Epic Level Artistry: Jeremy Kostiew

Another Epic Level Artistry here at Troll in the Corner! This month we have only one artist, but what an artist! Jeremy Kostiew is an an artist and graphic designer whose work you might be familiar with if you listen to any of our podcasts such as IndieTalks or Geek Explicitly. He was awesome enough to answer some questions, talk a bit about about the importance of logos and why as an artist you should have a cat. Let’s read what he had to say!

Portrait of the Artist as a...I have no idea. by Jeremy Kostiew
Portrait of the Artist as a…I have no idea. by Jeremy Kostiew

You do a lot of logos. What do you think a logo should do and what questions do you ask yourself before you dive in and design them?
First and foremost, a logo should make the client happy. It doesn’t matter what I think is a good design goal if the person I’m designing for doesn’t like it. I like to see the client’s logo- and art-related history before I start. What did they have done for their last logo? Do they favor a color or depth of saturation? Is there a style of font they tend to use? Are there other common elements?

Then I start thinking about the medium. Clean lines and vectors? That’ll put me knee-deep in Illustrator and Flash. Details and textures? Photoshop! Something 3D? SketchUp!

And then I have to consider the time I’ve got to complete it. A day? A week? Nebulous? Without a proper deadline I drag my feet like an extra in Dawn of the Dead.

Do you think logos have a place in-game? We all know branding is important in real life but how can people use logos to enhance their settings and adventures?
I certainly do!

White Wolf has always punctuated the insular nature of its character-types with symbols: Clan, tribe, Tradition, Sept — they’re all represented by some pretty fantastic logos. There isn’t a Vampire: the Masquerade player alive who couldn’t pull the Toreador rose from out of the infinite depth of rose clipart you get with Google Image Search.

Then you have Dungeons & Dragons, which has remarkable depictions of its gods’ iconography. How many Forgotten Realms paladins have had the upraised hand of Torm on a holy symbol around their neck? How many thieves have kissed the coin of Tymora before a risky task?
And Shadowrun! How many riggers have stared longingly at a personal assault drone branded with the Ares Macrotechnology logo?

Be it a secret society, a heroic team of superfriends, or an evil megacorp I think solid, evocative heraldry is one of the better ways to flavor a group without direct interaction. It can be a calling card, a warning, a mark of ownership. And having something actually marked with an in-game sigil can turn a simple, printed letter into the highlight of a session.

So, tell us a little bit about yourself and your history with art in games and RPGs.
I got started doing actual game art when I bothered Machine Age Production‘s David Hill on Twitter. He posted a logo for his reincarnation-and-romance adventure game Amaranthine, and I had some critiques. Eventually, I bothered him so much that he just sent me the files, and I made my corrections. And I’ve never stopped bugging him! Eventually, he and his partner Filamena Young began pointing me out to their friends, and I became confident enough in my developing style to bother everyone else in the world.

Farewell to Fear Intro Image by Jeremy Kostiew
Farewell to Fear Intro Image by Jeremy Kostiew

What’s your favourite system to play? Is there a setting/system you love making art for in particular? What is it about this world/system that inspires you?
My favorite system, right now, is FATE. The Dresden Files RPG in specific. I love making cheesy book covers for the “novels” of my Dresden games. All two of them.

Recently, I’ve done some fanart for White Wolf’s Exalted that’s far outside my usual artistic comfort zone. The art in those books is what makes me want to be a roleplaying game artist. UDON, Kiyo, Spencer, Melissa Uran – they’re favorites of mine, and why I strive to improve. It’s my long-term goal to have art in an Exalted book.

Do you prefer to GM or play as a PC? Do you find this affects your art?
Defintiely play. I like GMing now and again, particularly if I’m introducing someone to a game I love, but being a player is where my heart is. Being a player lets me doodle at the table, so it directly affects my art!

Do you find yourself more drawn to drawing locations or people? Do you have them fleshed out before you bring pencil to paper (to use an old idiom) or do the ideas and the image kind of grow side by side?
Actually, I tend to draw objects more than anything else! And I generally have a vague idea before I put anything down, but it almost never ends up as I first imagined it. I do really like drawing locations (mostly in 3D), but my people are almost never satisfactory. I’m working on that any chance I get.

Werewolf by Jeremy Kostiew
Werewolf by Jeremy Kostiew

What’s your preferred medium to work with? Do you work digitally, on paper or some mix?
Digital. Ctrl+Z is the only reason my blood pressure isn’t through the roof. I’m pretty well versed in a large suite of digital stuff, though. Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, SketchUp, Corel Painter, AutoCAD. I’ll use a more traditional medium every now and again, but I hate eraser lines!

