Thursday, January 16, 2014

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

by Donato

Why do I teach?

This question is raised often as I perform many roles as a teacher; as an adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts in New York City; as an illustrator in the Illustration Master Class; sharing online with professionals in the SmArt School; hosting various workshops around the country; providing professional lectures at conventions; and now a guest professor this Spring at my alma mater Syracuse University.  You would not be mistaken to think I am a full time professor given how much time I devote to classes and their participants!  But teaching accounts for barely 10% of my income.

I teach because I stand on the shoulders of those who have given up their time, labors, and passions so others may learn and reach their fullest potential. My world is a better place for the doorways which my professors and mentors have shown me how to open, peer into, and pass through.  I have learned how to think deeper and care more about the art I create because a teacher showed me how. I feel a responsibility to 'give back' to the next wave and generation of artists in memory and to honor those who helped provide for my career.

I am the artist I am today because others opened their thoughts and minds so that another may share in their  knowledge and skill.  I truly believe that without the guidance I received I never could have pushed my work to the levels you now see it at.  From the technical lessons with Jerome Witkin, Lance Richbourg and Chris Campbell to the deconstructive discussions and lectures with Sharon Gold and Steven Zaima to the business savvy of Roger Demuth and Miranda Hine.

I remember every teacher... Leigh Mallory, who taught me to train and push through the finish to pace yourself for what is yet to come.  To Joe Lefarriere, who brought humor and passion to the race.  And to Brad Blanchette for not prejudging another, nor yourself.  There is more to learning and speaking with art than can just be acquired through mere technical skills - this I believe is the greater lesson.

I teach because I am a father, friend, student and mentor.  I know what it is like to struggle, to fail, to crawl back to the surface and breath again, and to succeed beyond my youthful dreams as an artist.  I know the difficulties in making the passage in the dark, and wish to provide as much light as I may to other artists so as to illuminate the wonders in the artistic journey. We all walk our own artistic paths, yet the hurdles and challenges we cross are many of the same; from understanding composition,  to color theory, emotional connection in the art, business negotiation, and how to manipulate paint to name just a few.  For those of you who have heard me teach, you know I share it all.

Lastly I celebrate the community which bonds over these concepts of sharing.  Through interactions and conversations with like minded individuals over the topics of art, literature, science, and life found within conventions, seminars, classes and lectures.  Teaching for me has became a natural outgrowth of this community and I am happy to be a part of this tradition.  All types of artists, young and old, professional and amateur, attend events in order to learn more about the arts they wish to pursue.  As a student I remember clearly that thirst for knowledge and the excitement I felt in its quenching, and now as a professional I cannot imagine deafening myself to such pleas.

I have just returned from a workshop in Huntsville, Alabama this past weekend where a wonderful gathering of talent and people spent four days challenging their view on art.  I head out this morning to reach out to another group I have never met.

This is why I teach. I remember and never will forget the help I received from complete strangers and how it made my world a better place.

I teach so that others may stand upon my shoulders, see the world as a better place and share the passion we have for art.

To find out opportunities to learn with me visit -


  1. Thanks Donato, for your post and your teaching. To teach is to learn twice, and without it we are more isolated.

  2. Thanks Donato! What you say is so true and inspiring. I know I deeply benefited from your teaching and openness about art and process. Cheers!

  3. Thank you for this post. The knowledge that there are those who have already succeeded, and gone before, who are interested in helping those to come is of immense inspiration to those like me who have just begun to take an interest in serious art, and often wonder whether or not we'll "make it." The knowledge alone that people like you, whom I hold in great esteem, care about giving others a pair of shoulders to stand upon is truly empowering. Again, you have my thanks.

  4. For my college internship, I hat to take a piss poor job of being a part-time art teacher for my school district. I didn't really wanted to do that type of internship -my dream internship was Nickelodeon. Eventually I liked what I was doing. All that feel-good teacher stuff about changing a kid's life, passing on the ancient practices of art, etc etc, is all real. Also, when doing research for the lessons (part of my criteria was teaching not only art principles, but also artists), I noticed many artist were teachers at some point of their professional life, if not though all of it. It's a legacy that I"m proud to've been a part of. If fates smiles good on me, I wouldn't take a second thought of taking the opportunity to teach again. As much as I'm grateful for Wiseman and Miyazaki inspiring me to become an artist, I am also grateful for my teachers (here and in the classroom) for encouraging and polishing my aesthetic abilities, which is the harder road to walk on.
    Well, I think the gush has gone long enough. Thanks for the post, it was touching.

  5. Donato, as one of your previous students, I just want to say thanks to you. The knowledge that you share has really made a difference in the way I think about my own art, so that in itself is more than I can really express. Thanks for paying it forward. :-D

  6. Thank you, Donato. Your passion for teaching was evident to me the second I approached you at your table at Illuxcon. I was suprised by just how much you were willing to share with me then. I also have some notes that I wrote during your lecture a couple days later; if you don't mind, I'm thinking of compiling them and uploading them to my blog. It's knowledge worth spreading!

  7. Really inspriring! Thank you so much for this post,it helps me a lots!
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