Jackie Hawks uses retro flair to promote UW football program

Aug. 26—LARAMIE — Room 203 on the second floor of the University of Wyoming's Fieldhouse isn't a typical administrative office.

Tucked in the corner of the school's athletics marketing and branding headquarters is a quaint square office belonging to Jackie Hawks. The room is littered with UW memorabilia, most notably a framed graphic of the Arena-Auditorium with signatures from all the players and coaches that led the Cowboys to the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago.

Across from the "Dome of Doom" picture sits Hawks, UW's director of graphic design in the athletics department.

Most days, Hawks can be found hunched in front of her computer, fiddling with Photoshop. Other days, the keyboard on the desk is swapped out for a makeshift painting station.

Hawks and her assistant, Jaren Fritz, are a two-person team in charge of creating graphics for all 15 NCAA-sanctioned sports at UW, as well as UW's rodeo teams and spirit squad. Most fans probably don't think twice when coming across these graphics on social media, but each one requires full attention from Hawks and Fritz during the creative process.

UW's athletic graphics span from game results to awards to recruiting, with plenty more in between. Hawks' gig is a year-round commitment, but it's a task she doesn't take lightly.

Hawks has spent the past six years in UW's athletics department, starting as a graduate assistant before working her way up to her current title. Last year alone, Hawks estimates she and Fritz produced at least 1,500 graphics across all sports.

One of Hawks' latest projects was creating four retro designs to promote UW football's nonconference schedule this fall, including hand-drawn mascots for Texas Tech, Texas, Portland State and Appalachian State. Hawks posted a collage of all four graphics on X — formerly known as Twitter — and got more than 75,000 views.

UW's football account posted the Appalachian State graphic on the social media platform, a post that garnered more than 150,000 views.

"It blew up," Hawks told WyoSports on Thursday. "It's crazy. People loved them. People have been reaching out and seeing if they can buy my original pieces.

"... I knew I wanted to put all four out together because I built them to look good as a unit or as a series. I knew that you couldn't get the whole picture until you saw all four of them together."

An athletic background

Hawks' passion stems from giving UW's student-athletes the recognition they deserve.

Hawks was a college athlete herself, swimming at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction. Hawks didn't find graphics of herself posted on social media during her swimming career, mostly because the graphic design industry had yet to expand its foothold into the world of sports.

"It's such a new industry," Hawks said. "Sports design really didn't get popular until the last five or 10 years. When I was in school, it wasn't even on my radar. Not at all. It was more traditional design, website design and small-business branding. That was really what I was focusing on."

Hawks graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design and animation from Colorado Mesa. While her main focus was on the digital side, Hawks spent plenty of time in the school's art studios to work on her craft with a paintbrush.

After spending time in Alabama and Montana, Hawks' husband, Travis, was hired as UW's manager of business development in the athletics department. The pair moved to Laramie together, and Hawks was brought into the school's graphic design department as a graduate assistant while she worked toward a master's in communications from UW.

"I feel really lucky that the (graduate assistantship at UW) happened, because people apply from all over the country," Hawks said. "It's not the easiest thing to get, and it kind of just fell into my lap.

"I was just in the right place at the right time, and I tell people Wyoming has fit me so well since we moved here. Everything just fell into place."

After finishing her graduate program, Hawks was met with some surprising post-graduation news.

"When I was done with my master's, by that point we had built up too much of a workload for one person, so they hired me on full-time as the assistant," Hawks said.

The creative process

Hawks looks at her position as an umbrella covering UW's entire sports department. She works with everybody, from head coaches to media relations to the Cowboy Joe Club, in order to gather information and create graphics for each sport.

Hawks also works closely with John Durgee, who's the manager of digital strategy. His key role at UW is to manage the school's social media presence for all sports, with the help of Hawks' graphics.

The pair often bounce ideas off each other, looking for ways to expose UW athletics across all social media platforms.

"Earlier this summer, he came to me, and he was like, 'I have an idea,'" Hawks said. "He wanted to do these retro (graphics), so he came to me with these sketches, and he said, 'I think this would be really fun if we could pull this off,' and I looked at him and I said, 'I will make no promises, but I will give it my best shot.'"

Durgee's sketches were mostly just mapped-out ideas of boxes and circles. Hawks, who still has the sketches in an easily accessible spot on her work computer, likes to look back at Durgee's original sketches to see how far the graphics were able to come in a three-month span.

She took Durgee's sketches and turned it into a watercoloring project, one she started and completed right at her office desk.

