Thursday, May 1, 2014


Everything old is new again.

Ergo, I got to do this illustration.

It's for the Old Sacramento Underground tours, where I've been a guide since its inception five years ago.

This year the tour changed radically, creating consternation for the veteran guides and freaking out
the new ones.

We have learned to embrace change.

Steve Ball's design of the rack card, part of the
tour's promotional campaign
by Branded Sac
The new tour concentrates on Sacramento's novel position in the world — an elevated position. It has been lifted above the floodplain and the raging rivers that tried to claim it many times. Few cities can claim as much — Chicago being one.

The tours used to spend at least half the time telling the story of the gold rush that brought people here, but almost all of Northern California can tell that story in some way. Granted, Sacramento is an important part of that story, but new information and understanding compelled the tour program to concentrate on the strange-but-true story of its lifting.

Enter: A quick sketch I made three years ago (left).

It's for a T-shirt concept, back when the Old Sacramento Underground  program thought it was going to roll out a new shirt for the tour. It didn't.

But the concept played well for the new tour program, it turned out, and the slogan has the potential to work on several levels. The program is trying to attract younger goers.

Being the opposite of a younger person, I'm not sure whether "jacked up" still resonates as a phrase, but at least we can fall back to the literal meaning: The city has been jacked up.

New ads and promotional materials, featuring one of Old Sacramento's premier buildings, the B.F. Hastings & Co., on one gigantic jack, are rolling out. The illustration has a twist of the macabre, with a falling resident and furniture, and a cow floating in an early flood. The floods killed many early residents and destroyed livestock, their bodies sometimes lodging between buildings in the aftermath.

Art director Steve Ball of Branded Sac, whom I've had the pleasure of knowing for many years, wanted something with an engraved look. This was my first go (left), and because I had it engraved in my mind, I went to the computer immediately:

Same building, different look. Not quite what the group was going for.

Back to the drawing board, I riffed on the original concept. I pictured a Sam Brannan mover-and-shaker type lifting up the city. But it all came down to one big jack and one tiny building.

The compelling image was the one in the middle (below), a single building rising in forced perspective over one mammoth jack.

Of course, the real buildings were raised by hundreds of jacks and dozens of men, each turning the jacks a quarter-turn in unison. Fractions of inches a day.
That sketch was refined further …
… until it got closer to final art …

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