Make Drywall Look Like Earth: How to Use Clay Paint on Drywall

by ziggy on January 9, 2016 -- 1 comment -- Follow

finished clay paint

You can make a piece of drywall look like earth with just a couple coats of clay paint

You can make a drywall interior look like an earthen home with nothing more than a couple coats of simple clay paint. Clay paint can transform your space — it’s a very versatile material and can be used on a variety of surfaces, including exposed wood, plywood and drywall. In my previous post, I described how you can make a beautiful, non-toxic clay paint using three simple ingredients.

If you haven’t yet read the recipe yet, go ahead and start there. If you’re ready to get mud on your walls, read ahead for instructions for how to apply your new paint to your desired surface!

First Coat

Applying the first coat of clay paint with a 4″ paintbrush

How to Use Clay Paint

The first thing I would strongly recommend to anyone who wants to incorporate clay paint in their home would be to try a few test swatches. Use a scrap piece of drywall, plywood, or some other appropriate surface (ideally the same surface you want to paint later) and experiment with your mix. Wait for it to dry thoroughly, and then try one of the finishing methods mentioned below, and see if you like it. It’s ill-advised to go sloshing clay all around your bedroom before you’ve had a chance to play with it first.

Ok, now for the basic technique of applying clay paint to your surface. Here are the basics, with more details below:

  1. Clay paint should be applied with a paintbrush, not a roller. Paint in a diagonal or X pattern on your wall
  2. Do a minimum of two coats, and wait for the paint to dry thoroughly before continuing
  3. Use a sponge or plastic lid to finish your newly painted wall

Those are the basics, but here’s more information on the above steps.

Clay Paint on Sheetrock

This is the drywall after the first coat of paint

The First Coat

Prepare your wall surface the same way you would if you were using ordinary paint. Tape off trim, and put down a tarp or dropcloth to catch paint that falls to the floor. Using a 4″ wide brush, apply your first coat of clay paint in a diagonal or X pattern. Remember, the paint should be fairly stiff — don’t add too much water or it will go on too thin. Also, don’t be surprised if the coverage looks inconsistent. Think of this as a primer or an adhesion coat.

And yes, this coat can go directly onto already painted walls! If you’re having adhesion problems (for example, if your wall is extremely glossy and slick), you may want to try painting on a mix of glue and sand first. (Try mixing up more wheat paste with a healthy dose of sand thrown in, or you can use watered-down wood or school glue with the sand as well.)

Second coat of clay paint

Second coat of paint going on the wall

The Second Coat

Let your first coat dry fully before proceeding with the second coat. The second coat goes on exactly the same way, either in a diagonal or X pattern. Make sure you get good coverage, and don’t leave any thin spots.

Now your wall is fully painted, albeit a bit rough. You have the choice of finishing your surface in a number of ways, including with a tile sponge or a plastic disc. What you’ve basically done is plastered your wall with a paintbrush, but the surface left by the brush is girtty and a bit rough for most tastes.

Clay Paint

Here’s what your second coat of clay paint might look like, once it’s dried out and before finishing

Finishing Techniques

clay paint step 2 - sponged

This is a segment of wall that’s just been sponged and is still wet

The easiest way to finish your surface is with a tile sponge. Get the sponge saturated, and then wring out almost all of the water. It should be damp, but definitely not dripping wet. Take the sponge to the wall and wipe it down from top to bottom in arcing horizontal strokes.

You’ll notice a lot of the bigger sand particles coming off the wall, which means your surface will be much smoother than before. (That’s part of what you want.) Don’t overwork the surface, but swipe the wall several times before proceeding to the next section, and periodically wring out your sponge to clean it.

clay paint step 2 - sponged dry

The finished surface of a sponged clay paint

The tile sponge requires the least skill, and the finished surface should be consistent, with a somewhat raised texture, but without the paintbrush strokes visible when you started.

Another method involves using a small plastic disc to burnish the surface smooth. This is more challenging than the sponge method, and it will require more patience.

Burnishing Clay Wall

Burnishing the wall with a plastic lid

Use a small spray bottle with water and work sections of wall about 2’x2′. Mist the wall lightly, but not so much that the wall begins to run. Use a smooth plastic yogurt lid (or something comparable), and burnish the wall in semicircular or circular strokes. NOTE: it’s very easy to overwork the material, and begin to move the paint around. This will become obvious when you expose the drywall underneath, as you can see below. Adjust your pressure accordingly.

If you’re having a lot of trouble, you may want to stop early. A third coat of paint may help, or your wall may be too saturated with water. You’ll just have to play around and get a feel for it. The resulting surface should be smooth. It will likely be variegated in spots where the thickness of paint varies.

Burnished Clay Paint Wall

A zoomed-in look at a burnished surface that’s now dry

I recommend trying either of these methods, but I’m sure you can try any number of ways to finish your surface. (Not unlike the multitude of ways you can make up your own clay paint recipe, with or without sand, with or without pigment, etc.)

Once your wall is dry, it will look like an earthen wall has taken its place. You should know that this finish is quite obviously not “waterproof”. It will resist minor scuffing and water, but for areas with high moisture, you might consider a finish coat of glue. Stir up some glue with water at 1:5, and brush it on your wall surface. This will provide greater protection.

Good luck, and happy painting!

Clay Paint on Drywall

The finished product — a clay paint accent wall. All that is left is some trim around the wall

p.s. You can make clay paint with or without sand, and your finishing technique will vary accordingly. I recommend trying the recipe here, which will warrant one of the finishing methods above. Once you get the hang of it, experiment with your recipe and different kinds of clay or aggregate. Try your hand at an accent wall, or get creative and make framed sections of clay artwork on pieces of drywall or plywood that you can set in a wood frame and display in your house. The possibilities are endless…

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