Coloring Outside the Lines
Through the arts, creatives such as Ashara Shapiro and Ginny Lasco find solace, connection, and reinvention.
by Bill Donahue

Ashara Shapiro spent years chasing her “lifelong dream of having a creative space to call my own.” She had several business plans in the works, but the stars never seemed to align. The death of her mother changed everything.

“One of the last things she said to me was, ‘Be brave,’” Shapiro recalls. “That was the catalyst to be brave and follow the dream. Then the challenge was, ‘OK, what does that look like?’ To me, it was about creating a space where people could explore the [artistic] process, whatever that looked like to them.”  
Shapiro realized her dream in September 2022, with the opening of ArtWRKD. The Newtown-based artist consortium and exhibition space enables emerging artists to come together and inform each other’s work. It also enables patrons to “experience art differently” and form relationships with art and those who create it, not only through the exhibition space, but also through workshops, education, and events to facilitate interaction. Her overarching goal: to build community by making art accessible to everyone.
As a skilled artist who creates custom wearable art through her firm A.Recherche, Shapiro understands why some people feel as though art is “not for them.” Many have grown used to connecting with art only in museums and other traditional settings, where they view paintings and sculptures at a distance, often from behind ropes or stanchions; as a result, they view art as elitist and high-minded, even classist. With ArtWRKD, Shapiro aims to “break down the walls” between the art and the patron, as well as the artist and the patron. She adds: “It goes further than, ‘I like that painting so I decided to bring it home.’”
“This is not a traditional art space or anything people are used to,” Shapiro says of ArtWRKD. “It’s a space for all different media—it covers the full gamut of forms of expression—and has become a space for artists coming out of the woodwork. All the work complements and informs all the other work.”
She strives to create visual balance and harmony in her curation. Ideally, as the viewer’s eye travels around the ArtWRKD gallery, it should see and feel a certain sense of resonance among the disparate works.  
“There is an equality in my curation, and a celebration,” Shapiro adds. “What that feels like to the patron is a cohesive experience. I want them to pause where I have intended them to pause. I want to shock where it makes sense. I am always focused on [having patrons understand] the greater story and how this art is unifying a message. … Art for me is about storytelling and uniting humanity, challenging norms and being brave.”
Shapiro has become something of a force in the arts community of Bucks County, a place long celebrated for its deep artistic and literary roots. As a member of the Arts and Cultural Council of Bucks County, she helps to further the council’s mission: “to foster, strengthen, and promote Bucks County’s diverse arts and cultural community, build arts alliances, and enhance the Bucks County arts experience.” She also recently won a grant from Visit Bucks County for an autumn project she hopes will blossom into an annual event—welcoming the community into local galleries, private artist studios, and shared creative spaces. The project ties perfectly into her vision with ArtWRKD as an outlet for artistic immersion and exploration.
Shapiro has bold plans for 2024 and beyond. ArtWRKD’s exhibition space for the calendar year is booked. The space will be hosting creatives such as Monica Ong, a visual poet whose upcoming exhibition will combine words, sound, and other sensory elements in which patrons can relate to her work; Steamroller Group, a group of female artists who will create collaborative work to coincide with Women’s History Month in March; and Maximo Edward, a tattoo artist from Yardley who will create an exhibition around the art of tattooing, with live models and tattooed leather skins on display in the exhibition space.
Shapiro’s efforts go beyond the walls of her exhibition space on South State Street. Examples on the 2024 calendar: an April screening of Fruitlands 1843 at the historic Newtown Theatre, which tells the true story of the short-lived utopian community founded by Louisa May Alcott’s father, Bronson Alcott, during the 19th-century Transcendentalist period in Massachusetts; and the annual Wearable Art and Fiber exhibition in May, which culminates in a fashion show held at the Newtown Theatre.
Disseminating art to the greater community is essential to Shapiro’s mission.
“In order to live a creative life and try to help facilitate others living a creative life, one must take it outside of themselves and outside of the studio,” she says. “I am always focused on how to share the message: that art is not only necessary, but a way in which we come together.
“Art is for everyone, done by all walks of life, and it is through art that we heal, grow, and celebrate one another,” she continues. “It is through art we are asked to look at ourselves as individuals and as a society. Art moves us—all of us—in beautiful ways, and taking it out into the community allows more interaction; it allows opportunity for artists and furthers the conversation.”
Ahead of Her Time
Ginny Lasco credits the late Buddy Ryan for putting her on a path to becoming one of the region’s—if not one of the world’s—most skilled photorealists. She was early into her career in television when she met the former Eagles coach at a team practice. The two formed an easy connection that evolved into a lasting friendship.

