Many feet make light work

Many feet make light work

Earthen Built by Kata Polano

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Mar 21, 2011

Kitchen Fix ~ Ojai, CA

I lived in Ojai California for a brief stint in 2010. I really lucked out and ended up renting a room at a place that didn't quite have a name but that some of us started referring to as River Bottom Sanctuary. The house had seen a number of artists come and go, many of whom left their mark on the walls. The landlord was very open to this form of a "guest book", and quite marvelled in the animation that the place took on when the walls were getting a makeover. There were a few things that I did while living there, such as helping a room mate repaint some of the deep dark purple on the living room walls, and brighten up the bathroom with some fun yellow and blue paint. I spent the majority of my time in the yard, tending to and creating new garden beds.
The thing that most excited everyone though was when I decided that it was long overdue that the kitchen get an actual back-splash. Being the natural plasterer that I am, I of course opted to plaster the area. I went with a lime plaster because of the high moisture and traffic in a kitchen. The walls also needed to be able to be wiped clean from kitchen goodness. Luckily, I had some lime I had been toting around with me in my truck that had been slaking for many many months.
I whipped up a batch and got to work. Below are the photos I have of this project.

Before lime plaster. This was all there was for years.

Desperately needing something done.

Lime done, pigment next.

The lime went on and set nicely. What an improvement.

I set a tile in above the stove and then did a nice yellow lime wash for some colour. This really helped complete the kitchen!

Avalon Springs Plastering ~ Lake County, CA

Owen Williams plastering up high.

 Erin Condo and Owen Williams had been living out at Avalon Springs before they came to Emerald Earth at the same time that I did to be a part of the building apprenticeship. They had been working away on a number of different projects and tasks; this out-building near the gardens was one of them. The building had be constructed by a number of people, and consists of cob and straw bale walls atop an earthbag foundation.

Erin Condo plastering around the bottles.

Plastering in tight corners.
Luckily Owen had done the first coat,
touch-up was all I had to squeeze in for.
Burnishing for a smooth seal.
Erin and Owen asked if I would like to lead a work-party to get the building plastered. As plastering is one of my favourite parts of the building process, I happily agreed.
They had already done a number of plaster samples directly on the wall, which were still there when we returned to plaster. There were probably ten different tests there, only a few of them would make it to the final round. We scratched at them and knocked on them, looking for the ones with the best durability. Then we took the hose to them. As this is an exterior plaster, we wanted to make sure that we picked a plaster that would hold up well to the weather. We were left with one clear winner, and what a nice mix it was too!

The clay for the plaster came from a local hillside and was one of the nicest colours of natural clay I have ever gotten to work with. It was a beautiful orange colour that was quite light and gentle. I wish I could get some of it now.

It didn't take us long to get a rhythm down and create a nice plastering flow around the building. We plastered the entire exterior, and I then came back and cut out some of the plaster under the windows to plaster with lime later. 

The interior of the building had been nearly finished already. There were just a few spots that still needed some plaster. I was called in many months later to tackle these few areas. I found out, upon my arrival, that there were some supplies that were exhausted, and had to come up with a plan to make it look good without the yellow pigments. There was also a bit of prep that had to be done before we could start on the refined finish coat.  I set out to get the prep done the first day, then was joined by Ashley Aymond on the second day to bust out the plastering! This was also when we got the lime done under the windows and a lime wash on the earthbags.

Prep needing to be done around the bottles.
Prep done and a brown plaster applied.
We used a white plaster beside the light yellow wall.
After a long day's work, it was so nice to cross the street and slip into the hot springs that Avalon is named for! I think every building site should have either some hot springs or a hot tub. I know mine will.

Jan 6, 2011

Windows & a Door ~ Ojai, CA

Beautiful suede-like finish
While staying in Ojai California for a few months I had the opportunity to get together with my friend Carolyn. Carolyn has been involved with the natural building movement for some years now. Her home is evidence of her passion for earthen remodels and amenities. While I was there we got down to tackling some of the details in her living room.

The walls had been plastered with a beautiful American Clay plaster and looked great except for a couple of black burnishing marks. With a simple sponging technique we took care of those marks and gave the room a smoother finish.
Windows - before
Then we took on the window and front door treatments. Carolyn wanted to add some creativity to the windows and a more hand-made look to the room. We drew up some ideas and Carolyn selected a nice curvy style.
Windows - after
Windows - after

These photos are of the plaster reliefs while they are still wet. The colour used is actually a gentle light grey, giving just a subtle contrast to the colour on the walls. You can see this better in the photos below of the detail done around the front door. The stained glass embellishment, along with the iridescent glass beads, provided just the right touch to give the treatments a fun and vibrant look. 
Relief around front door

Stained glass and bead inset
We particularly liked how the clear glass in the piece above the door let the colour of the wall behind it through, giving a nice layer to the detailing.

