Mark Bender

Graphic Design Instructor
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

VisualDesign

A talented craftsman can find a job, but the creative thinker will have a lasting career. Mark Bender , Graphic Design Instructor
, The Art Institute of Pittsburgh

Was there a defining moment when you knew you were destined to become a creative professional?

From the start, I’ve had an all-consuming drive to create imagery. You sometimes hear athletes say that it's not the winning that drives them as much as an unwillingness to lose. This is what I wanted to do since I was a kid—even if I didn't really know what an illustrator was. This was my passion. Nothing was going to stop me.

How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience?

The best way to motivate my students is to set an example, to continue to grow and adapt to the ever-changing environment, and continue to work as a professional, bringing every aspect of those experiences into the classroom. My goal has always been to not only create memorable, striking visual images, but to put that same energy into communicating to the audience. An illustration that relies solely on stylish execution is just eye-candy, not true communication. I try to teach my students that same appreciation for the process of crafting an illustration: thumbnails, research, drawing, and technique. My mentoring has only strengthened my beliefs by showing me how that process succeeds time and again.

How would you describe your approach to teaching and mentoring?

For me, nothing prepares students for success more than the opportunity to create artwork for real-world applications. That bridge from the classroom to working with actual clients can be huge for their professional development. With the right guidance and preparation, students have shown that they can thrive in the industry. The exposure, time management requirements, and excitement of creating professional work can give them life-long confidence.

How does collaboration contribute to students’ success—particularly when students from various programs work together?

With so many creative students from various disciplines in the same space, you can't help but be inspired by one another. The more you’re exposed to different skill sets, the more appreciation you have for the depth of their efforts. The networking process for their future careers starts right here. That designer who helped you with your logo and identity package may hire you one day for your photography skills.

What’s the most important thing you impart to students to help them succeed in class and the real world?

A designer or illustrator needs to be more than just a pair of hands; they need to be the conceptual driver of the project. A talented craftsman can find a job, but the creative thinker will have a lasting career. My goal is to build a student’s sense of personal responsibility and visual vocabulary while nurturing their confidence and expressive abilities so they can become effective communication professionals.

Anything else you’d like to share?

My passion and respect for the art form drives me to help create the next generation of life-long learners and visual communicators.