Steven Noble’s site is so jam-packed with image categories, jumps to his array of satellite websites and revolving images that show logos and identity for nearly every type of product or service you can image that you might get the impression that he is the hardest-working man in illustration. And you could be right!
From packaging for Altoids, Samuel Adam’s, Budweiser, Peet’s Coffee and tons more, to book covers, ad campaigns, wine labels for Sutter Home, Glen Ellen, Ventana and Cakebread Cellars, to steel engravings, his scratchboard illustrations have graced and enhanced the identity of a who’s-who of high caliber clients.
Noble lives in Petaluma, California and works out of a studio in the Mediterranean style house he bought because it reminded him of the houses in the South of France that harkens back to his childhood. The Northern California countryside is also a pleasant reminder of his early surroundings. “I love to take small trips on the weekends in my convertible out into the wine country in Sonoma and Napa valleys and do wine tasting,” Noble relates. “I’m often invited to many of the wineries for whom I’ve illustrated the labels and get complimentary tastings and discounts on wine. It’s wonderful to see the final product out on the shelves, which gives me a great sense of pride.”
He was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, in 1968 to a French mother. His father, an army veteran (retired military) who had fought in the Korean War, was working at the U.S. Embassy in Paris at the time. Noble has a sister who’s four years older.
“I believe I inherited many of his qualities, likenesses, and talent,” Noble says of his father. “Throughout his entire life, his artistic, creative side would come out. For example, he would do many portrait paintings for other officers in the military. After his retirement, he decided to move back to France and go to the Ecole Municipale des Beaux-Arts in Perpignan, for three years, on his G.I. Bill. It was always his dream to go to art school and learn how to draw and paint,” he recalls.
“Afterwards, my parents decided to move back to the U.S. so that my father could find work as a civilian after his retirement from the military as a Warrant Officer in 1969. We then settled down in Novato, California in 1976 when I was eight years old.
“My mother, who I keep a close relationship with, still lives in Novato where I grew-up for most of my life. She was instrumental in my success as an illustrator. She inspired me to persevere through the difficult years and created a stable environment that allowed my career to flourish,” Noble says
Since he graduated from the University of California at Davis in 1990, his reputation and skill for working in the difficult medium of scratchboard has steadily grown, along with his professional accolades. Noble is the master of the X-Acto blade, carving delicate lines into pre-inked clay boards which allow him to make the work look as if it were a woodcut, a 19th century steel engraving or an array of other historical styles. Scratchboard requires the artist to work in an opposite fashion from drawing. “It is almost like reverse psychology,” Noble explains. “You’re adding light and taking away the darkness one stroke at a time.” He can translate the technique into a variety of styles and treatments like woodcut, pen and ink, and engraving, as well as very fine traditional earlier century engravings.
Noble keeps an informative and well-designed blog where he deconstructs particular projects. He has helped many clients take an established brand into a new age, such as the Kahlúa package redesign that refreshed the brand, while playing on its existing appeal. He cleverly combines historic styles with modern touches, creating an amusing campaign for an accounting firm that shows figures such as Ben Franklin and Abraham Lincoln dressed in Steampunk fashion to convey the message that the client is not a group of “ordinary” accountants.
He is presently working on a book that will collect and present his oeuvre—a rather daunting task considering his artistic output, but one that he will tackle with typical research and enthusiasm.
To see more of Steven’s work, visit HYPERLINK “http://www.stevennoble.com” www.stevennoble.com and HYPERLINK “http://www.scratchboardstock.net/”www.scratchboardstock.net
Q: What motivated you to begin drawing? Were you one of those children who could always be found sketching?
A: I always drew something when I was a young child. I lived in the south of France near the Pyrenees and would draw the mountains overlooking the village that we lived in for three years. I would sketch out the snow line, as it would gradually descend, as winter season would come. The shapes and contours of the light hitting the highest peaks always fascinated me. When I moved for the first time to San Francisco, my interest became the city skyline along the bay. I was always visually perceptive when I was a child. My mother would ask me when I would sit in the airplane near the window, “What are you looking at? There’s nothing out there…” I’d respond and tell her, yes… there’re clouds and all sorts of amazing shapes and my imagination would run wild.
Q: Who or what were your influences?
A: My father was a great influence on me. He was an amateur painter and did portraits and landscapes for both family and friends. He would always coach me in the ways of drawing such as learning about perspective and creating values, shading, contrast and tone. The second influence in developing my style and technique were the master artists of the past such as Albrecht Dürer, Gustave Doré. They both were experts in the wood engraving and steel engraving techniques. I was always fascinated by this age-old process and that inspired me to learn the process, but in my own way.
