Earth Art and Architecture

Earth art or plaster accents are easy to incorporate into new cob or straw bale walls, but you don’t need to build a brand new house to enjoy them. Plus, if you install the accents yourself with local materials, earth art can be a very cost-effective way to add warmth and life to your home.


| October/November 2007



Earthen accents can make a dramatic statement, like this stately tree designed by Deanne Bednar.

Earthen accents can make a dramatic statement, like this stately tree designed by Deanne Bednar.


Photo by Catherine Wanek

You’re never too old to play in the mud — earth art allows you to have fun, get dirty and make creative earthen accents that will add life to your home. Whether you have sheetrock, masonry or even wood walls, earth art adds texture, color and warmth to any interior.

Earth Art and Architecture

Mud is a perfect material for art and architecture; it’s durable, beautiful and easy to work with. Earth is used by many cultures for building — in fact, it’s the most common construction material on the planet. For comfort, beauty, ease of use, ecology and economy, it beats most other materials hands down. While earthen accents are easy to incorporate into new cob or straw bale walls, you don’t need to build a brand new house to enjoy them. Whether you have sheetrock, masonry or even wood walls, mud can add texture, color and warmth to any interior. All the examples shown here were made with basic clay plaster mixtures, and reflect the artistry and lives of their makers. And don’t worry if you’re not an artist; if you can make mud pies, you can make art out of earth!

Living Walls

Earthen plasters add life to a building. There’s a reason a so-called “perfect finish” is often referred to as “dead” straight, or “dead” flat — dead surfaces don’t move. When every inch of a wall is the same, there’s no variation of light, shadow, texture or color. But as you walk past a hand-plastered wall, you notice shifting light and shadow — it lives! Rather than just connecting corners, sculptured walls literally shape space. Living, handmade plaster walls embrace you.

Earth is easy to sculpt, and sculpture need not be complicated. Mud makes it easy for anyone to make beautiful textures, patterns and lines. Just rounding a corner or building up edges at doors or windows helps define a room. Extending the play of light from a flat wall into the third dimension removes the division between sculpture and architecture.

Designs shown on these pages were made of clay subsoil, sand, fiber and additional binders as needed. Sand and fiber help control drying and cracking, while binders add workability, strength and resistance.

Small decorative earthen accents are relatively easy to make. Consider making a drawing on graph paper first, but if drawing makes you nervous, just start playing with mud on a piece of sheetrock. For a large mural, try enlarging the design on a grid, it’s easy and it teaches proportion. Divide the design in half or into quarters, then copy it section by section until you’ve recreated a larger version.





Crowd at Seven Springs MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

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