Posted by: Kathy Temean | January 13, 2018

Illustrator Saturday – Charles Santoso

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 The Snurtch and I don’t Like Koala – both written by Sean Ferrell, Ida, Always – written By Caron Levis, Peanut Butter & Brains – written by Joe McGee and Spy Guy: The Not-So-Secret Agent – written by Jessica Young.

He worked at Animal Logic as a concept artist/art director and was involved in various animated feature film and tv commercial projects.

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.

Here is Charles sharing his process:

I start with rough sketches to explore different composition for the cover. I keep things loose at the beginning of the process.

After I get some ideas that I like, I made the sketches clearer and send them to my editor and art director. Here’s one of the options.

The second sketch option

And the third one.

When everyone is happy with a direction, I then take the sketch into the right size and start to paint the finished piece (digitally). For this particular one, I start with blocking the elements. I also try different color schemes in the process.

I refine the composition and colors as I paint the image.

The final cover illustration.

Did you always live in Australia?

I was born in Indonesia and have been living in Australia for 17 years.

How long have you been illustrating?

I have been drawing as long as I remember but professionally, for about 14 years.

What and when was the first painting or illustration that you did where someone paid you for your artwork?

I did some commission drawings for my friends in high school. They were bad but enough to motivate me to practice more.

Did you attend an art school to study art?

I studied design in University but drawing wasn’t part of the curriculum. I learned art from different people and most importantly from books and online resources.

How did you get involved in directing animated feature films and TV commercial projects?

I got a chance to show my drawing and painting portfolio to one of the studio’s staff through an event. I was working in a graphic design studio that time. After I got in, I started as a generalist (doing research, graphic design & concept art) and got a chance to step up to do more concept art, character design and art direction in the process. I was working there for almost 9 years.

Was that with an Australian company?

Yes, Animal Logic is the name of the studio. The studio made animated films like The Lego Movie, Happy Feet, Legend of the Guardians. They also helped in creating Special Effects for some live action films like The Great Gatsby, Avengers, Aliens etc.

Do you think your experience with animation helped prepare you for picture books?

Yes, immensely. I learned a lot about storytelling, preparing multiple solutions to a project brief, creating work to the highest standard possible, attention to details, teamwork and finishing work on schedule.

When did you decide you wanted to illustrate for children?

I always love picture book as a storytelling medium. I got an offer to illustrate a picture book while I was working in the animation studio. I took the opportunity and decide to pursue it further.

Was MAX MAKES A CAKE your first picture book?

Yes, it was. I learned a TON from it. Picture book often looks simple from the surface but I found it really challenging to do it right.

How many picture books have you illustrated?

So far I’ve got 6 picture books published. More are coming soon!

How did you get to do the cover and interior art for Katherine Applegate’s book the WISHTREE?

I got an offer from the art director through my illustration agent.

How many B&W illustrations did you do for the interior artwork?

I did around B&W 25 illustrations in total. Some of them (leaves and branches) were repeatable elements.

Was QUICKSAND POND by Janet Taylor Lisle the same type of project – Cover art with some black and white interior spots? How many?

I did the cover and one black and white map illustration for this book.

Do you have an Artist Rep. to represent you? How did you connect and how long have you been with them?

Yes, I do. I’m with Shannon Associate. One of the agents contacted me via email and we have been working together for about 5 years.

Is THE BOY CALLED BAT by Elana K. Arnold and QUINNY AND HOPPER both middlegrade books with illustrations?

Yes, they are. Both are different and really fun to illustrate.

In 2015 you illustrated Peanut Butter & Brains by Joe McGee for Abrams BFYR and then two years later illustrated Peanut Butter & Aliens by Joe McGee with Abrams BFYR. Was that a two book contract?

No, it wasn’t a two-book contract but I had a feeling that it could be a series and fortunately, I was right. We will be seeing more Reginald, Abigail and their friends soon!

In 2016 you illustrated IDA, ALWAYS by Caron Levis and THE SNURTCH by Sean Ferrell, both very different style books. Did it take you more time to illustrate IDA, ALWAYS?

No, it didn’t. Both books have really different tones and needed different approaches to tell the story in the most effective way. Both roughly take the same time (as many of picture books that I illustrate).

Would you like to write and illustrate a children’s book?

Yes. I actually have one in the oven at the moment.

Have you ever tried to illustrate a wordless picture book?

