Estefanía Landeras, mother, artist, interior designer... She is known for her artistic project ELA RUAJ. After ruminating on the idea for years, in 2023 he launched the first book of a collection for children that aims to explain the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the little ones through illustrations and two endearing characters: the little girl Celeste and the dragonfly Ruaj.
The first book is Celeste and the fortress. On the day of the presentation, the artist talks to Omnes about the creative process, the idea behind the collection and evangelizing with young children.
Where did the idea of making a collection of children's books about the gifts of the Holy Spirit come from?
-It has been a very natural process. The idea was born from what I do, which is to make religious art works, in the field of the sacred art. When I started to become a little more serious about painting - because I am an interior designer, I specialize in eliminating architectural barriers - we moved to Bogota. We stayed there for three years and I started painting as a hobby.
When I returned to Spain, I had already closed the studio, let's say I had put the profession aside. When I came back I had to reinvent myself but I didn't see my way through the interior design branch. Then I decided to go into art, which I had always loved and had never been able to make that decision.
I put it in the Lord's hands and there I began to paint and sign it with my initials, which are ELA, and then Ruach, which means everything related to the Holy Spirit in Hebrew.
Before making this decision, I thought about what I wanted to tell, and I decided to tell the best thing I have, what makes me happiest in this life, which is the faith that my parents have passed on to me. Then I began to paint the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I made a series of seven and, as I was commissioned, I painted a gift. This is how these seven works came to light.
While I was performing them, I was the first to be impressed by each gift, because I saw myself as a divine instrument to give these gifts to the people who entrusted them to me. At the same time, I thought of the children, because I transmitted all this to my children and told them about it in a natural way. That is how the idea of the collection was born.
That was the inspiration, but there was no pretense. It was just an idea, to say that it would be nice for children to know more about the Holy Spirit, because they talk to us about God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary, but what about the Holy Spirit? At least that was my perception, that we keep Him a bit in the shadows.
Two years went by and in my head I was thinking about the characters, about how I wanted the main character, Celeste, to be. I imagined the pages. I had it all in my head but I couldn't materialize it, because I didn't have the means, I do art but I'm not an illustrator.
But in the end everything turned "upside down". These are things of God, who does what He wants when He wants. What we have to do is to keep the antenna on. In 2022, when I gave birth to my fifth daughter, I started working on the project, Alex Rooney, Baganguda and I, and in just a few months we were working on it. Celeste and the fortress has already seen the light. The next one, which is the gift of advice, is already written as well.
How do you combine being a mother, artist, interior designer and writer?
-Putting everything in God's hands. It sounds a bit ethereal, but that's how it is. We have to go little by little, day by day, with our eyes fixed on Heaven. I have very clear priorities, first and foremost my family. Since I had my first daughter, I have focused my profession on her. As a woman and as a professional, I consider that my children come first. From there, the rest of the things come from there.
There is no secret. The Holy Spirit is like that, he is creative. He leads you, He gives you energy, He guides you, you just have to let Him do it, which is not easy either.
In the end, I combine it with many falls and looking at Heaven a lot. He lifts you up and guides you again.
How can we explain to the youngest children such complex topics of religion as the Holy Spirit?
-This is what I talk about in the works I paint. Not everything that one sees, is. It is not necessary to see to believe. There are many things that we have around us that we do not see and that exist. What separates us from being aware of the Holy Spirit is a very thin veil.
But I believe that children, and with this in mind we made the whole collection, are spectacularly creative. They are open to everything. They receive the things we talk to them about with judgment, that is, they ask questions, they question. They are open and they are not stupid, so they recognize the truth.
Deep down, explaining these things to children is not so complicated, because it is something that we all carry inside us. We all have that stamp.
I believe that art is a very accessible means for children to awaken this curiosity. The Lord wants children to know him, but he wants them to know him for real, not to be told a lot of nonsense.
What is so special about the characters in the book, Celeste and Ruaj?
-Celeste has something very special. She is the typical person you meet in life and she has a different light, which does not necessarily imply that they know God. Celeste, in fact, does not know God. She discovers him, little by little, from the first gift, which is strength, after the death of a loved one. She is a child who realizes the greatness that surrounds us and recognizes in creation that there is something more. There are certain wonders that cannot be explained. Precisely because of this, she is called Celeste, she is a somehow celestial child.
Ruaj is a dragonfly. That animal has a very strong connection with my mother. She died eight years ago and the dragonfly is an animal that has a lot of meaning for me. I wanted to honor in some way my mother, who opened my eyes and made me fall in love with Jesus.
In addition, Ruaj, being a dragonfly, has this volatile, electric, brightly colored, fast and ethereal character. He is the only character that has real symbolism. He is the Holy Spirit, but not in an obvious way.
Why was fortitude the first gift?
-When I was considering starting the collection, it was a bit overwhelming to choose where to begin. With the gift of fortitude I have a personal story, because it's the only work with which I have a really strong connection. The work of fortitude came about because of a loss. I have asked the Holy Spirit for this gift many times and I have a very strong experience of how effective the gift is.
I based the work on a photograph I took in Madrid in the middle of a very strong storm. There was a small tree that did not move, it seemed impassive in front of everything that was happening around it.
Given my experience with this gift, it is easy for me to talk about it. I had the history, the experience, the memory that my children have of their grandmother, because after my mother's death I had to ask for a lot of strength. It was easy for me to start here.
How do the gifts of the Holy Spirit relate to the happiness you mention in the book? How can we explain it to children?
-The moment God lets you know that if you put Him at the center, it is a puzzle that is ordered, your eyes are opened. There is an illustration in the book that speaks precisely of this. splat. If God is not present in your life in a firm, daily, central way, it is very difficult to be happy.
I speak from my experience, I am neither a theologian nor a philosopher. But as a person of faith, as a Catholic and a Christian, I realize that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are pills of happiness, which one has at hand and asks for. They are a path to immediate happiness. You don't have to wait for death, the Lord wants us to be happy now, here and now.
I came to know all this very late. They tried to explain it to me many times but I didn't have the humility to see it until I fell for it. I think it is easier to understand it if you get to know it in a natural way from childhood. Then life presents itself in a different way.
Can you also tell us a little bit about the Ela Ruaj project?
-I started when I returned to Spain, with my children, and I realized that I had to reinvent myself. I wanted to fulfill both my family vocation as a mother and my evangelizing vocation, without ceasing to be present in my children's lives. With the theme of art, I saw that I had a chance to undertake and combine everything. I put it in the Lord's hands and told him that I was going all out with him.
Glued to the Holy Spirit like a limpet, I have been doing everything. Almost three years later I continue to paint more and more, I receive more and more commissions -I only work on commission, I do not make collection funds- and, to my surprise, I am selling what I paint.
The art is a loudspeaker on earth of the things of Heaven. I paint the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Creation, the virtues, the theological virtues, etc. I try to materialize, in some way, that which is present in our lives, which we hear so often, but do not see.
My paintings do not represent anything, that is not the idea. They are a little window that opens to Heaven so that we can know the love of God, who wants to meet you.