Written by: 
Lisa Sciortino
Photography by: 
Pete Comparoni

As the son of a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, Thomas Rodgers ('12) called the former England Air Force Base in Louisiana home early in his life.

He recalls being intrigued by the colorful artwork featured on the patches and insignias of the squadrons stationed there. "They were bold and they had lightning bolts on them and they had this cool feel to them," he says.

Denton logo on hat

Those designs served as early inspiration for Rodgers, who went on to a successful career as a graphic designer, illustrator and art director. He has produced commercial artwork and designs for brands including Harley Davidson and Lone Star Beer, among others.

His designs also adorn places, spaces and merchandise available around Denton, including at Wilkinson's Fine Goods, Cool Beans Bar & Grill and Riprocks Bar & Grill, as well as the annual Pistons & Paint classic car event.

The first of two designs that Rodgers created exclusively for the UNT CoLab -- the downtown Denton art gallery, boutique and event venue that's run through the College of Merchandising, Hospitality and Tourism -- recently debuted on a collection of patches, stickers, casual hats and T-shirts sold there.

One is a retro-style logo featuring the word "Denton" that pays homage to the place he's called home since 2006. Like the city itself, the design is "classic and bold" to appeal to a wide audience, he says.

Texas logo, circular logo with Texas in a retro font in an arrangement of wildflowers
"Texas" logo design that appears on merchandise that recently debuted at the UNT CoLab.

The other logo features the word "Texas" and nods to the state's native flora. Rodgers, who studied in the College of Visual Arts and Design and earned a bachelor's degree in printmaking, says he has incorporated more flowers into his designs in recent years.

"Part of our mission is to highlight the work of local UNT alumni and we are very excited to collaborate with Thomas Rodgers," says Kristen Kendrick Bigley, director of The CoLab.

"Thomas has worked with some iconic brands and has developed a style that is instantly recognizable. We knew he would bring a fresh approach to the Denton and Texas logos."

Pushed Toward Potential

After his family relocated to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Rodgers went to high school in Colleyville and "haphazardly" taught himself some basic screenprinting techniques.

He began attending UNT in 2006 but got off to an admittedly rocky academic start. He stepped back from his education -- and campus -- for a time before returning to classes in 2010 to focus on printmaking.

Rodgers credits CVAD associate professor Andrew DeCaen and professor Lari Gibbons for helping him achieve academic success the second time around. "They were very caring but at the same time really pushed me to do better work and see my potential," he says.

As a member of the Printmaking Association of North Texas Students, Rodgers created graphic designs for the organization's art shows at UNT galleries and elsewhere in Denton. He also attended guest lectures by visiting artists.

"I had seen their work in books and online, and then they were in our studio and we were helping them print their work and asking them questions. That was really important to me," he says.

Rodgers has always been attracted to the commercial side of art, especially the craftsmanship of old signage. The art he produces is inspired from a variety of sources.

"It's anything that speaks to me. It can be fine art. It can be folk art," he says -- or even the collection of 5,000 vintage matchbooks he's amassed. "They're fun to look at and see all of the different ways people were illustrating at the time."

Full Circle

After graduating from UNT, Rodgers went to work for Pan Ector Industries, a Denton screenprinting and design shop founded by fellow CVAD alumni Nick Webber ('10) and Michael Little ('09).

He later joined the team at former Fort Worth-based motorcycle distributor Tucker Powersports as a graphic designer, photographer and art director. He designed motorcycle illustrations and other graphics and took photos used in print advertisements, marketing campaigns and on apparel.

In 2021, Rodgers began working as an independent graphic designer, illustrator and art director.

Lone Star Beer items
Graphic designs created by Thomas Rodgers for Lone Star Beer.

When he learned that a friend who owns a Fort Worth screenprinting business was collaborating with Lone Star Beer on a project, Rodgers "piggybacked on that," and was also hired by the brand to create graphics. One -- of a menacing-looking scorpion carrying a beer bottle -- made its way onto a trucker-style cap.

Another friend, who is an executive with Harley Davidson, helped Rodgers connect with the iconic motorcycle manufacturer, which hired him for editorial design work on a magazine it produced. He has since designed items including apparel, beach towels, pennants, posters, skateboard graphics and social media assets for events sponsored by the company.

Rodgers' growing list of clients crosses the country. Most learn about him through word of mouth and via social media.

"The care I put into my work for a small mom-and-pop store in Nevada or a CrossFit gym in Modesto, California, and the care I put into my work for Lone Star Beer or Harley Davidson is the same," he says. "Having it come full circle and creating designs for UNT is kind of surreal."