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The Power of Not Knowing

Dan Castro has two New Blood wins under his belt, plus freelance and agency experience aplenty, and since his D&AD success he’s been making making making (including illustrating our nifty little guide to The New Blood Awards animation)If that isn’t enough talent for you, then let us tell you that he was also recognised as the 51st Best Male Skimmer at the World Stone Skimming Championships. But aside from all this, Dan is a big believer that not knowing what you're doing isn't a bad thing at all. We got his thoughts on that, and a few other things along the way.

The Power of Not Knowing

Take it away Mister Castro...

I’d like to start this off by saying that I have no idea what I’m doing, and where I’m going, but that so far that’s working for me, so I must be doing something right. I’m 27, and as my mother tells me, sometimes I find it hard to distinguish my arse from my elbow. So I’m trying not to talk out of either and use my mouth brain instead.

How has not knowing worked out for you?

Not knowing what I want to do specifically, or where I’m going, has meant that I’ve had the confidence to just say “Fuck it, yeah I’ll give that a go”. Sometimes it’s worked out, sometimes it hasn’t – I’ve made a lot of absolutely massive (well, sort of) life decisions based on trying to figure out what it is I want to do. I basically gave half of my stuff to charity, quit my first proper job, broke off a relationship and moved to New Zealand for a bit, to find somewhere new and exciting to work.

Two more years, several ad agencies, numerous freelance clients and four cities later, I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up. But at least now I’ve narrowed it down a bit. If I had known – or thought I’d known – and had stuck to where I was before, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now, working for a games company with a great bunch of people doing fun stuff, with some great stories to tell. If you’re like me, if you work in a job you’re not happy with, one place in the world is the same as any other – although it took me nearly a year of being in the most beautiful country in the world*, sat in an office, to figure that one out.

*(second, Scotland might get jealous)

Is there a pressure to know or look like you know what you are doing?

Well, there’s a pressure to know what you’re doing practically. I’m not going to apply to be a rocket scientist any time soon. Or a programmer. Those guys are crazy smart. But I will walk into a room and say, “I’ve never worked in your industry before but if you’re looking for a videoy-designery-type-guy, that’s me”. If you do that, and you think like that, then you DO know what you’re doing. Maybe you don’t know a specific piece of software or whatever, but you know what you can do and you know how it makes you the right person for that work. Or not – I’ve turned down work because I’ve not been the right person for it. And not got jobs for the same reason. Probably more that way around actually.

How important is knowing yourself when trying to make it?

Being able to look at your work and think – yeah, actually that’s pretty good – isn’t arrogance, it’s positive. When you’re getting a job, producing work, trying to get an agent, it’s all the same. If you can walk into an office, a gallery or an agency with confidence and say, “Hey, here’s my work, this is my story”, people will respond to it. They might think it’s shite of course, but then some people always will and some might love it. But it all starts with being able to do that. 

Bonus Anecdote Round

Early this year I spent three months renting a studio, trying my hand at spending all day drawing, and thinking, and overthinking, and not being happy with what I’m doing, and copying, and stealing from other artists, and not feeling like I’m getting anywhere. Well, actually not getting anywhere. What I was producing was a bit rubbish really, and I spent way too much time watching Netflix.

Meanwhile, in my spare time (is there any other kind when you’re unemployed?) away from the studio, I made an animation called 'Things I Should Stop Thinking About Thinking'. It’s one of the simplest, silliest, worst animated, most personal pieces of work I’ve made, has now been screened in three countries, and is on at London Short Film Festival this year.

It’s not going to win any Oscars, but it reminded me what I really enjoy doing, not what I feel like I should be doing because artists I admire are doing it. Because they don’t know what they’re doing either. Nobody does.

And any final Jerry Springer-style thoughts?

Take opportunities when they arise, don’t get bored, work hard and be nice. Good stuff might happen – you never know.

Find out how winning the D&AD New Blood Awards can catapult you into a creative role, or if you fancy a spot of design inspiration (of the weird and wonderful variety), take a look at Dan’s portfolio.

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