Cultivating an Empathetic World

Art teacher Caitlyn Notaro illustrates books with positive messages for children.

by Joanie Eppinga
illustrations by Caitlyn Notaro

Caitlyn Notaro

Many people assume it's a tough to find even one job in art. Caitlyn (Knepka) Notaro ’10 has found two.

Notaro majored in studio art with concentrations in graphic design and illustration at Nazareth and then got a master’s in art teacher education at SUNY Oswego. That led to the first of her two jobs: Notaro teaches art to 9th–12th-graders.

“I went into teaching because I wanted to make a change with my art,” she says. “I love helping people.”

Notaro finds working with the seniors particularly rewarding. When she was in high school, she says, she didn’t feel as if she received a lot of direction with her art, “so I really like helping the seniors figure out what they want to do with their futures. There are many different art careers that people don’t think of, and it’s fun to open their minds to those.”

Teaching ninth graders is another highlight for her. “The class they take is an intro to art, a required class, and I love opening them up to the art world and helping them see how many things in their day-to-day lives were done by an artist. I let them know: The shirt you’re wearing, the car you drive — those were designed by an artist.”

Her enjoyment of helping children flourish through art also influences Notaro’s second job as an artist: She’s an illustrator of children’s books, some of which she writes herself. 

“A lot of my books are about being open-minded, staying true to who you are, and being understanding of other people,” she says. “I see a lot of empathy in the generations coming up, and I think much of that starts with children’s books — with cultivating an empathetic world through art.”

Notaro received similar lessons at Nazareth. She says that in the Art Department, she developed a tight-knit group of friends. “You get really close to people when you’re working in the studio at midnight,” she says. “I still go to a lot of those people to have them look at my art.”

Her teachers were equally supportive, Notaro recalls. “I had a particularly helpful class with Lynn Duggan where I learned how to talk about my art. I was a pretty shy student, so learning how to articulate what I’m trying to do and say with my art was so helpful.” Professor emeritus Kathleen Calderwood was another particularly transformative influence, Notaro says, but “all the professors were really wonderful about expanding our horizons. It’s fun to look at my college art and see there the glimmer of the art I make today.”

And now it’s all coming together. For Notaro, achieving her two main goals of doing art and helping people is deeply satisfying, and the fact that she just got an agent augurs well. “I’m so proud of her!” Calderwood exclaims. “Getting an agent is quite a feat, but Caitlyn’s really very good. And she’s a sweet, gentle spirit, yet she’s got this artistic ambition that is so admirable.”

Notaro agrees that working as an artist has always been her dream. Asked what her parents thought of her aspiration in her youth, she replies, “They said, ‘As long as you can make a career out of it, we’ll be okay.’” Given their daughter's two jobs in the field, odds are good that, like Notaro herself, they’re feeling just fine.

Joanie Eppinga is a writer and editor in Madison, Wisc.

illustration of a young girl watering undersea plants
illustration of a fox hiking in the woods

Illustrations by Caitlyn Notaro for a not-yet-published book.