Illustrator Spotlight: Charles Santoso

© Charles Santoso


June 16, 2017

We have the great pleasure of featuring Charles Santoso, illustrator of many picture books, including the acclaimed IDA, ALWAYS, by Caron Levis (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2016). Be sure to enter his giveaway for the book!




Tell us about your background and how you came to illustrate children’s books.

Hello! I always love drawing since I was a kid but never was great at it. I never won any competition and lots of my friends were much better than me. For some reason I didn’t mind, I just kept drawing and hoped to get better through practice. After finishing high school, I found myself in an economics course because I got rejected from an art school. I then got a chance to study in design school the year after. Four years later I started my career as a graphic and interface designer. There wasn’t much of drawing practice or requirement throughout my study at school and my work as an interface designer, so what I did was to keep drawing on my free time. I tried to learn as much as possible through different sources, like books, videos, different people and internet (when resources started to available more online).


© Charles Santoso


After 3 1⁄2 years, through my personal drawing and painting portfolio, I got an opportunity to work in an animation studio, where I spent the next 8 1⁄2 years creating concept art for feature films and tv commercial work. Whilst I enjoyed my work in the studio, I still continued to do my personal work after hours and post them online. Through this process, I found an audience for my personal work and this led to me to getting an invitation from my current agent and then to working on the first picture book project. This was done while I was still working for the studio. Several years after, I made a decision to jump into full-time freelancing pond, in the hope to make more pictures for books. It is not easy but I love it so far.

Congratulations on your many books. Was getting published a long and winding journey, or short and sweet, or something in between?

Thank you! I feel really fortunate to be able to do what I do now. The journey was long and not a straight line but it somehow felt natural. I feel that as I know myself more, my personal taste drove me to draw things that I like for my personal work. I’ve learned a lot through my work in design and film industry. Even though they were not directly related, all those skills do compliment and feed into what I do now.


© Charles Santoso


What is the hardest part of illustrating a book? What is the easiest?


Every single (good) story is unique. The hardest part for me is the beginning of the process – thinking of ideas and making the book dummy. I need to experiment and relearn how I do things, how to best tell the story, a style that suitable for the particular story. While this is the hardest part, this is also the most fun one.

The easiest for me will be to finally render the pictures. This takes time and hard work but if layout, ideas & planning were done, I could jump into this without worrying too much.

Who or what influences you?

I look up to many artists – past and contemporary giants from different fields, for example: photographers, painters, sculptors, musicians, animations, etc. I do try my best to get more influenced by everyday life instead of specific style or technical direction. I think this is better and a much richer influence for me personally. I love watching documentaries and listening to people’s stories. There’s something interesting hearing different people dealing with variation of situations in their life.


© Charles Santoso


 Can you walk through your illustration process?

I (try to) do things differently for every project that I do. 

Sometimes I combine traditional medium and digital. In other cases I do everything digitally. I incorporate different techniques even when I use digital medium. To me, the medium doesn’t matter too much, as long as the end result is consistent and I get close to what I’ve envisioned.

This example was a process for a page from IDA, ALWAYS book (written by the wonderful Caron Levis, published by Simon & Schuster). I started by doing lots research on the story subjects, also the feeling and inspirations that’s needed to enhance it. For example, I got the idea to incorporate clouds to represent the city’s ‘sound’ when I stared at the sky on my way back home from work. 

The next step is creating page thumbnails. Most of these are not readable except for myself. 


© Charles Santoso


When I have some that I like, I then move to do a cleaner sketch. 


© Charles Santoso

After everyone is happy and on board with the direction, I can then take a long breath of relief and start to work on rough colour palettes. 


© Charles Santoso

From here on, it’ll be tightening, rechecking, tweaking, detailing and lots more rechecking & tweaking. 


© Charles Santoso
© Charles Santoso


What projects are you working on now?

For chapter books, I just finished working on cover and interior illustrations for Katherine Appelgate’s book called WISHTREE which will be out on September 2017 (Macmillan). I’m also working on Elana K Arnold’s A BOY CALLED BAT (Harper Collins).

In picture book land, I just handed in my illustrations for Cate Berry’s picture book PENGUIN AND TINY SHRIMP DON'T DO BEDTIME (Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins).

 I’m currently working on DANDY, written by Ame Dyckman (will be published by Little, Brown and Company) and some others by Julie Falatko, Rebecca Roan, Joe McGee and Anica Mrose Rissi after that.

I’m also in the process of writing and illustrating my own picture book. Cross fingers I can share this with everyone in the near future.

What advice would you give to aspiring illustrators?

Be curious, Be kind, work hard, work smart, be on time and never stop learning. 

Start exercising, fix your posture and eat healthy food. Health is very important.

What is something most people don’t know about you?
I love seasoning my wok. I make my own cold brew coffee.


Where can people find you online?

My twitter is @minitreehouse
my instagram is @charlessantoso
and my website is www.charlessantoso.com



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Charles Santoso (Chao) loves drawing little things in his little journal and dreaming about funny, wondrous stories. He gathers inspiration from his childhood memories and curiosities he discovers in his everyday travels.

He has illustrated several picture books, including Ida, Always – written By Caron Levis, which was mentioned in the New York Times as “an example of children’s books at their best”, The Snurtch and I don’t Like Koala – both written by Sean Ferrell and Peanut Butter & Brains – written by Joe McGee.

Charles Santoso’s work has been exhibited in Sydney and also internationally in North America and France. He currently lives and works in Sydney, Australia. 

18 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

    Your illustrations are beautiful. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

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  2. Amazing work. Thanks for sharing your story.

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  3. I LOVE that you stuck with your drawing even at the beginning when you weren't great at it. Wonderful story of persistence and I admire how evocative your illustrations are. Beautiful work.

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  4. This story is incredibly encouraging. Thank you so much. The work is beautiful. It would be amazing to win a copy of the book.

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  5. Gorgeous illustration, I love the polar bears.

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  6. The cover looks very charming and sweet! Thank you for the post!

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  7. Loved Ida Always. I agree that beginning the process to making a book is hard but necessary in the flow of creating.

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  8. I checked out Ida and The Snurtch from our library and had so much fun with the illustrations. Amazing talent and thank you for sharing it with us!

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  9. Charles, Every one of your illustrations pulls at my emotions in some way. You convey emotion so well that your books are some of my favorites. I will purposely grab a PB if I see you have illustrated it. Excellent advice to illustrators with 'Be curious, Be kind, work hard, work smart, be on time and never stop learning.' as it applies to us all. Keep up the excellent work and congratulations on your continued success.

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  10. You are so talented, Charles. Thanks for sharing your process. Looking forward to reading all your upcoming new releases. Wow!

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  11. *straightens posture* Thank you for the interview! I love learning about everyone's unique process and it's amazing to see how much thought and care goes into each piece.

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  12. This is such a touchingly beautiful book. I fell in love with the cover and adore the illustrations. Thank you Charles for creating this treasure.

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  13. I love hearing about the process and seeing the various drafts of the illustrations. Thanks for sharing! It's also wonderful to see how the years and years of drawing and learning really paid off. Beautiful illustrations!

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  14. Loved this interview with Charles!

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  15. The illustrations in IDA, ALWAYS are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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  16. Your story is inspiring and illustrations are beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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