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Artistry with Clay and Lime

June 5, 2023 - June 10, 2023


The Project

During this six day workshop we will cover the essentials of natural and earthen plasters and dive deeper into the more specific finishes for your home. Each participant will have their own practice panel to learn these methods with ease and repetition.

This workshop will cover a large range of natural wall finishes including:

  • Simple clay & lime basecoats

  • Smoothed and polished clay finishes

  • Clay paint

  • Lime finishes & fresco

  • Stabilized exterior plasters

This course is suitable for both beginners and experts. You will learn everything from the basics, such as finding soil, how to compose a mix, and applying that mix, and then the more advanced practices, such as water-resistant lime tadelakt. You will leave with a confidence and understanding of how to coat walls in your own home with beautiful, creative earth finishes.

During every workshop we make time for specific issues related to individual situations. This usually includes a careful look at different climates and regions, living with families or in communities, dealing with the building code, physical and financial challenges, appropriate technologies and more.

Kyle’s book, “Build it with Earth: the Cob Pizza Oven” and Conrad’s, “House of Earth” are both included with the workshop and will be mailed before we begin.

About Athena

Athena Steen grew up building with clay and adobe. She loves creating sculpted spaces that connect form with function, and walls rich with pattern, texture and color. Through the Canelo Project, a small non-profit organization, Athena and Bill, her husband, have been teaching workshops for over thirty years, in strawbale construction and earthen building. Focused on simple, low-skill, low-cost methods that build community between people, culture and nature. Co-authors of “The Straw Bale House,” “Small Strawbale,” and “Built by Hand,” Their influence in the natural building world has been widespread. When Athena does not have her hands in the mud, she also enjoys publishing and designing books.

Oso, her son and co-teacher for this workshop, has been immersed in natural building, including working with clay. He has built several clay-plastered strawbale, adobe, and timber frame structures from start to finish. He is an excellent hands-on teacher.

About the Site

The Be the Change Project is a Reno-based nonprofit, centered on our half-acre urban homestead where we have offered classes, tours, and workshops since 2011. That year we were able to buy what was a run down and neglected house on a half-acre through fundraising and crowdfunding. Since then we have enjoyed living an alternative and off-the-grid lifestyle while transforming the property into a verdant oasis. It has become a center for neighborhood uplift as well as a model for simpler living in the urban/suburban context. We were a Mother Earth News Magazine Homestead of the Year in 2013.

Reno is in the high desert on the western edge of the Great Basin. The weather in May and June is usually warm, clear, and sunny during the days with much cooler nights. It can get hot, and rain is unlikely.

Along with earthen cabins, landscape walls, ovens, and plasters on site, we’ve developed and use many systems for living more sustainably in town which you’ll get to know and use during the workshop:

  • Solar cooking and wall heaters

  • Small scale solar PV

  • Wood stove  and solar thermosiphon water heating

  • Composting – vermicomposting and conventional aerobic piles

  • Alternative septic system – the Watson Wick

  • Basic principles and practices of Permaculture

  • Organic small plot intensive gardening including season extenders like hoop houses,  root cellaring and solar dehydrating

  • ScAvenging! – upcycling and salvaging materials from the urban waste stream

  • Living with little electricity and fossil fuels

  • Wood-fired hot tub


We have a variety of lodging options including cob cabins, rooms, tent sites, and parking for camper vans. Couples get priority for the cabins.

Registration, Payment, & Refunds

This workshop requires a $400 deposit to hold your space. When a deposit is made, Kyle will reach out to you, welcome you to the course, and get you in the email loop with all the details.

Go here to make a Venmo deposit or send a check for $400 made out to Cobitat and mailed to 2055 McCloud Avenue, Reno, NV 89512. Full payments are also gladly accepted.

Deposit is refundable (minus $50 for books and mailing cost if they’ve already been shipped to you) until 6 weeks before the start of the class. If you cancel with less than six weeks before the start of the class and your spot can be filled, we will issue a refund minus book costs. If it can’t be filled, your deposit will not be refunded.

Full payment is requested by two weeks before the start of each class.

The Daily Schedule

We are aware that students make a big investment in a workshop such as this. We honor your time and do the best we can to share our knowledge and experience. Expect long days with lots of building and learning. On some evenings we will show slides and films featuring our previous projects and that of other people and cultures. Believe it or not, we also still like to make time for a campfire and some music. We always strive to make the workshop itself a comfortable, memorable and fun experience.



9am – Hands-on

10:30 or 11am- Snack break

1pm – Lunch

2pm – Hands-on

4:30pm – Clean -up

5pm -Class ends

7pm – Dinner

8pm -Optional slideshow7:30 breakfast

Delicious home-cooked meals are provided and will be vegetarian with occasional meat options.

Pickup and Dropoff

Airport pickup and drop off is available from the Reno Airport on only the Sunday or Monday morning before the start of the workshop and the Saturday at the end of the workshop.

Support Staff

Kyle Isacksen has been building with earth since 2010 and teaching natural building since 2011 with House Alive, Be the Change Project, and now Cobitat. Kyle has a background in construction, teaching, and simple living.  He’s worked as a framer, carpenter, and commercial roofer and recently finished building a “green” conventional house in his neighborhood in Reno. He was a science teacher for 7 years, is a frequent speaker on sustainable living, and is a contributing writer for Mother Earth News magazine and blog. Kyle enjoys basketball, hiking, reading, and martial arts.

Katy Chandler is the co-founder of the Be the Change Project and has lived in and played with natural building materials for many years. She is a prolific gardener, certified permaculture designer, urban garlic farmer, and former math teacher and school designer.  She loves to dance, laugh, and pore over seed catalogs while cozied up to the wood stove on long winter nights. Kyle and Katy also have two teenage sons.


June 5, 2023
June 10, 2023
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Be the Change Project
2055 McCloud Avenue
Reno, NV 89512 United States
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