Charles Santoso is an illustrator and concept artist, who lives in Sydney, Australia. By day, he works for an animation studio, creating visual development images for feature films – by night, he illustrates picture books, novels and makes works for gallery shows.
How do you think your experience as concept artist/art director at Animal Logic plays into your personal work?
I have to create consistent work, make decisions, and solve problems within a timeframe for my day-to-day work. These habits help me a lot when I create my personal work. I pretty much just treat myself as a client – which of course can be tough at times.
What was the inspiration behind last year’s ‘WoodWork’ exhibition?
I always admire the craftsmanship behind man-made wooden objects, especially something that related to children toys. This particular interest and Pinnochio as a base topic fell naturally as a concept for the WoodWork show. My idea was to somehow illustrate wooden sculptures and toys that Geppetto has crafted in his workshop. The subjects are characters from Pinnochio’s story. I placed inbetween images, showing where the woods were extracted, along with their own little stories. The final piece shows Geppetto sleeping on his bench.. just right before Pinnochio turns alive. Will Geppetto experience the whole Pinnochio story for real? Or maybe he will just dream about it?
What appeals to you, or attracts you to, working in pencil?
I like the raw quality of pencil as a drawing tool. It brings people back to the very basic notion of mark marking. It’s amazing how such simple, unpretentious tool can get people to produce some of the most complex and beautiful artworks.
What’s your favourite pencil? Brand? Wood? Mechanical?
I use combinations of mechanical and wood pencils, though if I have to really choose, I think I’ll go with the wood pencil for its versatility. I don’t have any favourite brand. Anything that provides a mark on a surface works for me so far.
Other than pencil what materials do you enjoy using?
I use Photoshop to do most of my work and enjoy using pen for sketching. Other traditional mediums would be watercolours and acrylics.
Could you tell us a bit about your creative process, from the initial image or idea to the finished piece?
For my personal projects, I got most of my ideas from moments that I experience in my everyday life. I try to be honest to myself on what I like and I don’t like, and try to cultivate my personal taste, while opening up to possible new ideas or knowledge. These basic elements, combined with a specific topic and a tiny dose of fantasy would give several ideas in my mind. From there, I do lots of small scribbles to figure out ideas, compositions and basic values. After I’m happy with a certain direction, I’ll then create a tighter drawing and continue to the finishing process.
How do you conceptualize/construct a piece? Do you think of it as a story, snapshot, or abstraction?
All of the above. Things usually started off as mixture of different shapes, stories and ideas. With each scribbles, I started to choose and make my decisions until I come up with final story and image composition.
What size do you tend to work at? On your website you mention that you like to “draw very little things in a very little journal”… why this preference?!
Yes, I prefer to draw small. The smaller the better. I like to draw tiny characters and see how much can it still be recognised and how much details I can still include in. I love miniatures!
Do you have a favourite subject matter? What’s the particular attraction?
Characters! I love observing how humans, animals or other creatures interact with one another. There are lots of stories in there, ranging from simple to complex ones. It’s an unlimited source of inspirations!
Can you tell us about a favourite piece of yours, or a favourite creative experience?
This might sounds cliché but my favourite piece and experience will always be whatever personal piece that I’m currently working on. It’s all about the process for me. I’m trying my best not to get too attached to the work once I finished them.
We’ve been lucky enough to have a word picked for one of your random word doodles on Twitter! How long have you been doing them and what do you enjoy about them? How long do they take you to do?
I was quite active last year (2013). Random Word Doodles is about having fun and also to challenge myself in creating a visual from a single word. I usually take from 45 minutes up to 1.5 hours to finish an image. Unfortunately my schedule is a bit full these days to keep up with this activity, but I’m hoping to get back to this soon. You can view the collections here.
Do you have any early memories of drawing or, what’s your first memory of an image?
Yes. I used to drawing lots of frogs when I was a kid. That was probably the earliest memory of what I drew.
Do you keep a sketchbook?
Yes! My favourite one is a small one that fits in my pocket or bag.
What directions are you interested in exploring in the future?
I want to create more stories and hopefully having them published one day.
What are you working on now? What can we look forward to from you next?
Apart from my day job as a concept artist, I’m currently working on some books and in the middle of writing some possible stories. And who knows… maybe another solo show in the horizon this year.
Where can people get a hold of your work, or find out more about your previous projects?
Are you right or left-handed?
What was the last film you saw in the cinema?
What are the books on your bedside table?
Saul Leiter’s Early Colors & Quentin Blake Words & Pictures.
Coffee, nicotine, or booze?
Favourite city in the world?
So far I would say between Sydney and Tokyo.
Favourite city to draw/sketch/illustrate/create in?
Paris was pretty inspirational!
Charles’ work appears in Issue 3 of Tiny Pencil: The Beast Issue… Monsters, Machines and Unnatural Things! Available to buy here.
This interview was brought to you by The Tiny Pencil – fine purveyors of the pencil arts.