Cover Guy: Steve Espinosa

Steve, the onetime art director at the very publication you hold in your hands—a guy who used to painstakingly sift through the cover guy applicants with yours truly, who would direct the photo shoots and, ultimately, design every single page for nearly half a decade—is now having the camera turned on him. And what better place than Las Vegas to shoot the man who gambled on an art career at a young age and has been on a winning streak ever since?

These days Steve, 33, performs double duty as an account executive and creative director at Los Angeles entertainment marketing agency Art Machine, A Trailer Park Company. Chances are, if you have a DVD collection with any titles that were released (or re-released) in the past seven years, he probably designed the packaging on a few of them. “I just finished the Ultimate Collector’s Edition of Willy Wonka for Warner Brothers,” Steve says. “That’s my baby. It’s just one of those movies that I would watch over and over again.”

But back in the day, this Southern California native received his own golden ticket when he got the opportunity to work at Instinct. So what’s it really like to punch the clock at the sassiest gay mag around?

“I was very nervous every day, because I was the only creative,” says Steve. “Looking at it now from the viewpoint of the company I currently work at, it’s mind-boggling that one green kid out of college was given the responsibility of a national magazine—how it looked, how it read and any and all photo shoots that would
go on.”

I first met Steve when I took a job at Instinct exactly 10 years ago, in March 2002. The University of California Santa Barbara graduate was only a year out of college, and the magazine was his first full-time professional gig. Both it and Los Angeles were worlds away from the young designer’s upbringing in his small San Bernardino County hometown of Yucaipa.

“When I was a kid, I instantly started drawing,” Steve says. “I was always trying to re-create monsters, especially Medusa from Clash of The Titans. The movie had a coloring book to go along with it, and it had the best Medusa drawing ever.”

Steve’s youthful affection for the monstrous Gorgon led to his clashing with one titan in particular: his father. “My dad wasn’t a real big fan of it. I don’t know why,” he says. “He just wanted me to draw other things.” Eventually, Steve’s teachers zeroed in on his talents, and he was given free rein during art classes in high school. But while he was carving out his creative niche, there was another side to the teenager that he had no outlet for.

“I didn’t really know what [being gay] was. Yucaipa is really conservative,” Steve explains. “The only real gay person I knew of was majorly picked on. He outed himself in junior high, and it was kind of like a no-no then.”

After high school, while attending UCSB, Steve finally confirmed to himself what he already knew inside: He was gay. One weekend his mom came to pick him up from school, and he decided it was time to come out to her. Steve says his mom sobbed uncontrollably. “Basically I had to go months with coaching her with how it really is and who I really am and how that side of me works,” he says. “It’s the best thing ever that I came out to her, because it made us best friends.”

Read more about Steve in the March Issue of Instinct—out now!