Not yet, but that’s in my wish-list for the future.

Have you done any illustrating for children’s magazines?

No, I haven’t.

How do you market yourself and art?

I use social media like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I also do drawings or paintings for both solo show and group show in various galleries.

What do you feel is your biggest success so far?

I always really moved to be able to see children (and adults) genuinely laughed or cried while reading the book that I illustrate. I consider that as my success. Apart from that, I’m really grateful to be able to do illustration full-time.

What is your favorite medium to use?

I use mostly digital (Photoshop) for my work. I also love mixing it with some traditional medium, especially with pencil and pen.

Has that changed over time?

Not really, although I always try to experiment with different techniques as much as I could. The main medium is quite similar as digital is quite versatile to use these days.

Do you have a studio set up in your home?


What the most important thing in your personal studio?

To do my work: my computer (Mac Mini), my drawing tablet (Wacom Cintiq), drawing desk and drawing materials. For my inspirations: one of my favorite ones is my Charlie Brown figurine.

Do you try to spend a specific amount of time working on your craft?

I tried but always ended up working most of my time. These days I schedule a time to rest and to do exercise/stretching throughout the day. I think this is very important.

Do you take pictures or do any types of research before you start a project?

Yes, research is very important. I gather as much research to familiarize myself with the subject of the story. These consist of images, videos, interviews. I do my main research from books and internet, also as much as possible from observational studies.

Do you think the Internet has opened doors for you?

Yes, I don’t think I could the get the opportunity to do what I do now without the internet.

Do you use Photoshop, Illustrator, or Painter with your illustrations?

I use mostly Photoshop for my illustrations.

Do you own or have you used a Graphic Drawing Tablet in your illustrating?

Yes, I started to use Wacom Cintiq around 4 years ago. I used Wacom Graphite and intuos before that.

Do you have any career dreams that you want to fulfill?

As I’m writing this, I feel so fortunate to be able to say that I’m really happy with where I am and what I’m doing. I feel so grateful for all the support and I’ve got from editors, art directors, authors, librarians, teachers, fellow artists and most importantly.. readers. It’s could be seen as a small circle but an amazing one!

What are you working on now?

I’m working on several picture books and chapter books (with amazing authors such as Ame Dyckman, Julie Falatko, Cate Berry, Rebecca Roan, Elana K Arnold and more). I’m also finishing the book that I write and illustrate.

Do you have any material type tips you can share with us? Example: Paint or paper that you love – the best place to buy – a new product that you’ve tried – A how to tip, etc.

I personally find it’s useful to try traditional medium before jumping to do things digitally. This way you know how things actually look and it’ll make it easier (and more authentic) when you try to emulate certain effect digitally.

Any words of wisdom on how to become a successful writer or illustrator?

I feel that I have lots to learn still but if I were to suggest some, I would say work hard, never stop learning and experimenting, be open to change, be happy for others’ success, try your best to be an optimist and problem solver. Most importantly, be kind.

Thank you Charles for sharing your talent, process, and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Charles’ work, you can visit him at his website:

Thank you Charles for sharing your talent, process, and expertise with us. Make sure you share you future successes with us. To see more of Charles’ work, you can visit him at his website:

If you have a minute, please leave a comment for Charles. I am sure he’d love to hear from you and I enjoy reading them, too. Thanks!

Talk tomorrow,




  1. Love the style! Very pretty paintings.


  2. Beautiful artwork. I especially liked how the Ida Always sketches evolved into the final decision. It’s fascinating to see the process and not just the perfectly finished product. And just for the record, I LOVE Koala! ❤️


  3. Thanks for sharing your art and insights. Your pictures draw me in so I want to know the story! I appreciate your final words of wisdom. Wishing you much future success.


  4. Charles, your work is just wonderful!! I am a fan.


  5. The variety of your work is amazing, Charles. The writers you work with are lucky people!


  6. Charles, I like your work and would like to commission a logo for a blog I am writing about protection of children and pets from their environment.


  7. Wonderfully delightful illustrations! Thank you.


  8. Charles, you are—A-MA-ZING!!!! Thanks—this was SUCH a treat! Thanks, Kathy 😀


  9. Simply stupendous. I’m in love with your work Charles 😍


  10. What a wonderful talent is Charles. Really enjoyed this interview.


  11. Gorgeous illustrations!


  12. Thank you ! Very interesting information🙋‍♀️


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