A BOOK YOU SHOULD KNOW: AN INTERVIEW AND GIVEAWAY WITH STEFAN SALINAS OF CATHOLIC CHURCHES BIG AND SMALL
I've got a birthday coming up this month, so over the next couple of weeks, I'm pleased to be able to offer you, my dear readers, some hobbit-style birthday presents in honor of the occasion. First up: a book and a fine art print!
I am really excited today to introduce you all to a lovely little picture book that I'm pleased to have in our home. Catholic Churches Big and Small by Bay Area artist and Catholic convert Stafan Salinas is unlike any other book in our family's collection. The illustrations are detailed yet whimsical. The story is entertaining yet informative. Each page is a little work of art.
I liked it so much, I asked Stefan if he'd answer a few questions for us today. And he agreed. So here comes my first ever blog interview with someone who does NOT live in my house.
First, thank you for creating your book, Catholic Churches Big and Small . We've had it here for a couple of weeks now and my kids love looking at it. You've found a good balance of entertainment and information. From your website, it appears that you have "real" artist credentials. What made you want to create a children's book?
I have been sending picture-book proposals to publishers, little by little, for almost twenty years. The first ones make me wince -they are so bland! Attending author/illustrator conferences and taking classes on children’s books has helped with my development, but what taught me the most has been reading lots of picture books and listening to authors’ interviews. To me, a children’s book is like a mini exhibition of paintings, or a small movie. They engage our imagination and sense of wonder about the world. The best books speak to children and adults alike, with a deep simplicity. My hope was that this book would appeal to children, along with their older siblings, parents, grandparents, teachers, clergy… everyone. And so I am delighted to learn that children and adults like it!
How long did the book take to complete? Which part took longer, the writing or the illustrating?
It took almost two years to create. A few summers ago, on weekends and days off, I visited churches with my camera and sketchbook. Little by little, between a retail job and other projects, it took shape. Once I decided to self-publish, I kept my nose to the grindstone after work, almost daily for over three months. Each illustration took one to three evenings to produce, which doesn’t take into account figuring out the compositions and choosing the right images to depict. The writing made me nervous, for visual art is my strong suit. I rounded up a friend to edit it and a few priests to check it for ecumenical accuracy and advice. The paintings took the longest.
One of my favorite things about the Catholic Church is how, well, catholic it is. I love that there are so many different kinds of saints, from so many different backgrounds. Men and women, rich and poor, married and single, famous and obscure. Do you have a personal favorite saint?
Yes, I love the variety! What did James Joyce famously say about us? “Here comes everybody.” I must admit, I admire qualities in many saints, but find it difficult to pray to any one in particular, besides Mary. The mystical ones intrigue me, like St. Hildegard of Bingen. Those individuals trying to balance the traditions of their day with fantastic messages they receive from the Holy Spirit, and are deemed insane because of them.
You show us in your book that there is a similar variety in physical Catholic churches. They are big and small, humble and grand, but they all get the job done. Do you have a favorite among the churches you've illustrated in the book? Did you visit them all, or did you draw them from photographs?
A favorite church? Oh boy, that’s a tough one. I even like churches I don’t like, if that makes any sense. Do you see why I had to write this book? Currently, St. Paul’s is my favorite. It was the one featured in the movie Sister Act, and is nestled in Noe Valley. It’s tall, pointed spires quite strikingly take command of the neighborhood, like antelope or gargoyle horns. And the body of the building is a thick, stone fortress. Once inside, you are surrounded by a regal setting, full of delicate details. Gold stenciling, painted portraits… But I also love, love, love the deep blues in the windows of St. Vincent de Paul. I could swim in that ocean for hours.
It was important for me to personally visit every church, with open eyes and an open heart. I believe I got to notice things many parishioners may not see anymore, and outsiders know not of. I live in San Francisco, and since there is a fairly good variety of architectural styles here, this city seemed perfect. Books tell kids about St. Peter’s in Rome and other grand sites in exotic locations, but what about the value of their own neighborhood church? They too are special, and are here to help serve the families’ spiritual needs.
Were you raised Catholic? Or did you convert? Or both?
My parents raised me in the Modern Spiritualist tradition. Then, after college, I joined the Unitarian Universalists. Although I originally dreamt up this book idea five years ago, I didn’t convert to Catholicism until 2011. I truly believe this project was one of the devices God used to draw me closer to Him. From clerical mentors, to Catholic volunteer work, to “coincidences beyond coincidence”…
Is your book self-published, or did you have a traditional publisher? Why did you choose to publish it in the way you did? Would you recommend doing it that way to others?
I sent this book proposal to publishers far and wide. One major house accepted it, then changed their mind a few days later. It was then when I decided this baby needed to get out into the world by hook or by crook, so I looked into self-publishing. It is too early for me to recommend either road to anybody else, but either way, an author still has a lot of footwork to do. At least with self-publishing, I am gaining an understanding of the nuts and bolts of the business, instead of simply letting somebody else figure it out. Now that I’m building an audience, a “platform”, I am beginning to send the book out to publishers again. Who can beat their lower production costs and wider distribution?
You have generously offered to give away a copy of your book and a fine art print to one lucky winner among my readers! What can you tell us about this print?
