If you’re one of the thousands who endured a fiery escape down the pitch-black Skyway on Nov. 8, 2018, it would be understandable if you chose not to watch footage of the disaster that’s being rebroadcast repeatedly to mark the Camp Fire’s one-year anniversary. Each person will process the trauma differently, and your timeline may or may not yet allow for such visceral reminders.
Steve Ferchaud was a refugee that morning. The Paradise artist and his girlfriend, Jan Blair, went through a harrowing 2 1/2 hour evacuation and were among the thousands who lost their homes. But talking to Ferchaud now, it’s obvious he’s already ahead of the curve. When asked during a recent interview if the reminders of the fire are too much to bear, he says it’s actually kind of a point of pride for him that he made it out: “You almost look at it the other way, and [say to yourself], ‘I went through that and I’m still here. Those people driving through the flames … I went through that.’”
It’s just the sort of outlook you’d want from someone working on a book called Finding Hope in Paradise. The illustrated children’s book is a fundraiser for Youth on the Ridge Community Foundation and a collaboration with writer (and longtime local television news anchor) Debbie Cobb, and without giving too much away, Ferchaud says it tells the story of the Camp Fire through the eyes of a young girl whose cat named Hope gets lost during the evacuation. (Debbie LaPlant Moseley—director of Youth on the Ridge/Paradise Chocolate Fest—is credited with story’s concept.) The book is expected to debut at the Christmas Preview in downtown Chico (Nov. 24).
Despite his losses—in addition to his home and all of its contents, nearly all the art he ever made was destroyed (“The only artwork that survived was artwork I gave away.”)—Ferchaud says he’s found peace largely due to the kind, selfless responses of his family and community.
“To be honest, I think I have a good attitude because Chico was so great,” he said. “It was incredible how this town pulled together. I didn’t want [for] anything. People would just go, ‘You need this? Here. You need art supplies? Here.’”
Immediately after the fire, a niece in Chico took him and his girlfriend in for five months until they could find other housing. And friends and fellow Camp Fire refugees Les and Jessica Cummings opened up an office at their Digital Print and Design business in Chico for Ferchaud to use as a studio.
“The story is not the fire itself, it’s how people were being at their best when things were at their worst,” he said.
In an attempt to contribute to what he called a “wave of human kindness,” Ferchaud immediately got to work trying to help the best way he knew how—by drawing. In fact, he’s already released one fundraising book. Burnt Offerings (available at ABC Books in Chico and on Amazon) is a collection of drawings Ferchaud did as part of Inktober, an online challenge that provides one-word art prompts every day in October to encourage artists to create 31 new pieces in one month.
Ferchaud posted his daily drawings on social media during the 2017 and 2018 challenges, and it had been frequently suggested that he collect them in a book. The only problem: All of the drawings had burned. So Ferchaud just redrew them—all 62 of them—using his uploaded images as guides. He also included a few extra pieces depicting treasured places lost to the fire, including the Honey Run Covered Bridge and Mendon’s Nursery. He then compiled them in a book with the help of Brian Curtis and his MC2 Design firm in Chico
With Finding Hope in Paradise, Ferchaud was able to process some of his own experiences in telling the story of a girl and her cat. Many people, objects and scenes are drawn from Ferchaud’s own experience, including one of his car driving by a burning Paradise sign.
Ferchaud was born and raised in Red Bluff. He came to Chico in 1981, and after a fortuitous meeting with a graphic designer at Chico State, he got started creating some of Chico’s most recognizable imagery. “I took all the artwork I had to Chris Ficken [at the university] … I showed him my artwork and he goes, ‘Steve, just go out there and get professional experience,’” Ferchaud said. “That was the best advice I was ever given.”
His early work included doing caricature drawings for the local Merry Standish comedy show posters, as well as frequent illustrations for the Chico News & Review. Ferchaud’s celebrity-filled Woodstock’s Pizza ads were eagerly anticipated each week, and his works have likely graced more CN&R covers than any other artist’s.
Ferchaud branched out to designing logos for businesses (including the iconic Roland’s Red image for the shuttered Butte Creek Brewing Co.) and illustrating children’s books—Rhyk Gilbar’s Shmerkli and the Booger PickerA Carpenter’s Legacy: A Christmas StoryGracie’s Big Adventure: With Augustine the Beaver, to name a few.
He’s currently working with Peter Gottesman, a writer in New York who was more than understanding when he heard Ferchaud had to restart his drawings for their project after the fire.
“He found out I had this old Silver Age comic-book collection that got lost, so he started sending me all these really old comic books,” Ferchaud said. “And he just sent me an autographed picture of Linda Carter as Wonder Woman. My clients have been just incredible.”
Standing in his temporary studio surrounded by various gifts of comics and toy figures and piles of drawings and paintings completed in just the past year, Ferchaud portrayed an image of an artist who wasn’t burned out.
“It’s gone,” he said, remembering what the fire took. “[But] as somebody said, ‘The creator is still here.’”