Donald Lipski was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1947. He was raised in the northern suburb of Highland Park, the son and grandson of bicycle dealers. Although his first welded sculptures as a teen won him The Scholastic Art Award in high school, he became a history major and anti-war activist at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, earning a B.A. in American History in 1970. In Madison, Lipski discovered ceramics while working with ceramics legend Don Reitz. He then pursued an MFA in ceramics at Cranbrook Academy of Art in 1973, where he studied with Richard DeVore and Michael Hall. Lipski taught at the University of Oklahoma from 1973 to 1977, when he moved to New York.