By Tonya Strickland
With a steady hand, North County printmaker Robert Simola pressed a thin blade to a block of cherry wood, sculpted a precise line and carved out a fresh curl of shavings onto the table.
“I started doing wood carving when I was just a kid. Carving is something I’ve always come back to,” the retired Paso Robles High School English teacher said.
The demonstration, in which Simola created relief prints of yellow and orange California poppies, was part of a new attraction in the Agriculture-Horticulture Pavilion at the California Mid-State Fair.
Relief prints are typically made by rolling ink onto raised surfaces and stamping them onto paper to create a desired image and texture.
For Simola, 69, bringing his art to the public means sharing his life’s passion.
Other than being a teacher and a poet, “I also made stained glass windows, but no matter what else I was doing, there would always be time for carving,” he said.
Simola has a small woodshop and studio next to the home he shares with his wife, Lucy, just east of Templeton. He also shares a space with other printmakers at Studios on the Park in downtown Paso Robles.
On Tuesday, two women sat and watched Simola as he carved and animatedly explained the intricate three-block process he uses to create his prints. Shortly after, two young brothers sat down and tried their hand at carving.
“I always get people who sit down and say, ‘Oh, I want to try this. I’ve never done it before,’ ” Simola said. “It spans from age 8 to age 80.”
Studios on the Park, a nonprofit organization and working artist gallery, brought the demonstrations to the fair for the first time this year so people of all ages could connect to local artists, programs director Sasha Irving said.
Not all the sessions offer the public an opportunity to take part in creating the art, like Simola’s did, but all are designed to teach.
“The innovative approach of Studios on the Park makes the creative process available to all audiences,” Irving said. “This exposure positively focuses the energy of local youth, and enhances community culture.”
Upcoming sessions include topics such as plein air pastels, oil portraits of calves, jewelry making and silk marbling.