"They're all a mix," Hawks said. "I have a fine arts degree, so part of that degree was a minor in studio arts. I have what I guess you could call 'classical training,' and watercolor has always been my go-to medium. I've done all different types, but watercolor was what I was more gravitated to.

"I knew I didn't want to do the whole thing in watercolor. That just wasn't an option. It's hard, and you have to be very, very meticulous with it. I knew I wanted to essentially draw the main characters and then scan them (into Photoshop)."

Hawks started researching UW's nonconference opponents, looking for any retro mascots or characters she could find. After she painted mascots for each school — along with UW's Pistol Pete — Hawks uploaded the paintings to her computer and finished the rest using Photoshop and AI technology.

"Being able to scan them in gave me the ability to move them around," Hawks said. "Essentially, what I did was scan the drawings in and put normal textures over them to make it look kind of retro. I did it for all of them.

"... The first one is always the hardest. I did a bunch of research into old-school mascots to see what was doable. I wasn't trying to do something I couldn't do successfully. We were looking at different character designs of different cowboys and stuff like that and also seeing what's already been done for these retro, old-school posters. For me, it always starts with research to see what's been done and getting inspiration from all these different pieces."

While it was impossible to keep track precisely, Hawks estimates she spent a little more than a month creating all four graphics. The biggest obstacle was the watercoloring portion of the project, as waiting for paint to dry takes a bit longer on paper than it does on Photoshop.

"I didn't think I would be hand-painting things when I came here," Hawks said. "Especially in today's world. Everything is so digital. It's kind of nice to break it up and do something different, which is what we've really been trying to push for here.

"What works for our fans isn't going to work for (Colorado State) fans, and vice-versa. We have a very unique fanbase here."

For the athletes

Before moving to Laramie, Hawks worked as an in-house designer for an insurance company in Helena, Montana. She quickly grew bored of the job, and founds ways to utilize her creativity by making graphics for a local minor league baseball team, where her husband worked.

That first step in the door of the athletic side of graphic design ended up being a pivotal point for the trajectory of Hawks' professional career.

Now in her seventh football season at UW, Hawks has learned to embrace change in the landscape of college athletics. Her work as a graphic designer is a tool for the school to leverage in terms of building visibility for Wyoming's only four-year university.

Building that visibility was the basis for Hawks' retro graphic project this summer.

"It really stemmed from, 'How do we showcase them? How do we essentially drive ticket sales, and how do we market the student-athletes so people know about them?'" Hawks said. "Our nonconference schedule is crazy this year. It stemmed from driving ticket sales, but there's fun and creative ways to do that. There's a way to grab people's attention without just saying, 'Hey, buy tickets.'"

Hawks was a college swimmer in an era that predated the evolution of graphic design in sports. Surely, it would have been nice to be on a few posters herself at Colorado Mesa, but Hawks views her job as a way to shine the spotlight on student-athletes who wouldn't normally receive the attention.

"I was an athlete in college, so I already kind of knew that side of things," Hawks said. "None of this existed when I was swimming, and that wasn't even that long ago. I never got any of this stuff.

"Being able to do this for these kids now and showcasing their abilities, that's really what it's all about. It's about the student-athletes and promoting what they're doing on the field or in the pool or wherever they are."

For Hawks, the grind never stops. She can't remember the last time she closed Photoshop on her work computer, even on the days where the keyboard is replaced by a palette of fresh paint.

If she ever needs a reminder of why she does the work she does, she'll turn her desk chair toward the back corner of her office and see the basketball players' signatures scribbled across her favorite graphic she's ever made at UW.

"I even surprised myself with that Dome of Doom one, to be honest," Hawks said.

UW will print out a limited amount of Hawks' retro graphics to give to fans at the Cowboys' three nonconference home games next month. While it's nice to appreciate the relief of a completed task, Hawks' focus now shifts to whatever project hits her desk in room 203 next.

"Coming from just a rough sketch, I'm happy with how they all progressed," Hawks said. "Going from this basic idea to the end result it is now, you can kind of sit back and say, 'Yeah, that's pretty cool.'

"I view it as a success for us promoting the games, too. People liked it, and people want to connect with the program, and we allowed that to happen. We did our job. It's one of those moments where you can be like, 'OK, I'm doing a good job. I don't completely suck at my job.'"

Alex Taylor is the assistant editor for WyoSports and covers University of Wyoming athletics. He can be reached at ataylor@wyosports.net. Follow him on Twitter at @alex_m_taylor22.