shady terraces crop
“a whole new world opened up!” 

“sparks ideas!” 

“very helpful”  

“loved it totally!”  

“open, caring, positive, and good information…. thank you!”


Mid-May through mid-June 2015:

office finPassive Solar Design Can Help Any Home

As passive solar design becomes more widely understood, design will mean more than just bringing in the light and heat in winter and shading it in summer… it will include creating the most beautiful methods of bringing thermal mass into the interior of a home.

Photo:  This tree form has a full moon light behind a branch. It sits between two windows, both with arches matching natural plaster sculptural arches throughout the house.

When a building gets heat from sunlight but has nowhere to store that heat, the air can get unbearably hot, and then that heat may dissipate before nighttime, leaving the building cold when the occupants need it most.  These daily “temperature swings” can be greatly minimized by bringing into the home something we now call “thermal mass” – which can make a passive solar home so comfortable (like mine) that little or no additional heat is needed – and can make a conventional home require far less outside energy.  Exciting, huh?!

This banco holds heat from both the fireplace and the solar gain, blends into the hearth, and hides the convenient wood storage, while providing a comfortable place to sit.

Thermal mass is anything heavy that absorbs and holds heat, such as adobe, stone, tile, brick, cast iron, and containers of water – nothing high tech, nothing expensive, but simple, easy-to-obtain, even ancient materials!  These, when exposed to the sun, will absorb and hold the heat, and when the heat source is gone and the day cools, they release their heat slowly, all through the nightand that’s the key.

Thermal mass absorbs the heat from the heated air inside a house, whether heated by the sun or by other sources, so less heat escapes through leaks or when you open the door.  I brought 1.5 tons of thermal mass into my home already and have plans to soon bring in at least a 1/2 ton more.

The most common interior materials in modern American homes are drywall, wood, fabric, foam padding, and insulation, which don’t hold much heat and whatever they do hold, they release readily, saving nothing for the cold nighttime.  Besides that, their components often degrade in heat and light, so it behooves us to protect them, in front of windows or in sunrooms, and this can best be done, not by shading that valuable wintertime sun, but by absorbing the heat from the air to use – by bringing thermal mass into our homes.

Natural plaster is inexpensive, natural, non-toxic, local, and very beautiful – and of course it can make your home an art piece of your very own creation!  You can show off wild creativity, or keep it simple and classic.

buddhahall gavioPhoto:  Classic design of a California meditation center, by Gavio.

Some say the tons of clay continue always cleaning the air.  And most everyone agrees: “It vibes beautifully.”

Bill Steen, of the Canelo Project in Canelo, Arizona, taught me natural plaster techniques in 2006, just before I moved to Silver City.  The workshop was one-week long, quite pricey and included a myriad of interior and exterior applications, from building entire interior and exterior walls and shelves, to carved and built-up sculptural relief, to paints with pigments, mica, oils, and more.  (Check the Steen’s site for more inspiration.)

my lime artPhoto:  My first outdoor carved natural plaster wall relief, built at the Canelo Project in 2006.

Gavio, natural plaster artist and instructor from California.
Gavio, natural plaster artist and instructor from California.

In 2009, Asher Gelbart introduced me to natural plaster artist and instructor, Gavio (whose website is unfortunately now down for redesign) who helped me begin a big project I’d long desired but for which I wanted help to begin.

Together we designed and constructed the structural elements in two rooms, one a multi-purpose great room, with many unique and functional features, as I describe below.

livingroom w musicThe tree sculpture, to be finished soon, not only provides a unique architectural feature in the main room, but obscures an odd buttress, 1-foot deep, built every twelve feet across the northern, poured-concrete wall of this 90-year old building.

A previous owner had buried all the buttresses, sacrificing all that space behind drywall. We removed the drywall, applied adobe, created the tree, and built in artful shelves where empty space had been. To put to use all the existing 14″ of solid concrete as thermal mass – instead of it continuing as a thermal syphon to the cold outside – I had the exterior of the house insulated and then stuccoed.

