Interview with Charles Santoso

We continue our Interview series—in which we ask contemporary illustrators to share their experiences. Today’s guest is Charles Santoso.

© Charles Santoso

© Charles Santoso

Where were you born?

I was born in West Java, Indonesia, sometime in July, early eighties.

When did you realize that drawing could be a living?

I studied Design at the College of Fine Arts in Sydney, Australia. I love drawing but wasn’t able to see how it could be a viable way to earn a living back then. I did continue to learn and create drawings/paintings because I like it.

After graduation, I had to get jobs that could provide my basic earning and was fortunate to get an entry as a graphic/interface designer—no drawing involved though. Drawing/painting was something that I did after hours when I had the job. I produced many personal works which gave way to my visual development film job. My personal work then continued to open doors to my current book work.

How did you get your start in children’s books? Did you sign with an agent?

Yes, I did sign with an agent but I had a couple of freelance jobs here and then before that. I used Twitter and Facebook as my promotional tools. I was fortunate to attract a couple of editors and art directors from there (including my current agent).

Can you tell me about why you change stylistic direction? It’s a common concern with our students.

For picture books, I personally like to let the story dictate the direction of illustrations. Getting a story across in the most effective way has always been the goal for me. In the end, it is not really all about my art. It should be all about the story. When doing my personal work however, it can all be about me. I could be as “arty” and “free” as I like then.

I find my “style” evolves over time, depending on what I like, experience, discover and also my ever-changing worldview. These days, I’m not too worried about style in a surface sense (how I draw noses, eyes, how thick and thin lines should be, etc.), but more about getting the feel. I did study the fundamentals, which was vital.

To me, drawing is always connected to personal touch and even though I change my approaches for different projects, I always leave a part of me in every one of them. This is what I believe is “style” in the end. You can’t really detach from it— should however always get challenged and questioned though.

Care to share a career highlight?

The first book deal was unreal! The first test print was amazing!! The first final printed book was unforgettable!!! But the first time I get laughs from the reader teared me up and the first time I get tears from the reader changed my life. :-)

What insight can you provide about being an illustrator that you think all illustrators should know?

People think what you do is easy and it is your job to work as hard as possible to make it look effortless in the end. Being an artists is often tough and lonely path to take, you’ll face tons of rejections but you will also meet kind people who will cheer on you along the way.

Make sure to take care your health (mentally and physically), open your horizons, do research, challenge your taste and live your life to the fullest.


We want to thank Charles Santoso for his insight. If you think this interview would be helpful to illustrators, please pass it along using the “Share” button below.

Be sure to visit his website here. And, as always, thank you for reading!