By: Veronica Burniston

Freelance Writer

There’s something undeniably amazing about watching an artist at work. It’s like watching spring unfold through valleys and hills after a long, white winter. It’s like that first breath of night air after a weary day spent indoors. To the viewer, it’s as if no boundary exists between the artist and his art. There’s only the flitting pencil, the gentle brush strokes, and the blossoming life that consumes a blank canvas.

It was this feeling, this amazement that visited Johnson County on October 18th and 19th when renowned children’s illustrator Chris Soentpiet spoke to the local elementary schools in Heritage Hall and later taught watercolor workshops to children and adults alike in the Public Library.

Chris Soentpiet, an award-winning illustrator and author, attended Pratt Institute in New York City where he achieved a degree in Fine Arts and Education. Over his publishing career, Soentpiet (pronounced Soon-peet) has illustrated numerous children’s books by a variety of authors, including Cynthia Rylant, Lester Laminack, Christine King Farris, and many more. Some of the books he has illustrated are Silver Packages, More Than Anything Else, Molly Bannaky, Saturdays and Teacakes, My Brother Martin, and Coolies, which he worked on with his wife Yin. For his work, Soentpiet has received a number of prestigious awards, such as the Parents’ Choice Gold Award, three International Reading Association (IRA) Book Awards, and the Smithsonian’s Notable Book Award. Several of his illustrations have also appeared in USA Today, Newsweek, the Houston Chronicle, and the New York Times. Besides his career as an illustrator, Soentpiet also paints fine art in his studio in New York City. When he isn’t painting or writing, Soentpiet visits schools and libraries across the United States, speaking to children and adults about his art, teaching workshops, and inspiring children to pursue their dreams.

On October 18th, Soentpiet spoke to all the elementary school students, grades one through six, in three sessions beginning at 8:30 a.m. at Heritage Hall. After giving a short presentation on how he storyboards, how he chooses live models for his paintings, and how he researches for his books, Soentpiet selected three student volunteers for a special demonstration of how he uses real people as models for the characters in his illustrations. Inevitably, children giggled as they watched their classmates hold funny poses on stage. They giggled even more when Soentpiet, in his drawing, turned the two posing young ladies into a pair of old men playing a game of chess. For the audience, it was an hour brimming with creativity and discovery. “Believe in yourself,” Soentpiet encouraged the children, “and follow your dreams.” Those were the words his Korean mother told him when he was a boy.

The following morning, Soentpiet led three Watercolor Workshops in the Kathleen S. Mount room of the Johnson County Public Library. During these workshops, he chose three onlookers to serve as models for him and the other painters. He taught through example how using light and shadow in painting creates the human quality of the model in the portrait. Throughout the workshops, Soentpiet walked from table to table, helping children and adults as they attempted their watercolor portraits, some for the first time. At the end of each workshop, Soentpiet autographed the portraits he made and gave them to the models. Proudly showing off their sketches and watercolor paintings, children filed in line with their parents to purchase books and have them autographed by the illustrator himself.

Not long after the workshops finished, Soentpiet also spoke at an adult session, which consisted of Gamma Mu members, teachers, and other interested guests. To some people’s surprise, Kathleen S. Mount herself appeared for the session, warming a seat beside Mrs. Linda Icenhour, the head librarian of the Johnson County Public Library. And despite the long morning of workshops, autographs, and pictures, Soentpiet continued to answer questions with enthusiasm and signed several more books for his remaining audience before the event came to a close around 3 p.m.

Chris Soentpiet’s visit to Johnson County was made possible by the work of Gamma Mu, the School Board, Friends of the Library, and the grants given by the Johnson County Community Foundation and the Johnson City Area Arts Council. Also, many thanks should be given to Ms. Barbara Gratsch who worked diligently to bring this event to Johnson County.

If you are interested in learning more about Chris Soentpiet or ordering any of his work, visit his website at