Artist/High School Art Teacher Danielle Livoti
Danielle Livoti is an art educator from Long Island, NY. She graduated from Long Island University with a BFA in Art Education in 2008, and completed her MA in Studio art from New York University in 2011. Danielle is in her 11th year teaching at New Hyde Park Memorial High school where she currently teaches Advanced Placement Drawing, Drawing and Painting and Studio art courses. She has also taught Illustration, Digital Design and 8th grade art. She has been the advisor to the National Art Honor Society since she began teaching at New Hyde Park Memorial. One of her goals when’s she first began in her district was to be selected as “Teacher of the Year”, and In 2015 she was awarded that title. When she’s not in the classroom she enjoys spending time with friends and family, hanging out with her dachshund Lily Rose, working on her own art, visiting museums and galleries, going to concerts and movies, collecting tattoos and trying to stay active with new fitness routines. She also helps bring art to her local communities through paint workshops at local libraries, and supports the Bee Happy Foundation when possible by helping as a back-up artist for their paint events.
How do you balance art making and art teaching?
Balancing making my personal work and teaching was something that I struggled with when I first started teaching, and I still struggle with it at times. When I first started teaching, I was in a masters program in studio art, which was great because I had to continue to make my own art. I had three summers in NYC in a studio where I could focus my energy on my own work, granted it was still under the confines of an academic institution. When I was done with that program, my personal work suffered. I spent most of my free time developing lesson plans, samples for projects and other content that I needed to instruct my classes. I would take some PD classes here and there that gave me maybe two hours at best to work on something creative that was just for myself. Finally I decided I needed to make some changes, and I started to pull out old artwork to draw on top of and keep some kind of paper out on my desk, or have some taped up on the free wall space in my kitchen. I’d start to draw, make a mark, clean off a brush, and collect various media that I had laying around on those surfaces I left out. I also turned to digital art at this time, because I didn’t have a solid workspace, so I started to draw on my iPad since it was accessible. Now I have a space in my house where I can make stuff and store my art supplies but I still work in the same manner, where I just keep things out and about and make it a point to add something to a surface at least once a day, or once a week when I can.
Your work involves layers of collage, paint, and imagery. Will you describe your process of going from a blank canvas to a finished one?
My process stems from trying to balance work and my art-making life. I usually have multiple things going on at once in my studio space. I have what I call my palette space, which is usually a found surface or paper, that I put my materials on to, but I also use this space to wipe and dry off my art tools whether its a brush, palette knife, pencil etc. This space eventually becomes a surface for a new work. I’ll have my blank surface which is sometimes found paper, cardboard, canvas paper or lately wood panel where I am making creative decisions directly on that space. I usually start with found collage material from things I’ve collected, or I might start by applying some acrylic paint, gesso or other media to the surface. I let this settle and come back to it over the course of a few days, adding to the piece over time. I’ll scratch away at the surface, peel, or scrape things that I previously did. It’s this interactive process of hiding and revealing things about the piece over time. I like to turn the work and not look at it from one point of view. So I let it sit and breathe and then something in my life may give me a little bit more intention and I use the surface as a way to ruminate on that topic that’s affecting me in that moment. Once the piece no longer gives me any instructions, and I feel like it’s complete then I leave it alone and call it done.
Some of the materials in your work look like found objects. What do you look for when collecting things for your work?
I do add found materials into my work, and these materials are chosen based on their connection to what I’m thinking or feeling at that given time. I may be focused on expressing my feelings about my grandmother’s dementia, or thinking about other personal relationships in my life. That’s why some pieces I look for include anatomical imagery, parts of letters that were left to me from my grandmother, written entries from my own journals, tickets stubs or grocery lists, book pages from my mothers high school text books etc. I feel that since the work I’m creating is about process and time passing, I pull a lot of imagery from things that hold a memory for me. It’s also therapeutic to give these things new life in the form of my artwork. Texture plays a big part in the final outcome of my work, so I also like to look for things that give the piece more textural variety. I want the pieces to look like they’ve become an artifact of sorts when they’re totally done.
You blog about your classes on a regular basis. How has this benefited your program?
This was a goal of mine for this year, I wanted to share what I was doing in my classroom and be able to reflect on my educational practice. I think it’s benefited myself and my program because I am being more reflective. To me this is a major part of teaching, and it should be a major part of any profession. Being self-reflective is so important. It helps you set new goals and stay fresh. I’m thinking about the things I’m doing in my classroom and how it will impact others on a larger scale. It has also helped me work out issues with units I have planned, and share flaws as well as the success stories.
