Evelia Sowash’s World of Layers, Colors and Textures
This year, spring commences on March 20, and the 2014 National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off its annual celebration, which includes parades, arts and cultural activities, a firework show and daily programming. Over a million visitors descend upon Washington DC to participate in the festivities that commemorate the friendship between Japan and the United States. This year’s event is particularly significant here in the Dayton region; the official artist for the 2014 National Cherry Blossom Festival is Kettering resident Evelia Sowash.
Sowash, whose artwork incorporates elements of nature in harmonious palettes, is a veteran in the graphic design industry. Her mother, originally from Indiana, and her father, a first generation Mexican American from Texas, raised Sowash in West Carrollton, where she thrived in her school’s art classes. Upon graduating high school, Sowash pursued graphic design and illustration at The American Academy of Art in Chicago. She spent several decades in the commercial art field, including at Port Advertising in Lincoln Park, Chicago, and Antioch Publishing in Yellow Springs. In 2007, after twenty years in the industry, Sowash formed her own design company as a licensed artist, Evelia Designs.
Cherry blossoms are a prominent theme in Sowash’s work. It was through her research that she found the open call to create the artwork for the 2014 National Cherry Blossom Festival. Her presentation and concept posters were reviewed by a selection committee looking for artwork with a visual impact resonating with the mission of the festival. “Evelia’s work is fresh and engaging, attributes we associate with the National Cherry Blossom Festival,” said Danielle Davis, the festival’s Communications Manager. “Specifically, in 2014, our theme is ‘Step Into Spring’ – active, energetic elements run throughout our events and programs. Evelia’s art has a unique way of drawing the viewer in – it makes you want to be part of the celebration.”
In order to memorialize the 3,000 cherry blossom trees presented to Washington DC by Tokyo over 100 years ago, the selection committee was drawn to Sowash’s design in representing the enduring relationship. “Evelia has a wonderful, unique interpretation,” said Davis.
Sowash found the work engaging with her own aesthetics. “I wanted this artwork to reflect a Japanese style, since the festival is about commemorating the 1912 gift of trees and enduring friendship between the people of the United States and Japan,” she said.
A jack-of-all-trades, Sowash’s focus on computer-generated artwork is complemented by her interest in art history and drawing and painting skills. “I was amazed and naïve when I thought everyone could do all sorts of different things,” she said. Drawing, painting, collage and graphics were a part of her interests and passions in school, and even within her first design job, she multi-tasked the stat camera, typesetting, logo design, Keyline, design and illustration. At Antioch Publishing, she honed in on the design work, working on bookmarks, journals and reading accessories. When she decided to pursue her own design company in 2007, the influence of other artistic mediums became an important part of her work.
“Some of it is painted with water color and the rest is Illustrator and Photoshop using many layers,” she said. Through “experience and observation of real forms of art such as Japanese woodblock prints,” she was able to combine the various influences into a dynamic artwork.
This diversity in technique was evident when reviewing artist submissions for the festival. “The committee that makes the selection was incredibly compelled by Evelia’s professionalism and style of execution,” said Davis. “She took the artwork further – creating a unique color palette centered around a color she describes as ‘chic cherry red.’ She also artfully describes the cherry blossoms as ‘nature’s confectionary delight for the eyes.’”
Sowash’s greatest success as a designer includes reaching wide audiences through the national placement of her artworks. “During my commercial art career, my work for Antioch Publishing appeared on bookmarks, journals and other related items,” said Sowash. “I once collaborated with Jim Davis, creator of the Garfield comic strip, on licensed products featuring Garfield, and gained praise from Lucas Films for work on Star Wars licensed journals and bookmarks…A bookmark I designed was the best-selling bookmark of all-time at Barnes and Noble.” Since starting her own graphic design business, Sowash’s designs have been sold to Pier One, TJ Maxx, Home Goods, Papyrus and Trader Joe’s.
Building Evelia Designs as a small business in Kettering has been beneficial. The cost of living, the networks of artists and designers, including through Kettering’s own School of Advertising Arts, make the area ideal for her focused work, which includes twelve-hour days. “Kettering is a great place,” said Sowash. “I have heard over and over again, everything is tested in the Midwest.”
In addition to flying to Washington DC as a guest of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, Sowash is partnering in March with another small business, Nonnie Waller’s Parlor, for the opening of their first retail location in Centerville. Sowash will be presenting new canvases and greeting cards of her artwork. Sowash’s talent and passion for her work has found great success both in the Dayton region and across the country. “To be truthful, I can’t do anything else well,” she said. “It’s my talent and it is what I like to practice.”
Learn more about Evelia Sowash’s art and design, including where to find her work, by visiting www.eveliadesigns.com. The 2014 National Cherry Blossom Festival, from March 20 through April 13, features posters, t-shirts and more designed by Sowash at www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org/
This story was originally published in the March 4, 2014 edition of the Dayton City Paper.