I must say that relief work and plaster embellishments are one of my favourite things to do with my building. There is really no end to the creativity that can be achieved through such a simple part of the whole process.

With earthen building, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. Go ahead, get creative and build a whole home.

Dec 18, 2010

SLAM 2010 ~ progress report

Early morning at SLAM. All ready for the cob to go on!
We were prepared for rain, and blessed with sunshine on the day of the SLAM event! Hoping to get the bench built in one day, we were sure to start early and stomp out as much cob as we could. Just as we were unfurling our mixing tarps a group from two of the local highschools showed up, ready to lend both hands and feet to the flow. Well, almost ready. First there was a quick trip back home to change their clothes for some that they were more readily prepared to get covered in mud. Then the mixing began!

These kids stomped, rolled, jumped, mixed, and made cob like nothing before. We were soon coming dangerously close the the end of our clay supply. A quick run back to the stockpile at O.U.R. Ecovillage ensured that things kept rolling. What first seemed to be a big goal for one day turned into a bench very quickly. By 2:00, when the festival got underway, people were able to come by and see a clear bench taking shape.

We were lucky to have Sol Crawford on the lead building team. Sol had spent many hours and days working on the original design for the community space, and there was nothing like having him there to be involved with its evolution in real time. He had some great ideas and really carried a lot of the project through.

Community bench at the end of the festival.
Book shelves were incorporated, as well as tunnels for kids to enjoy. Arm rests, plenty of bench space, and places to rest a mug were all made welcome. We really wanted to make this space as functional as possible for all.

Some of the greatest moments in public building events are when the public actually gets involved. Watching people go from spectator to participant is so rewarding, and such a big part to why we do this.
SLAM was definitely not short of people who started out scratching their heads and ended up hosing themselves off. Sometimes it starts with someone watching from a distance, wondering what it is that we are up to. Then they come a little closer and actually ask a few questions. We place cob in their hands, and they still don't quite know what to do with it. They watch and ask a bit more. Then, all of a sudden there is another set of hands pushing and poking more cob onto the structure. Then it becomes hard for them to walk away, and we have accomplished one of the goals we set out to achieve. Those who get involved become aware of something innate within themselves, something that makes them feel alive and empowered. Building with the Earth is something that each and every one of us shares within our heritage. People walk away with a new sense of pride, and a sense of shared accomplishment and ownership of something they will get to enjoy for a long time to come. We have truly given back to the people when we give them skills and experience.

One neighbour in particular, Gerry, became so moved by the project that he jumped in to volunteer some of his own rustic woodworking talent. Gerry's work can be seen framing in the openings and giving the bench a beautiful flowing line. He has also volunteered to donate and help construct a round-pole post and beam structure for the roof.

SLAM was intended to bring the community of Shawnigan Lake out of their homes and together in the neighbourhood. Along with the bench building, there was music, food, dancing, and plenty of mingling. Neighbours met and friendships grew. People loved it and had a great time! We hope that people will use the space to both gather socially and to wait for the bus. I also hope to see more of you out there next year when the community does it again! Again, thanks to all who participated and made this come together.

~Stay tuned for more updates as the roof goes up and the plaster goes on.

Sep 2, 2010

SLAM 2010 ~ Shawnigan Lake Arts & Munticultural Placemaking Event

S.L.A.M. Community Corner Creation
~Shawnigan Lake Arts & Multicultural Placemeaking Event~

Greetings Cowichan Valley residents and neighbours, here is a call for City Repair Placemaking participation! On the 18th & 19th of Sept. we will be installing an Earthen Built bench in Shawnigan Lake Village. Your support and involvement is what will make this event a real community success! We have already begun the first stages of this project, and assistance during the days leading up to the event is welcome.

Refreshing Colour ~ Santa Barbara, CA

Round window into the kitchenette

There sat a basement apartment. But not just any basement apartment. This place had pizazz, character, and eccentricity! It even came into being under a not so usual way.

Apr 9, 2010

Fireproofing a home

After a long, beautiful summer on Vancouver Island, a place where wildfires are not a common threat to homeowners, I headed south along the coast into California. There this threat is one that has become the hot topic of concern for many a homeowner.

Apr 5, 2010

Orella Ranch - 2009

At the start of the colloquium at Orella Ranch we were all faced with an empty stick framed set of restrooms. Over the week it was transformed into a building consisting of just as many natural building techniques as there are stalls. Walls went up, a privacy fence, as well as the roof.

2008 Natural Building Colloquium

After a great season of building on Vancouver Island, I delightfully found myself heading south to California in October. My destination was the 2008 West Coast Natural Building Colloquium.

More Art Studio @ OUR Ecovillage 2008

The Art Studio was the main project that we worked on during the 2008 Natural Building Skillbuilders program at OUR Ecovillage.