DIY Project: Bookends

Create these fun homages to the work of sculptor Ken Price.

photography by Elizabeth Lavin

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
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

An arty afternoon: Eva Simek works on her Ken Price-inspired creation. photography by Elizabeth Lavin

Make it!
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!

The Inspiration:
About the Exhibit
Ken Price Sculpture: a Retrospective
Nasher Sculpture Center
Through May 12, 2013