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Digital artist Juan Castaño: ‘I love the power of shapes and their ability to communicate’

Juan Castaño is a self-taught artist who has been illustrating digitally for the last 12 years. Inspired by Art Deco and the Russian avant-garde, his style has naturally evolved into an exciting mix of minimalist geometry and bold colours—with clever use of negative space thrown in.

We chatted to him about how he became a digital artist, his illustration process and how trying out Affinity Designer for iPad was love at first sight.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your creative background.

Well, the first thing I have to say is that I don’t have a background as such.

I have always liked to draw, in fact, I have been doing it for as long as I can remember, and when I started with digital illustration, it was all trial and error because I am self-taught—I always say that I am an illustrator by vocation and a teacher by profession.

I entered the world of digital illustration around twelve years ago and started illustrating in a more professional capacity about six years ago. I think I have a personal and recognisable style; that is something that has been important to me since I started, to not get lost in the tide of illustrators.

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?

To tell the truth, no. I wanted to study fine arts, but at home, I was told that I should do something else with more future, so I studied teaching. To be honest, I still find it weird when people refer to me as an artist. It could be said that this has come almost by surprise.

What drew you to working in a minimalist style in vector?

I remember when I started doing digital illustration, I would see and buy works of that style, and I thought that was what I wanted to do. It’s what I started drawing. Very simple works, with very simple shapes, but far removed from what I do today. I have experimented a lot, and my style has naturally evolved towards minimalism and the importance of colour.

I love the power of shapes and their ability to communicate.

“For me, playing with shapes and colour is essential in my creative process.”

Could you talk us through how you create your illustrations?

I always look for references, whether it’s a personal project or a commission. I usually start the sketch on the tablet (I love paper, but I have to admit that I hardly use it anymore).

Sometimes the sketch is just a few lines, and other times it is more elaborate. The truth is that I start to vectorise very quickly because, for me, playing with shapes and colour is essential in my creative process. I spend countless hours just doing colour tests, for example.

When did you first start using Affinity Designer, and what are your thoughts on it?

I started using it four years ago, and it was a wonderful discovery for me. After many years of drawing on the computer, one day I decided I wanted to do it on a tablet, but I couldn’t find a tool that I felt comfortable with. Then a friend told me that he knew of an app and that I should give it a try. I decided to try Affinity Designer, and it was love at first sight. I had finally found a tool that allowed me to do everything I wanted.

“I decided to try Affinity Designer, and it was love at first sight. I had finally found a tool that allowed me to do everything I wanted. ”

Do you have any favourite features?

The truth is I am quite aware that I do not exploit the full potential of Affinity, but if you look at my work, I use gradients and transparencies a lot. My works always start with the Pen Tool and closed shapes that I can modify based on the sketch.

What inspires your work?

I am inspired by architecture and the Art Deco style. Also the Russian avant-garde and many artists such as Malika Favre, María Picasso Piquer, Owen Davey, Sanna Annuka and Jose Antonio Roda. Although, when I look for inspiration for works in photos or other illustrations, it is to try and imagine that subject in my style.

Are there any dream projects you would like to work on in the future?

I would love to work with a clothing brand or for the media.

What do you feel is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as an artist?

Well, a couple of years ago, an art gallery asked me to make a limited edition of a series of three illustrations. The idea was to create the illustrations, print them and finish them live. Since I have always drawn in private, exposing myself in public to do a job live was quite a challenge for me.

Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

Right now, I am at a stage where I am trying to refine certain stylistic aspects in order to embark on a very personal project, an illustrated story. Because of my professional obligations and the fact that it’s something I want to do well, I am taking my time with this. All I can say for sure is, of course there will be tritons!

Check out Juan’s Instagram account @castanoart to see more of his stunning illustrations.