Are you involved in any sort of support network of other artists or teachers?
I’m lucky that in my district we have 5 high schools, and all of the art teachers are in frequent contact so we can continue to bounce ideas off of each other. We also teach PD’s for each other and share what we’re doing in our lessons during department meetings. Our district also participates in the Art Supervisors Association so we are able to take workshops taught by other art educators in other districts on Long Island. I taught my first one this year on my pixel art project and it was a great experience. Aside from that, my colleague Jessica Burgalassi and I are the administrators for the Long Island Artourage facebook group. We have 133 members which include art teachers, current and retired, from Long Island. It’s been an awesome space for art teachers to share what they’re doing in their art rooms, ask questions, collaborate, share info about upcoming art shows etc.
What does your schedule for making art look like?
I’ve learned that having a definitive schedule dedicated to making art doesn’t work for me, or the work. I have come to accept that my current body of work is a reflection of the balance I need in my life, and if I can take 5 minutes or 5 hours for making my own artwork I’m ok with it, because that still is serving the work and it’s still keeping me engaged as an artist. I was very hard on myself and felt very out of the art loop for a long time, putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to make something, but now I’m just enjoying the process and I’m happy the process exists.
Do your students see you making art?
I use Instagram as a platform for showcasing what I do in the classroom and with my own work, and so my students will see glimpses of my art making process via an IG story or post. They also see me working on samples in school, or on occasion a personal work that I just needed to have with me. I think it’s important for them to see their art teachers as a practicing artist. It’s like going to a doctors office, I find comfort in seeing their diplomas, journals they’ve written for, or groups they’ve volunteered with because it shows me they are professionals and I can trust their expertise. One of the first things I do is introduce myself to my students and remind them that I make my own work and show them some examples of things I do over the summer months.
How has teaching changed the way you make art?
As a result of teaching I make less of my own art, but I make it with a lot more intention and purpose. I also experiment with materials a lot more and I have a hard time sticking to just one style because I have to teach so many different methods. I can spend hours on a photorealistic portrait drawing with colored pencil one day, then want to make something completely non-representational the next.
How has your own art influenced the way you teach?
I encourage students to focus on enjoying the process a lot more now. Kids want instant gratification; they want to see that surface go from blank to full in one class period but that’s not how it works (most of the time). Modeling after my own workspace at home where I keep a variety of materials within reach, I encourage a work space where kids have access to materials and I encourage them to make the materials work in a way that suits their needs. I also find myself doing more extension projects now. I have the kids creatively trying to find a new way to translate a finished project into something new; digital art is a great vehicle for this extension since we have 1:1 iPads in our school. I think this interest in extending projects into new ones comes from me personally working on top of pre-existing artworks, or changing my own work over time by adding or removing information from it.
What advice would you give other artist teachers?
Find your balance. It’s so easy to get caught up in the work side of teaching, and while it’s great to be passionate about your teaching practice, you also need to support your soul. If you can’t physically make your own work, try to go visit an art exhibit. Try to stay inspired. See if there are art workshops going on outside of school in your adult ed program, library or team up with a colleague and have your own “creative night”. Sometimes having to go to an actual class that’s scheduled is a way back in to doing your own work. Scheduling time for art didn’t really work for me, but it could work for you if you plug it into your calendar; yoube surprised that the time is actually there if you want it. If you’re able to use an area in your classroom for your personal work, keep something up! Let the kids see you work in your off time.
What advice would you give to a brand new teacher who wants to be an artist as well?
Don’t give up on it. If it’s in your blood and you need to do it, you’ll find a way. Understand it may not be easy, you may end up with some really strange sleep patterns, but if it’s something you want to accomplish you need to do what works for you to follow through on that. Another piece of advice would be to really learn how to manage your time in your work day so you can achieve what you need for your art teacher life during your hours at school. The less teacher work you have to take home with you, the more time you have for your personal work.
Why is it important to you to continue making art?
Continuing the process of making art is important to me because I want to keep being a better art educator and I feel that the passion I have for teaching art wouldn’t be genuine if I wasn’t practicing making art regularly. I feel like every time I make something new or add to a piece, I reignite that passion for making art. It’s an incredible feeling, and it’s one that I want my students to experience. I take that awesome feeling that making art gives me, and it breathes new life into my classroom practice, and into my day to day activities. Making art is also therapeutic for me, so it keeps my mind and soul healthy.
You can keep up with what’s happening in my art room and creative life via my instagram: @daniellelivoti, twitter @mslivotiart, youtube: www.youtube.com/user/MsLivoti and through my blog “Inside the Art Room” via www.daniellelivoti.com