“I had become friends with a few of the Eagles,” Lasco recalls. “I wound up doing a painting of [former Eagle] Wes Hopkins, and when I met up with him to give him the painting, he actually cried; he couldn’t believe it. … When I went to the team practice, I found myself standing next to Buddy. We started talking, and I told him I had done the painting of Wes. He then started hooking me up with other players. For the next 20 years I did a commissioned painting a year for one of the Eagles.”
The interaction sparked a bold new beginning for Lasco.
“The portraits started out a little crude, but over time they got better and better,” she says. “So I guess you could say Buddy Ryan shaped my photorealism.”
Today, Lasco is more likely to paint an eagle (the bird) than an Eagle (the athlete). She creates outdoor landscapes and nature scenes so lifelike—excruciatingly detailed, intensely warm and colorful, accurate to the point of perfection—they look more like photographs than acrylic paintings. One might even say she’s ahead of her time. She recalls an interaction from early into her career, when she took her paintings to be evaluated by one of the top gallery owners in Philadelphia. The gallery owner characterized her work as “in the top 5 percent in the world in terms of photorealism,” but also “too perfect,” free of brushstrokes or other imperfections.
Art has helped Lasco find peace amid periods of pain and upheaval—illness, the losses of loved ones, breakups, etc. Some of her paintings capture the spirit of places she has lived or visited, enabling her to recreate the familiarity and tranquility she felt there. While she continues to find inspiration in the woods and fields surrounding the Wissahickon neighborhood she calls home, she connects with her most reliable muse in the memories of the lakes and mountains surrounding her hometown in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, northwest of Scranton.  
“Whenever I start a new painting, I think: I don’t know how to do this,” she says. “I literally feel like it’s not me doing it, like it’s someone else. I have a lot of faith, so I give it to God. Each painting always comes together, and when it’s done, I’m in as much shock as anyone else.”
Lasco discovered her artistic prowess at a young age. She won her first award by ninth grade, and the awards and recognition have found her easily in the years since. She won a 2014 National Oil and Acrylic Painters’ Society Signature Artist Award, to accompany the seven Emmy Awards she earned for art direction/animation in both television and film. Also, in October 2023, many of her paintings were featured in an exhibition at Gallery 222 in Malvern.  
While she continues to do animation and graphics on a freelance basis, Lasco paints for a living. Primarily she does commissioned pet portraits—hyper-realistic recreations of clients’ beloved cats and dogs. A typical workday begins at 8 a.m., and she doesn’t stop painting until 8 p.m. or even later, sometimes getting so engrossed in her work she forgets to eat.
“The payoff for me is how happy people are with the finished work,” she says. “Some people cry. To be able to touch someone that deeply, it’s an amazing feeling.”
Besides the pet portraits, Lasco intends to make more time for painting “my own stuff,” meaning snapshots of the places and things she finds most meaningful. Fame and recognition would be nice, of course, but she prays for the same thing every day: “the Lord’s guidance, the ability and freedom to keep doing what I love, and to be able to help others and try my best to make God happy.”
For more information about Ashara Shapiro and ArtWRKD, visit For more information about Ginny Lasco, visit
Shapiro photo by Alison Dunlap
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life magazine, January 2024.