Few books are available on natural plasters and paints, so any addition is welcome. Using Natural Finishes: Lime & Earth-based Plasters, Renders & Paints by Adam Weismann and Katy Bryce (Green Books 2008) is an exceptional addition because of its usefulness for professional builders, architects and designers, and owner-builders. The book successfully combines graphic and textual descriptions of the artistry of natural finishes with the science of the materials and how they work.
The first two chapters of Using Natural Finishes set the stage for the later sections with general information about natural finishes and their application. Chapter 1 begins with a discussion of wall systems, their moisture dynamics, and the application and suitability of natural finishes on a variety of wall substrates. Although most natural builders are most competent or comfortable with applying clay or lime plasters on straw bale or earthen walls, the brief discussion of the applicability of natural finishes on more conventional wall systems is appropriate. This chapter is followed by a discussion of plastering and painting tools, application methods, substrate and site preparations, and aggregate materials. Chapter 2 provides the basics for getting started as well as some finer technical details on the variety of trowels available, transitioning between different substrates while avoiding cracking, and the benefits of hand-, trowel-, and machine-application.
The following chapters, Lime-based plasters & renders (Chapter 3), Earth-based plasters & renders (Chapter 4), and Lime- and earth-based paints & washes (Chapter 5), are the heart of the book. Chapters 3 and 4 follow the same format beginning with a discussion of how the plasters work, preparing the plasters, and application techniques. The trouble shooting guides, copious photographs, and illustrations round out the text nicely. Interviews with professional plasterers, which are inset into the chapters, add a depth of professional experience and perspective. Although all plasters and finishes should be tested with the materials and ratios fine-tuned to particular applications, the multiple recipes included in these chapters provide a baseline for experimentation. The final chapter highlights traditional natural finishes from Europe, Africa, Asia, and North America.
The text of Using Natural Finishes is clear and concise offering understandable descriptions of even more technical aspects of natural plasters and paints. The writing is balanced, if not slightly overshadowed, by the numerous beautiful photographs taken from Weismann and Bryce’s own projects and the works of leaders in the field in the UK and Europe, North America, Africa, and Japan. The photographs and illustrations could garner coffee table status for the book, although this would be doing a disservice to its real utility as a how-to guide. Combining the tips, recipes, guidelines, and inspirations offered by Using Natural Finishes with hands-on training and experimentation is a positive route towards developing or honing your natural finishing skills. I would highly recommend using this book until its pages are dog-eared and smeared with clay and pigment.