Missouri State University
Daniel Zender

Daniel Zender

  • Freelance illustrator and designer
  • New York City,
  • BFA, graphic design, 2010
  • MFA, illustration, 2012, School of Visual Arts
  • Past clients or platforms: Adidas, "Broad City", Facebook, Google, New York Times, Nike, Vice Media

Artist becoming a recognized illustrator

Daniel Zender’s work ethic and signature creative style have gained him well-known commercial and media clients. He’s also winning awards in his industry.

Daniel Zender remembers looking at Communication Arts when he was a student at MSU.

The international journal, which covers graphic design, advertising, photography, illustration and media, inspired him.

Now, Zender is inspiring others: He has been featured in Communication Arts himself.

A story in the November/December 2018 issue showcased his work as a go-to freelance illustrator for major clients in New York City.

It’s among just a few of his accolades and accomplishments.

  • He’s earned a Young Guns award, a top creative achievement.
  • Each year for about nine years, his work has been part of the annual Society of Illustrators exhibition.
  • He designed a wall mural for Adidas in Brooklyn, where he lives.
  • And he’s teaching students at Queens College, City University of New York.

Finding encouragement at Missouri State

Zender always knew he wanted to study art.

He was drawn to typography, found images and experimentation. Those came together in his graphic design major.

Cedomir Kostovic, Missouri State professor of art and design, first noticed Zender’s dedication.

“The teachers at Missouri State instilled a work ethic that I think maybe some schools don’t.”

“I like to observe students when they are on breaks,” Kostovic said. Some fixate on their phones. Some talk casually.

Zender was the kind of student who would flip through the materials related to art history, design and visual communication.

“I said, ‘OK, this is a good sign.’ In class, he was curious. Always asking, questioning,” Kostovic said. 

Zender stayed in Springfield for two years after graduation in 2010. He worked at a coffee shop, but all the time he was cultivating freelance clients in New York City.

Because of his hustle, when he moved to NYC in 2012, he already had a client base in a competitive city and career. He knocked on doors to find even more work.

Working in many mediums, including digital and paint

When Zender first moved to New York, his plan was to go to graduate school.

He earned a master’s in illustration from the School of Visual Arts in 2014.

That degree allowed him to take a teaching position at Queens College. He teaches one illustration course and one design course.

The rest of his time is taken up with freelance jobs and creating his own work.

“I’m lucky that I’ve been successful enough to afford a shared art studio in Brooklyn.”

He tries to go to his studio two days a week for at least six to eight hours. 

“It’s just where I go to play around and paint and experiment with different mediums.”

Young Guns award means “he’s among the greats”

Daniel Zender artwork for Adidas

Zender’s style is his signature, said fellow creative Louie Jimena, a partner at We are Friends studios in NYC.

“He has that idiosyncrasy a real creator has. (You can say) ‘I recognize that work; it’s a Daniel Zender.’ ”

That appealed to the selection committee for the Art Directors Club of New York Young Guns award. Young Guns is an annual juried competition for creatives from around the world who are 30 and younger. Thousands of people may enter each year.

Jimena was the Young Guns manager until 2018.

“To be accepted to win this award really means a lot, because previous winners choose you,” Jimena said.

Zender was chosen for inclusion in 2015.

“He won in the most competitive year of the process,” Jimena said. “We only chose 19 that year, and we usually have 30. Now, he’s among the greats.”

“It’s just where I want to be with my career”

Even as he becomes a firm part of the New York creative scene, Zender gives back to MSU.

He is one of “a colony of our former students in New York,” Pervukhin said. “We keep up with our contacts there.”

Zender has been a resource for Kostovic, giving current MSU students real projects so they experience working with a professional art director.

“A year ago, he came here and gave a beautiful talk and worked with students,” Pervukhin said.

Zender still feels “a little bit surprised” when he realizes he is a successful illustrator.

“I’ve been lucky that people are consistently hiring me. I hope the feeling of excitement doesn’t go away,” he said.