Asawa is celebrated as a sculptor, but her art training was primarily in basic design and drawing. She drew everyday — in the morning before her family was awake, when watching her children, when watching television, at the many public meetings she attended as an activist. Meandering lines and patterns, explorative variations of the same form or subject, and the most economical way to convey an image characterize her work. The act of drawing, not the drawing itself, mattered to her. Drawing was a daily exercise to hone her perception and concentration so that she was always ready to see.
Before she became a sculptor, Asawa wanted to be a painter. She grew up on a farm and had a lifelong love of observing plants which she often painted. Black Mountain College taught her to see the fluid relationships between color, form, and space. Her student paintings from Black Mountain are exploratory and abstract. Later on she returned to figurative painting — to the plants and flowers whose natural forms fascinated and inspired her.
“The excitement of printing has not left me, but I know it would take another lifetime to do it well.”
In 1965, Josef Albers recommended Asawa for a fellowship at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles. The mission of the workshop was to revive the art of traditional lithography and collaborative printing by bringing artists and printers together. Leaving her six children and husband in San Francisco for two months, Asawa worked with seven accomplished printers to create 54 lithographs from her original works. She had an apartment near the workshop and cooked dinner for the printers so they could go back after eating and work through the evening.