I designed Communion in 2010. This giclée print has gold paint detailing. Some spiritual healers claim that their hands warm up when they perform a laying on of hands, so Christ’s hands are red. Also, the red in His hands and white of His garment are reflected in the red wine and white host. He speaks, and the Holy Spirit flies out of His mouth. This was influenced by a famous sculpture of a Buddhist priest, who’s chanting is depicted as a line of tiny monks marching out of his mouth. Christ’s body is like an hour glass. He is with us and within us, during all of our life, from generation to generation, and He is eternal, just as the hour glass can be turned over again and again. His eyes stare at us intently, like the figures do in Ethiopian icons. Other influences include the sculptures by Benny Bufano and the graphic works of Virginia Broderick.
Thanks for your time!
Thank you for this opportunity, and for all your hard work with Catholic All Year!
You'll find more information about Stefan's book: Catholic Churches Big and Small, including more illustrations, and some Easter eggs to find inside the book (including Pope Francis' 1984 Renault 4), at the book's blog.
July 4, 2014
Readers who pick up a copy ofCatholic Churches, Big and Small may spot their own parish among the 40 archdiocesan churches that make cameo appearances in a new children’s picture book written and illustrated by San Francisco visual artist Stefan Salinas.
The first page of the colorfully illustrated, 48-page book asks children of any age, “Have you ever been inside a Catholic church?” Readers follow the fictional journey of a father, his two children and a nun as they explore the Catholic churches of a single city in a Pope Francis-inspired vintage Renault.
“I visited a lot of parishes to learn about this faith I was entering,” said Salinas, who was raised Unitarian and converted to Catholicism three years ago after completing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. He is now a parishioner at Most Holy Redeemer Parish.
A fine artist with a degree from the University of Houston, Salinas said he created the book as much for himself as he did Catholic children.
The making of the book was a big part of his Catholic education, he said. He spent more than a year visiting parishes in San Francisco, talking to pastors and parishioners, taking photographs and learning about the history of each church.
In his story, Sister Barbara acts as tour guide to the family and readers. She describes what happens inside a church and why, as the family visits big and small, simple and ornate churches. The children learn about religious art and architecture that exists within their city – not identified as San Francisco but clear at least to adult readers – through church floor plans, artwork and furnishings.
“I consider this book for adults too,” he said. “I’ve had many adult Catholics tell me they learned something they didn’t know.
Salinas talked with Catholic San Francisco at St. Philip the Apostle Church on June 11, a little over a month after the release of his self-published book, with his friend and “technical advisor,” pastor Father Tony La Torre, at his side. The pair sat in the small parish chapel under a large stained-glass depiction of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio. Salinas designed and donated the window artwork to the parish last year.
Salinas and Father La Torre leafed through the book, pointing to familiar, unnamed faces that appear throughout, such as that of Auxiliary Bishop William Justice, St. Vincent de Paul pastor Father Kenneth Westray or Church of the Visitacion pastor Father Thuan Hoang. On a spread that shows the Cathedral of St. Mary on Geary Boulevard, Father La Torre is seen walking his dog Tennessee.
“It’s kind of like ‘Where’s Waldo’ for Catholics,” joked Father La Torre, who also identified his parish’s distinctive paschal candle on the page about church furnishings.
After moving to San Francisco 14 years ago, Salinas began attending Mass with Catholic friends on occasion and volunteered with Catholic organizations. He was drawn to the church, he said, but had no real intention of converting. The process of making the book helped change his mind.
“Before I became a Christian, the art and architecture of churches, particularly Catholic ones, drew me in,” he said. “That’s how the spirit started working.
“I unexpectedly became Catholic,” he laughed.
Catholic Churches, Big and Small is available at Books Inc., Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, the St. Mary’s Cathedral gift shop and Kaufer’s Religious Supplies. Visit www.churchesbigandsmall.blogspot.com.
Catholic Churches Big and Small is a fantastic book. Fantastic! The author, Stefan Salinas, toured the Archdiocese of San Fransisco as a part of his conversion to Catholicism. It is this intimacy that really shines through in every one of his drawings. Take, for example, this image from the author’s book blog, of St. Dominic Catholic Church in San Francisco.
A simple storyline only adds to the stunning imagery. Simple words that roll off the tongue – perfect for a read aloud to curious toddlers and preschoolers – walk the reader through Catholicism in all its beauty. There are sketches of multiple Catholic churches, close ups of common Catholic symbolism, reproductions of statues of saints and angels, and also items found inside our churches. Toddlers will be mesmerized. Preschoolers will be fascinated. And young children will be genuinely interested. I think that even the older elementary child would enjoy this book as a sort of dictionary of Catholic terms (homeschoolers I’m looking at you, here!) and, as Salinas suggests on his website “an introduction to the art and architecture of the Catholic Church.” In fact, my own seven year old boy has big plans to trace the church sketches onto Shrinky Dink plastic so that he can “make a collection.”
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion of the book nor did it affect the content of my review.
What You Need to Know
- Role Models/Authority Figures - A nun takes children on a city-wide church viewing field trip
- Violence -None
- Sexual Content – None
- Consumerism – None.
- Drinking/Smoking/Drugs – None
- Religion – Faithful representation of Catholic churches; Editing quibble: Eucharist isn’t capitalized nor is First Communion.