Cherry Blossom Centennial

Reflecting Friendship Around the Tidal Basin

  • Story by Jodi Macfarlan
  • Stamp Art Direction by Phil Jordan
  • Stamp Design by Paul Rogers
Cherry Blossoms Centennial

Artist Paul Rogers considers it the honor of all design honors every time he’s asked to illustrate a stamp. After all, stamps are beacons of American culture, and as such, they carry a lasting legacy.

His latest project, Cherry Blossom Centennial, celebrates the friendship between Japan and America — a friendship that found enduring expression when the city of Tokyo gave 3,020 cherry trees to the city of Washington, D.C. To commemorate the 100-year anniversary of that gift, Rogers set out to create a design along the lines of the Beautification of America stamps of the 1960s.

“The challenge,” Rogers says, “was how to make an image that would pay tribute to a rich history, but also have a fresh, modern feeling.”

The Beautification of America stamps from the 1960s inspired Rogers’s design.

Wanting to show the Tidal Basin ringed with lush cherry blossom trees, he chose the Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument as the most iconic elements to set the stage. But fitting “a sweeping panorama on a stamp is never easy,” he adds.

Thankfully, Rogers was working with a horizontal pair of stamps, which allowed more space for the design. The format also meant Rogers had to construct the composition so that the two stamps worked as well on their own as they did together. “As I was sketching,” he says, “I was constantly covering up one stamp and asking myself, Is there balance?”

With these subtle details, Rogers hoped to represent the 100 years between that first gift and modern day — without fragmenting the overall scene.

To achieve that balance, Rogers placed a monument and small group of people on either side of the panorama. Adding a layer of complexity to the scene, he dressed the group on the left in 1912 period attire — including two girls in Japanese kimonos — and the group on the right in contemporary clothing. With these subtle details, Rogers hoped to represent the 100 years between that first gift and modern day — without fragmenting the overall scene.

“I wanted it to be cohesive,” Rogers explains. “I didn’t want colors to be bold on one side and dull on the other. The initial impact has to be those pink trees forming a canopy.”

But depicting the intricate beauty of so many blossoms at a small scale proved to be another challenge. In the end, Rogers treated the design as if it were going to be blown up large, placing each detail individually. “If you zoom in,” he says, “you can see that the form of each cherry blossom is right.”

Rogers began the stamp design by arranging elements in a small pencil drawing. Once the shapes were refined, he moved to a larger sketch, which he ultimately scanned in to finish digitally. To add a more handcrafted feel to the final illustration, Rogers airbrushed ink on paper and scanned it in for texture.

  • An early pencil sketch that established the idea of a pair of stamps as well as the general layout

    An early pencil sketch established the idea of a pair of stamps as well as the general layout

  • A rough color exploration executed in colored pencils on tracing paper

    A rough color exploration executed in colored pencils on tracing paper

  • A refined pencil drawing that was scanned and used as a template for the final digital art

    A refined pencil drawing was scanned and used as a template for the final digital art

  • A look at an initial rough sketch next to the final design

The finished product is a vibrant and complex panoramic image — a result of the hard work Rogers dedicates to stamp design. “Stamps are a a part of people’s lives,” he explains. “You want to do the design right … because it’s going to be around for a while.”