Q: How did you evolve your color palette?
A: The colors came only as a secondary stage in the process as a means to enhance and highlight the values already established in the black-and-white scratchboard illustration. At the early beginning, I would add the color traditionally using watercolors and gouache by masking the sections and airbrushing in the colors over the top of the board or using a print and then adding color by brush. Soon afterwards, I found that digital technology with the use of Photoshop helped a great deal to create the same effect and allowed more flexibility especially in the world of commercial illustration which requires a lot of edits and changes.
Q: You have taken a rather unforgiving medium, scratchboard, and adapted it to many variations. How did you develop your style?
A: I adapted the scratchboard style by teaching myself the technique over many years of trial and error. I originally did line art and stipple and graduated to the engraving scratchboard style. From there, I expanded into linocuts and woodcuts which are much more bold and graphic in nature and allowed my portfolio to grow to include woodblock carvings of the 18th century and often re-creating a retro modern version to fit today’s needs for advertising, packaging design, publishing and logo identities. Final illustrations are created by hand on scratchboard using X-Acto knife tools on background clayboard. The engraved lines are then added using a pen-and-ink process which is laid onto the board, then scraped off with an X-Acto knife to create cross breaks in the lines, which renders a lighter value. The shadow is then created using a crosshatch technique to create a darker value for a more dimensional effect.
Q: What is your favorite type of assignment?
A: My favorite assignment was illustrating the SLS Hotels logo identity. This was collaboration with HYPERLINK “http://www.gregorybonnerhale.com/”GBH in London to design the illustration logo identity and all room collateral for HYPERLINK “http://exclusives.lc.com/SLS-Beverly-Hills-Hotel-3171/so.htmPS=PS_aa_WSW_WestSouthwest_Google_BD_sls_hotel_beverly_hills_Exact_021111_NAD_FM”SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills (“SLS” stands for style, luxury, and service). The identity’s monkeys are a mischievous and baroque slice of European culture in the heart of LA. The project was a unique challenge in that the artwork had to include numerous individual components, which needed to work cohesively in various combinations to support one main logo. The monkeys were all illustrated separately with their own individual personalities that included scared, mischievous, angry, and jovial. Preliminary pencil sketches were all drawn to create full-life monkey characters with likeable and distinct personalities to capture the viewer’s attention. The mirror, fork, and bells were dropped in separately into the hands of each of the monkeys; the blown-out candle flame was separately added as well. Additional personalities were later created to complement the logo and continue with variations on the theme of upscale festivity, such as dancing monkeys, and a monkey holding an engagement ring. The chandelier base image was originally modeled after my own dining room chandelier.
Read more: HYPERLINK “http://imprint.printmag.com/branding/monkey-business-2/#ixzz1gZmeY9oD”Monkey Business — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers
Q: What is your process for an editorial illustration?
A: My process for editorial illustration requires several stages. Those stages include a verbal communication with the art director concerning the concept along with any visually supplied reference material. Afterwards, I begin the preliminary sketch phase based on the art direction and create an initial rough tissue. Once that has been submitted, I include upwards of two additional revisions to the sketch for final approval. Lastly, once I get the “green light” to move forward, then I move to the final artwork-rendering phase.
Q: Can you explain the term “semi-stock” on your stock image website?
A: The “semi-stock” illustrations are defined by the fact that they are derived from an original stock image with the client needing a slight adjustment to fit their specific needs. This classification falls halfway between custom illustration and stock illustrations. For example, a “cup of coffee” spot illustration can either be adjusted to fit with an added and newly illustrated doughnut (with drop shadow) on the side or made to have just the cup without the saucer and, yet, have a spoon drawn to be placed inside the cup. This can be adjusted to create a “new” illustration while keeping the integrity of the original illustration without it looking like a “collaged” and/or pasted illustration.
Q: Can you describe your studio environment?
A: I keep a pretty organized and streamline system in my studio so that I can stay on top of every individual project in my busy schedule. I have to wear many hats in the daily management of my business. This includes creating estimates, preparing my marketing, paying estimate taxes, answering the phone and finally working at the drawing board. This does not include other small details within the daily operations of the business. At the end of the day, the illustration and creative portion only takes up a small percentage of the business as a whole. It is very difficult to maneuver from two opposite sides of the brain: creative to analytical.