DSC05334Photo:  Notice the playful cat paw on the top corner of the shelf behind the curved-wall display for my Mata Ortiz pottery.

Gavio returned to New Mexico this week, in part to help me finish my home’s interior
– and we want to offer the opportunity for others to learn this wonderful craft.

Commercial natural plaster mixes can be purchased for nearly $100 per bag – which may not cover a single wall, even thinly.  And printed instructions for applying a simple flat coating are on the bag, but hands-on instruction is invaluable, especially if you want to have some fun.

So, as a truly natural, low-cost, and local-materials alternative, we will teach a few participants how to create, not a bag or batch, but a ton of plaster for around $100.

We’ll mix plasters, learn how to prepare foundations for flat work and sculptures, create paints (alises), work with earth pigments, create textures, and more.

This workshop offers two days for $100, plus additional days for those who show their interest and capabilities.   Participants will be selected according to their letters of interest.  We’re looking for people who not only want to learn, but who might have related experience.

The workshop will be mostly by hands-on work, scheduled a three-four days per week for the four weeks mid-May through mid-June.  Work days will be 6 hours long.

I can take cash, checks, and credit cards.

For more information, call me at 575-534-0123.


For more natural plaster textures, colors, and ideas, enjoy these three screens shots from a recent web search for “natural plaster”:

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.02.33 AM Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.02.19 AM Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 10.02.08 AM

Past workshops I’ve taught and may teach again:

Yard and Garden Design with the Sun, Wind, Water, and other Natural Flows.  Yard and garden infrastructure design, covering rainwater management, windbreaks, solar aspect, cold air drainage, noise, views, privacy, food, medicine, flowers, evergreens, plant guilds, animals, human activity, changes over time, and how to integrate them all for beauty, ease, comfort, and functionality!  Cost is $30 per person.

Introduction to Permaculture:  How to improve your yard with passive solar, water harvesting, and integrated garden design to create beauty, biodiversity, food, medicine, privacy, ergonomics, social space, and increased home value – with the least work!  An introduction.

Solar Water Heaters.  How to remove a pressure tank from a discarded conventional water heater, build an insulated box, install the tank, and plumb a home-made solar water heater to use alone or as a pre-heater.  Cost is $25 per person.

me wh ws light

Water Harvesting Basics Plus Finishing/”Hiding” a Tank.  Why harvest water, how to read one’s topography with easily-constructed tools to locate tanks and swales and to adjust slope, where to find or purchase low-cost tanks, how to install, how to “hide” or finish, and how to use.  Attendees will be able to participate in the completion of this tank onsite – sculpting the concrete to look like the granite wall behind!  Other tanks onsite will also be discussed.  Cost is $25 per person.  To register, call 575-534-0123.  (We’ll hope to schedule in early spring, giving everyone time to get in their new tank before July)


Basics of Do-It-Yourself Passive Solar Design:  Will cover the basics of passive solar – solar gain, appropriate insulation, air convection, and thermal mass – and how to apply these concepts to ovens, water heaters, homes, and home retrofits.  We’ll cook with two solar ovens, discuss various aspects of building ovens and water heaters, tour my passive solar home, and see artistic applications of natural plaster used as thermal mass (photo to the left).  Participants are encouraged to bring their own home designs to brainstorm passive solar retrofit possibilities with the group and for mini-consultations.  

winter solstice


Natural (Healthy!) Plasters & Paints for Interiors.  Learn by doing!  We’ll make rough-mix adobe for construction and finer adobe for sculpting, and we’ll use both on an existing interior project.  We’ll cover preparation of surfaces, building support, tools, techniques, and more – plus natural, nontoxic, make-it-yourself clay paint!  Cost is $40 per person.  (This is a good winter project, so I’m hoping for January or February.)

Dory crop

office fin

Solar Cooking.


Consultations on getting the very most from your yard, gardens, and home – available by appointment.

To register, contact me at 534-0123 or

For more information, or to let me know which workshops you’re looking forward to, please call or use the form below. 

Thanks!  I look forward to hearing from you.


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