How much time would you say you spend in a week making art? How much time in a week would you say you spend gaming?
Art is pretty much a part time job’s worth of hours in my week, with occasional overtime. Gaming is another part time job! Between my day job, art and gaming, I probably don’t sleep as much as I should. When the weather’s cool, I try to make up for that lack of naptime by curling up in the backseat of my car during my lunch hour.

Are there any trends, either genre-wise or technique-wise that you’re seeing in RPG/game art that you’re enjoying now? Is there anything you want to see more of or things you don’t like?
In the past few years I’ve seen a number of artists from online communities like DeviantArt make it big, and that’s amazing. Seeing an artist I dig go from a few dozen views a month to featured in an UDON tribute? That’s the best, most-exciting thing in the world.
There’s also been a push for more appropriate cheesecake in RPG art. Whether that’s gender/skintone/bodytype equitable cheesecake, or forgoing ‘sexy badass’ when ‘badass’ alone makes more sense, I’m happy to see the hobby taking steps to expand its artistic horizons. While I adore beautifully drawn cheesecake, there’s already a lot of it out there for me. It’s pretty amazing to see genre art realize this, and work toward making games even more inclusive.

STAF by Jeremy Kostiew
STAF by Jeremy Kostiew

Whose art do you like the most? Whose art would you say has influenced you or do you try to emulate?
Oh, jeez. Where to start? There are the titans of traditional genre art, RK Post, BROM, Boris Vallejo, Julia Bell, etc etc etc… My comic art talent-crushes: Mike Mignola, Long Vo, Jim Zub, and Alex Ross. There are my personal RPG-art heroes: Melissa Uran, Ron Spencer, Steve Prescott, Kiyo, DiTerlizzi. Then there are the little guys who SHOULD be big: Jenna Fowler, Susan Knowles, Amy Clare Learmonth, Jared von Hindman, Timm Henson. I’m probably missing a dozen more names! There are too many people that inspire me to do art.

What tools do you use to make art? What tools/items do you need to game?
For art? MSPaint, Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, SketchUp. Sometimes a Wacom. Not frequently. And a small mouse for my HUGE HANDS. For gaming? FUDGE dice. A good, small mouse. Lots of D10s and the occasional D20. Oh! And a nice, warm coat for winter LARPing.

What projects have you worked on in the past? Can you tell us what you’re currently working on or have in the queue?
I’ve got a huge number of Machine Age Productions’ logos, some interior art and the cover to their recently released Farewell to Fear. It’s tremendous fun to work with as passionate about gaming as David and Filamena, and I leap at the chance every time they need something drawn. I did the company logo for ENnie Award-winning RPG design badasses VSCA Publishing, and that was sort of a dream. I love their Hollowpoint. Left of the Moon Games, Magpie Games, Play Attention Games. A kindly handful of indie RPG developers have been kind enough to feature my work on their products/brands. I’ve also had the pleasure of doing a number of logos for the Troll in the Corner Podcast network!

Right now I’m working on stuff for Play Attention Games and TrolliTC’s own Wargaming Recon!

Wardogs of Atlantis by Jeremy Kostiew
Wardogs of Atlantis by Jeremy Kostiew

Are there any pieces you’re particularly proud of? A favourite character you managed to pin down or something really funny/touching/dramatic you captured?
I have a character I’ve been doodling since high school. It’s my version of the Mothman urban legend, set in a fictional Hong Kong, with more than a few nods to John Woo movies. But my favorite current piece are either the cover for Nathanael Cole’s Motobushido, or the Indie Talks logo. I love that microphone!

What would be a dream job/commission?
Anything for White Wolf! They’ve fostered the largest number of games I’ve been a part of, including LARPs and tabletop, and almost every contemporary artist I love has done work for them in some manner. Exalted is the title I’d specifically love to work on.

When you’re not making art or gaming, what are you doing?
I’m generally doing design work for the solar industry, or cruising Google+ like an internet shark. I also have a fondness for wine that I’m trying to cultivate – and being so close to the Napa Valley it isn’t terribly hard!

Do you have any advice for people who are trying to find artists to hire? To artists trying to get their work out there?
Bug David Hill and Filamena Young until they question the worth of your friendship! But seriously, never stop asking for work. And have a portfolio that isn’t hosted DeviantArt. If you DO require DA to be your sole place of artistic hosting CHECK YOUR MESSAGES EVERYDAY. And do art a lot. And have a cat to pet furiously when you’re turned down. Feline fur absorbs rejection-tears with amazing efficiency.


I have a cat for the exact same reason.

I want to thank Jeremy and all the other amazing artists that helped kick of Epic Level Artistry this year! I hope you all enjoyed seeing their art and reading their answers and advice and maybe got inspired to draw a bit yourself. Thank you all for reading and hope to being you even more great fantasy, sci fi and RPG art in 2013. Cheers!

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