Chris Soentpiet, Traveling Man, stops in Kutztown

Chris Soentpiet on loacation in China courtesy
Chris Soentpiet on location in China courtesy

Born in Korea, raised in Hawaii, Chris Soentpiet studied art in Brooklyn at Pratt Institute. The acclaimed children’s picture book illustrator specializes in carefully orchestrated costume dramas. The winner of numerous honors including the Society of Illustrators’ Gold Medal and NAACP’s Image Award is coming to Kutztown.

photo reference and watercolor illustration © Chris Soenpiet
photo reference and watercolor illustration © Chris Soentpiet

Chris Soentpiet (pronounced SOON-PEET) will be speaking at the 15th annual KU Children’s Literature Conference. Registration info can be found here. A large selection of his books are already on display at the KU bookstore. His conference audience will be area educators on Saturday April 13. On Friday, he will also do give an informal presentation to Communication Design students. Chris is on the road as usual, so we could not contact him, but with permission of his booking agent are displaying samples of his artwork from his extensive website,

detail of watercolor illustration for Coolies © Chris Soentpiet
detail of watercolor illustration for Coolies © Chris Soentpiet

His web site is informative. Pennsylvania illustrator Maxwell Parrish is among his favorite artists. The golden mountain range from Coolies is reminiscent of Parrish’s style. Another big influence and real-life mentor has been Ted Lewin, the wrestler turned Pratt art professor. Ted and his wife Betsy Lewin are both past visitors to KU Children’s Lit Conference. They have traveled the world for inspiration for their illustrated books and encouraged Chris to do the same.


While the images reproduced here deal all with Chinese stories, Soentpiet has also had great success drawing African-Americans, and European-Americans. He has illustrated biographies of Martin Luther King and Booker T. Washington and stories of the American experience from colonial times to the present.

His site has sobering advice for aspiring artists. He doesn’t sugarcoat his memories of trying to make it as an illustrator in New York:

Chris Soentpiet
Chris Soentpiet

“I took on a second job to pay the bills while making my first three books. I worked nights at a factory carving out belt buckles. Art supplies, rent and the everyday cost of living in New York City was and still is very expensive. Forget health insurance-couldn’t afford it. I made use of the city health clinic if I got sick. Obviously I didn’t have much choice in the foods I ate. My meals consisted of rice with a can of tomato sauce or if I’m lucky, instant noodles.  For years I’ve lived the “starving artist” lifestyle.”   

…But the hardship only fueled my determination and I truly believed that one day I will be able to do what I love for a living. Over the years the publishers knew I was passionate about each project that was entrusted to me. Now I am fortunate I can paint full-time plus have three healthy meals a day!”

We look forward to hearing much more from Chris Soentpiet. The KU Children’s Literature Conference is Apr.12-13. KU students are invited, free of charge, Friday, Apr. 12. On Sat., Apr. 13 student cost is $10. All others are $70 at the door. Presenting will be authors Janet Wong and Suzanne Fisher-Staples as well as Chris Soenpiet. Check the conference Facebook page for updates.

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