Story Behind the Art of Deborah B. Shaw

17th Annual International American Society of Botanical Artists at
The Horticultural Society of New York

Buttercup Squashes and Section

Cucurbita maxima


This painting began in a masking fluid technique workshop taught by Asuka Hishiki at the annual ASBA conference in Chicago in 2012. The subject matter was “artist’s choice”, preferably a specimen with lumps, bumps or scars.

I’ve always had a fascination with textures. A particular texture is what jump-starts a piece for me. Other background information: 1) I tend to paint subjects that aren’t traditionally “pretty”; 2) I had admired Asuka’s techniques for quite some time; and, 3) I had an ongoing aversion to masking fluid. The workshop was a perfect fit.

I found the squash while wandering through a specialty (expensive) food market, and was instantly captivated by the warty necklace around the collar. [An aside: I can’t imagine naming this squash with such a cute common name as “Buttercup.”] Much to the consternation of the produce manager, I unpacked his display of the squashes and spread them out on the floor to pick the perfect specimen. Yes, I did re-stack them just the way they were. Later, I packed not one, but two, large, heavy squashes to bring to the conference.

I have never completed a painting in a class or workshop, nor has that ever been my intention. My goal is always to learn a particular technique. The workshop was a delight, and Asuka’s masking fluid techniques felt extremely natural to me. I started a small part of one squash in class, and then brought both squashes home.

After the conference I started a new drawing/painting with one squash, thinking it would be a “study” so I could experiment further with the technique. My goal was to see if using this technique enabled me to achieve textures in watercolor that came easily in graphite. What began as a study morphed into a painting. Usually I begin a painting with a complete composition in mind. This composition evolved as the painting evolved over many months.

I made several trips back to the same specialty market for more squash. As the months wore on, and there were no more specimens to purchase, I had to rely on my last survivor. By the time I finished the painting in late spring, I had to gently roll the squishy, rotting specimen into a trash bag. [Note: there isn’t anything that quickly gets rid of that leftover-Halloween-rotting-pumpkin smell.]

I no longer have an aversion to masking fluid. My techniques have evolved, combining Asuka’s techniques, some of my original method, plus bits and pieces from fellow ASBA artists.

What surprised me while working on this piece was that, even though each of the lumps and bumps were irregular and inconsistent in shape and size, I still had to be fastidious about drawing each of them accurately in perspective. When I started the painting, I had assumed the irregular shapes would allow me a little bit of leeway. In fact, I found I had to pay more attention to the perspective and foreshortening of these irregular shapes than to regular, repeated patterns in other paintings.


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  • (C) 2013 Deborah B. Shaw
    Buttercup Squashes and Section
    Cucurbita maxima
    Watercolor on Paper
    10” x 17”