Texture

Achieving a rough look with American Clay plaster
Lee Wallender

Still, you can easily add texture to your plaster by using the edge of your trowel or almost any kind of tool that can be pressed into plaster. In fact, you can even add minimal amounts of extra stuff (hay, seashells, sand, etc.) to create more texture.
In summary, pick a special room that isn't too large and give this plaster product a try.