National Cherry Blossom Festival’s official artist talks inspiration

The annual festival may be canceled, but you can still purchase artwork and merchandise made by graphic designer and artist Matt Long.

cherry blossom design 2020
The official artwork of the 2020 National Cherry Blossom Festival (Photo courtesy of Matt Long)

This week, cherry blossom trees throughout the DMV will be at their peak bloom. And while getting out there and seeing the beautiful blossoms in person may not be plausible this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are plenty of other ways to feel the spirit of the spring season. 

One way to bring the floras to you is by observing the work of Frederick, Maryland-based artist Matt Long, the official artist of this year’s National Cherry Blossom Festival. The majority of this year’s scheduled events are canceled but luckily for us, Long’s work is already done, as he has created the official artwork for the affair, found on posters, T-shirts, water bottles and even the side of buses zooming throughout the District. 

Here, Long shares how his work was chosen, inspiration behind the artwork and what exactly this opportunity means to him. 

man in floral-painted car
In 2019, Matt Long drove a cherry-blossom-themed car that he created himself through the Washington Auto Show. (Photo courtesy of Matt Long)

How did you first get involved with the National Cherry Blossom Festival?

Specifically, as my art career has taken off, I am always looking for things. Living in the DMV, I’ve been aware that [the festival] always picks an artist to brand the festival, it’s been on my radar. I was invited to paint a car at the Washington Auto Show in 2019, which usually takes place at the end of January, but this past year it happened in the spring, coinciding with the National Cherry Blossom Festival. People from the auto show got in contact with me and asked if I would be interested in painting a cherry-blossom-themed art car. It’s a heavy event with the foot traffic; you work live on the floor there. We eventually wheeled it out to the parade and I got to drive in the parade too. 

Throughout that experience I met the right people and made good contacts. I asked them about how they work with an artist each year and after a conference call, a few meetings and the fine print, I got the acceptance email. That was a really awesome day. 

Talk to me about the creative process behind this design.

The creative process was not too shabby; I do what comes naturally to me. The team was all really nice to work with, and I am used to working with clients to satisfy their needs visually. I started with three sketches, then we refined it and then I took it digitally too. For the unveiling I did more of a visual art form, which was then transformed into all of the merchandise for the festival. 

In terms of design, [the festival] was keen on having the Jefferson Memorial and we went back and forth on including the Washington Monument. Of course, a lot of blossoms are included. I think for me the color palette is where I strayed a little different. In the past, they’ve used a ton of pale pinks and light blues, but I got hung up on this Japanese painting I saw and images of the Tidal Bison at dusk. So we went for this: blossoms at dusk. With the other elements, the tree trunk is styled by me and the stars I tend to throw in with a lot of my work. My style is very busy and vibrant, and it captures the energy of this spring event. 

man and woman next to floral painting
The official unveiling of the 2020 National Cherry Blossom Festival artwork (Photo courtesy of Matt Long)

What’s it like seeing your work be printed and used for something that catches the attention of hundreds of thousands of people?

It’s a really big honor. The festival picks one artist in the nation. It’s an extreme level of exposure and the art goes across all the merchandise, which people can find online. I worked with the festival to lay all that out. At first when I got the gig I was like, “Oh, I’m just doing what I’m doing.” It didn’t really sink in until I went to the unveiling at District Winery. Then I was like, “OK, this is surreal.” It’s one thing to be producing the art and sending it off, but I am really living in it and creating a tone for the festival. 

How will this experience impact you and your work?

The advertising and exposure to get my name out is insane. I think this will definitely help me to further push my signature out in the world.

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