World Art Day: Kathryn Robertson Features Flower Garden Banks

Written by: Kathryn Robertson, Artsy Rooster Studio (She/They)


Kathryn is an artist living & working in many mediums, specializing in hand-drawn illustrations, digital art & design, and fine art portrait photography. Her true passion is to always keep learning… always pushing personal creative boundaries, and continuing education in her field… but most importantly to use that knowledge in creative ways to make the world a little better place than she found it, through support of local businesses, non-profits, & community. For more information about Kathryn, visit her online portfolio.



Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary is one of 15 national marine sanctuaries and two marine national monuments managed by NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. It is the only national marine sanctuary located in the Gulf of Mexico, covering 160 square miles and 17 different reefs and banks. More species than I can mention… and the closest most of us get to stunning habitats like this, is at our local aquarium. As an artist, when I step into these special natural places, I feel a pull to share this beauty with the world. As a human, I feel the pull of responsibility towards the land, the habitats, the creatures who call it home. For me, the National Marine Sanctuary System Save Spectacular poster series is an opportunity to truly share this kind of natural wonder with folks from all walks of life.

    When approaching a project like this, I’m like a sponge… Gathering any information I can get my hands on regarding the subject. This discovery phase is often one of my favorite parts of a project, and I always learn something new that stays with me forever. For example, did you know that there are over 80 individual manta rays living within Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary? They are identified by the unique patterning on their bellies. The Manta featured in the poster is based on a real, live ray… if you’re interested, you can check out the Manta Catalog and try to identify it!

     But let’s face it – I am not an expert in what makes national marine sanctuaries like Flower Garden Banks unique. When collaborating on a project like this, the most important information I can get is from the people who live and/or work within these environments. Hearing from them directly about the features and creatures that are truly the heartbeat of the sanctuary, is a crucial part of the process.

     Now the next question becomes: How do I fit 160 square miles of habitat into a 19”x 28” poster?

     Pencil sketches in spiral notebooks turn into linework outlines on my laptop… outlines get filled in with colors, shadows, and waves on my desktop drawing tablet. Drafts are created, and edits are made through the collaboration process. Hours, days, and months later I’m staring at the final, finished poster on a glowing computer screen. By the time it is complete, I can recognize a marbled grouper, a blue angelfish, or a red creolefish by the shape of their face. I’ve made note of how the brain corals sit within their neighborhood. The way the color of the water changes from shallow reefs filtering sunlight, to the rich teals shadowing the deep reefs.

     The preservation of these spaces and habitats is so crucial, and it is never more obvious to me than the moment I finish a piece like this. I hope that you visit the National Marine Sanctuary Save Spectacular poster series and look through all the posters, including my first contribution, Flower Garden Banks. Then, if you feel the pull like I did, go find out which sanctuaries may be within your reach to visit, learn about, or support! 

Illustration: (primary artist) Kathryn Robertson; (secondary artist and art direction) Matt McIntosh/NOAA; (supporting artist) Melissa Cook.