Train depots and futuristic car factories: how Justin Horstmann turned his profession into a passion project

Under the moniker Kidfue, Justin Horstmann combines rendering and modelling software skills, his background in architecture and a vivid imagination to create structural masterpieces.

21 June 2022

It’s rare to come across a creative that is so enthusiastic about their line of professional work that it bleeds into their personal projects. But for Denver-based Justin Horstmann, this is just the case. Working as a senior designer at a 3D modelling software company, Justin has a background in architecture and a passion for graphic design. Kidfue, his illustrative alter ego, creates brightly coloured apartment complexes, futuristic car factories and radioactive towers, using the work as “a therapeutic outlet for my wildest ideas and graphic explorations”.

As Justin’s professional and personal work are largely interwoven, he utilises the same software, techniques and technical knowledge of 3D modelling and rendering for both projects. But, Justin explains, “while professionally I need to adhere to brand standards and the whims of stakeholder reviews, Kidfue reignites the creative flame that can all too easily get squashed by the constraints and workloads of corporate design work.” In line with this, Justin’s personal work is also heavily influenced by “being comfortable with imperfection”. Learning predominantly through tinkering around, Justin rarely watches tutorials and loves discovering new techniques or graphic directions along the way. “Rather than overworking the life out of something, I’m much more committed to moving onto the next piece,” Justin says, “recognising my progress through building a volume of work.”

It’s through this ethos and approach that one of the core aesthetic ingredients of Justin’s work arises: his love of texture. Achieving this through numerous means – rendering a scene with the lowest quality, or running graphics through a printer – Justin sees it as important to counter the current digital age and “unlock a tactile sense of nostalgia and emotion that resonates deeper within”. This shines through in Justin’s piece Train Depot. Featuring a line of satisfyingly isometric, uniform trains, all realised in deep green hues with off-white features, the image is doused in vintage vibes. It’s a piece that also emotionally resonates with Justin, bringing back “fond memories of playing with miniature trains as a kid”.


Justin Horstmann: Train Depot (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)

Growing up in California, Justin was raised with the “love and support” of his parents – two German immigrants who moved to the US a few years before he was born. Being raised “speaking German and eating potato pancakes” Justin was heavily inspired by his engineering-oriented Dad, who, despite “self-identifying as the polar opposite of creative” whole-heartedly supported Justin and his brother’s creative endeavours. He spent his teenage years drawing, convinced he would become a “syndicated cartoonist”. With this dream fading Justin manifested his creativity in a degree in architecture and working as a rendering specialist at an architecture firm. But, eventually “through school and work, I quickly figured out that, while I wasn’t cut out for the detail-oriented nature of architecture, I was and am deeply passionate about graphic design.”

As has probably become apparent, Justin’s creative drive is “pretty relentless”, and he’s currently keen to stay motivated, exploring new graphic and creative avenues. But the real dream for the creative is getting into editorial illustration. “I’m not sure where to begin and I certainly acknowledge it's an uphill battle, with tight deadlines and stacked competition,” he finishes, “but the idea of being able to see my work in publications and to be paid for the thing I love doing most is absurdly inspiring.”


Justin Horstmann: Weigh Station (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: Late Night Repairs (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: Latin Calle (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: Airport Aerial (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: A Swimming Pool in Arizona (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: A Swimming Pool in Arizona (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: Radioactive Tower (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: Bird’s Eye View (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)


Justin Horstmann: Car Factory (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)

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Justin Horstmann: Neighborhood Scene (Copyright © Kidfue / Justin Horstmann, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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