Flushing resident Chris Soentpiet, illustrator of more than 10 children's books with his trademark watercolor style, has always enjoyed painting people. He turned that passion into a livelihood when he started illustrating children's books.
Soentpiet was born in South Korea where he was the youngest of five siblings. Both his parents died when he was still very young. His mother died of cancer and his father was killed in an auto accident. When he was 8, the Mormon Church helped arrange for him and a sister to be adopted by an American family living in Hawaii.
When he was 22, Soentpiet (pronounced "soon-pete") went back to see his brothers and sisters in Hawaii, a reunion he plans to write about in the future.
Soentpiet moved to New York in the 1980s, when he got a scholarship to Brooklyn's Pratt Institute. He studied advertising, illustration, graphic design, and art education and graduated in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. "But painting has been my primary desire," the 30-year-old says on his Web site, www.soentpiet.com.
Ted Lewin, an author/illustrator and good friend of Soentpiet's, encouraged him to take his portfolio around the city. After visiting 10 publishers, who were not interested, he walked into the publishing office of Lothrop, Lee & Shephard, who gave him his first break with his first book, "Around Town," which he wrote as well as illustrated in 1993. The story is about things kids can do on a summer weekend. Soentpiet still struggled to make ends meet, working in a belt factory in Jamaica.
Since then he has illustrated 10 other books, and has two releases due out this spring: -Where's Grandpa?," about a boy coping with the death of his grandfather, and "Momma, Where are You From?," which deals with a mother telling her daughter about her own childhood. Soentpiet has illustrated two future releases - "Coolies" (fall 2000), and "Jin Woo" (release date to be announced).
Soentpiet's work has helped garner awards for books that include: "Last Dragon," written by Marie Bradley, winner of the 1996 International Reading Award; "Peacebound Trains," by Haemi Balgassi, which earned the 1996 Society of Illustrators Gold Medal; and "Something Beautiful," by Sharon Dennis Wyeth, winner of Parent Magazine's Children's Book of the Year for 1998. "Molly Bannaky," released last fall, tells the incredible story of an English dairymaide exiled to America in 1683, who marries an African slave and establishes a thriving, 100-acre farm.
In addition to illustrating, Soentpiet holds workshops to promote the understanding and appreciation of his craft. His workshop program includes a slide presentation showing Soentpiet going through the step-by-step process of conceptualizing ideas for his books; his painting and sketching techniques, his techniques for photographing models and research.
Future books illustrated by Soentpiet will include "Coolies," written by Yin, about Chinese Americans who built the railroads in the 1860s, and "Jin Woo," by Eve Bunting, about a Korean American family.
©2000 Community News Group
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