Danielle “Donut” Leventhal may be living in New York and navigating the “new normal” of undergoing chemo treatment during quarantine, but for Donut adventure is never more than a brushstroke away.
When we first met Donut, she was working as a “Dreamweaver” at Eleven Madison Park in NYC, while pursuing painting and graphic design on the side. She’s always been daringly creative – juggling her artistic affairs (along with treatment, family and FD) with inspiration and grace. In the past year, however, she’s pivoted her pursuits, taking a deep dive into her canvases. She transitioned to painting full time, and has a portfolio that proves her passion. Most recently, her creative pursuits have led her to think outside the box by actually repurposing boxes. She’s transforming recycled wine cartons into mini art collections. Her latest work? An adventure infused collection of First Descents outdoor scenes.
In a time when we’re all learning how to celebrate adventure while staying at home, Donut is shedding light on how to keep the out living it spirit alive from the safety of her studio.
“In my effort to stay #inlivingit during quarantine and chemotherapy, I’ve done my best to keep painting. And I can’t help but compare my painting process to the emotionally grueling yet gratifying task of climbing up a giant ice cliff.
Two years ago I traveled to Ouray, Colorado for my First Descents week-long ice climbing program. I was just getting my strength back after my first fight against liposarcoma. This included many rounds of chemo, radiation, and an all-day open heart surgery to remove the 10 lb. tumor that was wrapped 360 degrees around my aorta.
Staring up at an impossibly tall ice face while holding an axe in each hand and a harness tight around my waist was as daunting to me as staring at a blank canvas.
Picking my way up to the top, whispering to myself: hand, hand, foot, foot, and searching eagerly for the next crevice in the ice above my head to dig into was challenging, to say the least. Physically, ice climbing is way more demanding than painting. But the method of standing in front of an easel, mixing oil paints on my palette and looking ferociously back and forth between my canvas, the subject, and my invented colors on the tableau is just as invigorating. Brushing and layering, stepping back to see my mistakes and hurriedly diving back in to adjust my misplaced stroke feels precisely like the rush I got from studying the ice chunks hundreds of feet above me to find my footing as I hung off the ice mountain.
That’s what I loved so much about the ice climbing experience— Halfway up the mountain, I had to rest my axes deep into the ice, let go of my picks and hang back to look at the big picture, the whole route, to find my way to the top. The only difference in painting at home is I’m not wearing a tutu or helmet, and my fellow FD friends are not behind me, cheering me on every step (and misstep) of the way. These days when I dress myself for each painting excursion, I might have a chemo pump strapped around my waist, and I’m definitely wearing pajamas.
When I finish a painting, or at least feel satisfied with the problems I’ve solved, it’s like looking down from the top of the mountain after pulling myself all the way up. Especially in quarantine and even more so these days while I’m back in treatment, my heart is pounding out of my chest, my arms are about to fall off from muscle soreness, and I have a giant smile on my face.
Painting in quarantine has been like a mini adventure in the privacy of my own home. When I have the energy to tackle a new piece during these times, I attribute much of it to the support and toughness instilled in me by the awe-inspiring community I’ve found at First Descents and on the ice.”
– Danielle “Donut” Leventhal
Want to see more of Donut’s incredible work? Visit her website www.danielleleventhal.com to see the full collection.