There are few groovier, more playful artists than the late Californian Ken Price. He spent a lifetime making amorphous and often cartoonish ceramic sculptures rife with a childlike sense of creative freedom. There are blobs, mounds, egg shapes, and animals in his work, which often has a whimsical moniker like Hefty or Weezie. So when we heard Price’s retrospective was traveling from Los Angeles to Dallas’ Nasher Sculpture Center, we knew what we would do for a spring art imitation project.
My kids and I fostered a pretty strong sense of Price’s work just by looking at pictures, but nothing compared to seeing the works up close. The Nasher installation, designed by architect Frank Gehry, provides the backdrop for Price’s work, which is even more animated and charismatic in person than we could have imagined. My kids responded to the sculptures with a sense of familiarity, like they were meeting friends, exclaiming things like “Look, there’s the octopus one!” or “Oh, the bally guy! I love him.”
Because my children felt such an affinity for Price’s work, I thought it would be fun to make some miniature homages to Price to snuggle alongside their other most treasured object-friends—their books. We settled on funky bookends, a simple and satisfying project perfect for free-spirited kids who love nothing more than making a mess with clay and paint.
What you’ll need to get started:
• Amaco air-dry terra cotta modeling clay (available at Michaels)
• Acrylic paint in various colors
• White latex house paint
• Paint brushes
• Masking or painters’ tape
• Four-by-four-inch timber, cut into blocks (available at Home Depot; ask an employee in the lumber department to cut it for you)
• Gorilla Glue
Step 1 / Break off a large chunk from the clay block. Let the kids smash the clay into a crude blob, mound, or creature-esque Ken Price-inspired shape. (We focused on Price’s use of inside spaces in his sculptures, so one kid made hers concave with a hole in it.) Allow the clay to dry. This takes a day or two, depending on the amount of clay you use.
Step 2 / Once the clay is completely dry, use acrylic paints to color the surface of the clay. (Acrylic paints are best because they are plastic and bind with the surface of the clay and make it waterproof, similar to a glaze.) We applied a base coat first and then splattered and dripped a contrasting color on top. Allow the paint to dry for about a day.
Step 3 / Laying the wood blocks down horizontally, use masking or painters’ tape to create a border at the edge of the wood, so that only the top surface is exposed.
Step 4 / Using the white latex paint, paint the top surface of each of the wood blocks. Allow to dry for about two hours.
Step 5 / Position the painted clay sculptures slightly off-center on each of the blocks, one to the left and one to the right, so that when they flank the books they are symmetrical. Put quarter-size circles of Gorilla Glue where you’ve decided to position the sculptures, place the sculptures on top of the glue, and allow to dry for about a day.
Step 6 / Place your new Ken Price imitation bookends on either side of your favorite books and enjoy!