Behind the Seams: From Pencil to Print with Reyn Spooner

The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries are proud to partner with Reyn Spooner to create a commemorative Aloha shirt in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System. These shirts will help raise awareness of the Save Spectacular anniversary celebration and directly support the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s work to conserve our ocean, coasts, and Great Lakes for future generations to enjoy. 

“This limited-edition Reyn Spooner Aloha Shirt honors the 50th anniversary of our spectacular national marine sanctuaries and reminds of the bounty that the ocean provides to us,” said Kris Sarri, president and CEO of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. “Our national marine sanctuaries are home to miraculous species such as humpback whales and monk seals and protect seascapes found nowhere else on earth. These shirts will raise awareness and support our efforts to conserve, strengthen, and save these spectacular places for generations to come.” 

Reyn Spooner’s Creative Director Doug Burkman. Photo credit: Reyn Spooner

“We are honored to partner with the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation on this incredible print that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary System,” said Rob Tolleson, president of Reyn Spooner. “When presented with this project, our team was very excited to create the artwork and honored to commemorate this incredible milestone. As a Hawaiian company, we have a deep connection and are continually inspired by the ocean and ocean life and are very appreciative for the national marine sanctuaries that serve to create a thriving habitat for marine wildlife both locally and across the United States.”

We spoke with Reyn Spooner’s Creative Director, Doug Burkman, to get a “behind the seams” look at the development of the National Marine Sanctuaries 50th anniversary print, from pencil sketch to wearable artwork!




A jellyfish in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. Photo credit: Greg McFall/NOAA

Where did the concept to create a print inspired by national marine sanctuaries first come from? 

The concept for this shirt started with a simple conversation with an employee at NOAA.  Allen Tom, former Superintendent, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries reached out to our team in 2020 to explore​ ​the possibility of creating a commemorative shirt for the 50th Anniversary of the Marine Sanctuaries.  He had seen the shirt that we had done for Volcanoes National Park and thought that the Marine Sanctuaries could be an interesting subject matter for our design team.  

How did Reyn Spooner in-house artists research the subject for the print? Can you share some of the photos from NOAA’s photo archive that helped inspire the Reyn Spooner design team?

For every print we do there is a significant amount of research to ensure we accurately depict the subject matter correctly. The research for this was really fun as we were able to dive into NOAA’s photo archive. 

How long does the print design and manufacturing process take from initial concept to shirts on the shelves?

From initial concept of the print design, sketching and painting of the design, fabric printing and manufacturing of the garments ​to the final finished Aloha Shirt on store shelves, the process takes about two years. 

A humpback whale and calf in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo Credit: Ed Lyman/NOAA Permit #14682

The final print features 15 species of marine life that frequent Hawaiian waters, including humpback whales, green sea turtles, and spinner dolphins. Do you have a favorite species featured on the print? How do you feel personally connected to the print as the wildlife featured is treasured in Hawaii?

Personally, I have always loved humpback whales. Their sheer size is so incredible and when you spot them in the waters during winter it is always so exciting! Over the years I’ve seen them countless times but am continually mesmerized by their majestic beauty.  


How does “wearable artwork” emphasize the importance of protecting treasured species and inspire communities to conserve special places in our ocean? 

We call our shirts wearable artwork as all of our prints are hand-painted by our in-house team of artists. See attached images to see the process of the print going from pencil sketch to water color to finished piece of art.  

A green sea turtle swimming in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo Credit: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Fun fact about this shirt:

A fun fact is that this is Reyn Spooner’s first true underwater scenic print. 

This year, the Save Spectacular campaign celebrates the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System. What does “Save Spectacular” mean to you? 

To me Save Spectacular is about continuing to preserve our Marine habitats and protect the wildlife that create such a vibrant marine ecosystem. While the Marine Sanctuaries may be celebrating 50 years, they are equally important today as they were when they were founded in 1972. We need to continue to protect our waterways and the plants and animals that live there and it is campaigns like these that remind people of the importance of our protected natural areas.

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