By Hayley Thomas
"I draw what's on my mind, and often I forget what I'm drawing halfway through," mused Dylan Bice, a junior at Paso Robles High School. The lanky teen returned to the collective art project he's been creating with a handful of youth at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles.
Bice neatly outlined bright red bricks with a thin paintbrush loaded with acrylic paint last Saturday while fellow youth busied themselves with their own colorful corners of the mural.
Kit Toevs, a quick-to-smile senior with short blonde hair and dark-rimmed glasses continued the thought. "I love that feeling," she said. "You forget what you're doing and just create."
Toevs, a math and science wiz, said she doesn't plan on pursuing art in college, but it's likely the Zen she achieves from "creating" will prove useful during hectic finals week.
The mural is like the group, incorporating individual and distinct elements that work together to create a unified statement. The artists - high school age teens to young adults - breathed life into birds, fish, trees, skyscapes and abstract images last weekend.
"This mural project is really about issues of community and safety," said Studios on the Park board member Henry A. J. Ramos, who guided the youth alongside PRHS art teacher Mary Legleiter.
Funded by the Police Activities League, Ramose said police chief Lisa Solomon expressed zeal for the youth art project about a year ago, and now the group boasts nearly 20 young artists.
In 2010, youth worked together to create a retrospective of the Berlin Wall collapse, expressing their own ideas about democracy and freedom.
Ramos said the program is targeted at "teen and early adult individuals in the community who are looking for an outlet."
Amanda Mills, an 18-year-old PRHS graduate, said she's fortunate the program exists and is open to all young people. She especially applauded Studios on the Park for hosting the project.
Her boyfriend Kevin Bruce, a Cuesta College student, helped Mills create a series of elaborate blue swirls against a fiery orange backdrop Saturday.
"After I graduated high school there wasn't much I could do in terms of art projects like this anymore," Mills said. "I found it nice that even though I'm not [in high school] I can still participate in volunteer work and be active in the art community."
It's that youth-involvement in the community that both Legleiter and Ramos aim to cultivate. Across the street in Downtown City Park, too many youth are looking for a way to channel strong artistic currents, Ramos said.
"What we've learned from a lot of kids in the neighborhood - and particularly those who are hanging around in the park - is that there's not a lot of art in the schools and it's fairly limited," the artist added. "People like Mary, who do this work, are really under resourced. There's a lot of hunger for youth expression, but not a lot of places to do that."
The mural will likely the grace the halls of the Paso Robles Police Department, although its final venue has yet to be decided. Local youth have worked with Ramos in the past - along with their families and many younger children - to create community artwork during the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts.
"[The project] brings multicultural groups of kids together to join hands and paint imagery that's positive and community-focused," Ramos said. "It's about finding constructive ways to channel their energies."
For more information, visit www.studiosonthepark.org.