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Miami Valley resident named official 2014 Cherry Blossom Festival artist

A graphic designer from Kettering has been named the 2014 official artist for the The National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC.

Artwork by Evelia Sowash is destined to become a collector’s item: it will be featured on the official poster for the famous event and Sowash will be in the nation’s capital signing posters at the festival. Her winning design will also be featured on a variety of festival merchandise ranging from lapel pins and magnets to T-shirts and latte mugs.

“I felt like I had just won the lottery — the career lottery!” says Sowash, when asked about her reaction to the news. “It’s such an honor, being a national competition.”

In 2013, 1.6 million people attended what’s called “the nation’s greatest springtime celebration.” This year’s festival, is slated for March 20 — April 13. It includes three weeks and four weekends of events featuring “diverse and creative programming promoting traditional and contemporary arts and culture, natural beauty, and community spirit.”

How she got there

In 2007, after being laid off from 10 years as a designer/illustrator for Antioch Publishing in Yellow Springs, Sowash decided to start her own business, Evelia Designs. In addition to freelancing for regional business, she signed on as a licensed artist represented by Michael Woodward of Out of the Blue Licensing in Sarasota, Fla.

At Antioch, she’d designed everything from bookmarks and bookplates to stationery and blank journals and added calendars to her resume when she began freelancing for Trends, International, the Indianapolis company that bought Antioch Publishing in 2007.

One of her assignments involved creating artwork for a cherry blossom art wall calendar.

“Cherry blossoms are a big trend in the marketplace in the gift and stationery market,” Sowash says. “They are a timeless icon.”

She says artists frequently search for references in order to create images.

” I was looking on the web for photos of cherry blossoms,” she explains. “I came across the web site for the National Cherry Blossom Festival and started reading about it. I hadn’t even realized there was a festival.”

When she read about the “featured artist for the year” and learned that anyone could apply, she decided to submit a screen shot from her calendar with cherry blossoms.

The committee members liked what they saw.

“We had many qualified candidates interested in being considered as this year’s official artist, but the committee was incredibly compelled by Evelia’s professionalism and style of execution,” says Lillian Iversen, director of programming. “Her technique is fresh and engaging, attributes we hold dear at the Festival.”

Iverson, who spearheads the process for selecting the artist, says based on Sowash’s initial designs, they knew she would come up with a wonderful piece. The final artwork, she adds, has received an overwhelmingly positive response.

“Evelia creatively interpreted the Festival’s desires of what the piece should portray, designing an inviting piece that draws the viewer in, exemplifying the Festival’s 2014 “Step Into Spring” theme beautifully,” Iverson says. “Evelia utilized the iconic flower and blossom shape and created a modern design infused with movement and texture.”

Sowash says the name of her poster is entitled “Chic Cherry Red, Promenade” and that it was inspired by the Japanese style of woodcut artist Katsushika Hokusai.

“I choose to embrace and infuse my art with this style for this festival because the history of the festival starts with the first giving of trees in 1912 as a gift of friendship to the people of the United States from the people of Japan,” she explains. “In Japan, the flowering cherry tree, or Sakura, is an exalted flowering plant. The beauty of the cherry blossom is a potent symbol equated with the evanescence of human life and epitomizes the transformation of Japanese culture throughout the ages.”

She says she also considered the current appeal of anime by young people. The color palette for the poster centers around a “Chic Cherry Red” that’s balanced with neutrals found in the outdoors.

A life filled with flowers

This isn’t the first time that flowers have been an important influence in Sowash’s life: she grew up in West Carrollton in a neighborhood where all the streets were named after flowers.

Her father, Emilio Garcia, is a first-generation Mexican from a little town called Pharr, Texas.

“He is blind since the age of 13 and learned to be a darkroom X-ray developer technician in San Antonio, Texas, at the school for the blind,” Sowash says. ” He traveled here to take a job at Kettering Memorial Hospital and there he met my mother.”

Sowash says it was her second-grade teacher — Joan Kihlstrom at Spring Valley Academy — who most influenced her life career path.

“She was also an art teacher and mentored me for many summers,” says Sowash, who is 49. ” At age 11, I was awarded college-level summer drawing/painting classes at the Dayton Art Institute.”

After high school she enrolled in The American Academy of Art in Chicago and also worked at a full service advertising agency but decided to return to the Miami Valley.

Creating the images

Sowash, whose art studio is in her Kettering home, says these days everything is done on the computer and that Steve Jobs revolutionized the life of all artists when he first introduced the Macintosh computer in 1984.

“I work 12 or more hours a day, many more than when I had a salaried job,” says Sowash, who is in her fifth year as a licensing artist.“The beauty of licensing is that I own the art and can license the art to whomever I choose and at any time.”

Sowash, who often creates artwork for mass market home decor, says one of her dreams was to have her artwork sold on canvas to Pier 1 Imports. That dream came true in 2009.

“I walked into the Pier 1 Imports store in Centerville and was so thrilled to see them displayed in the front of the store!”she says. “I started showing all the sales people my driver’s license signature and pointing to my signature on the canvas to prove I had done the work. They were all so kind to put up with me!”

She has also had her artwork on Papyrus box notecards, Trader Joe’s greeting cards and fabric sold by JoAnn Fabrics.

Anticipating springtime

At the moment, Sowash is focused on cherry blossoms.

“Cherry blossoms are nature’s confectionery delight for the eyes,” concludes Sowash. “It has been a wonderful honor to interpret the iconic vision of Washington, D.C., in springtime.”

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