In 2012, Diageo presented Steven Noble and Hatch Design with the opportunity to rebrand their incredibly successful winery, Sterling Vineyards. We both took a look back and discovered a beautiful SV monogram that, while an integral part of their past, had never been used externally or on any packaging. Steven Noble redrew the SV monogram to update the mark, and when combined with a clean modern design and their signature silver color, it was like breathing new life into the packaging for a time-honored brand. The illustration was created in a scratchboard woodcut style with particular attention being made to the building and vineyards.
For their reboot of Tavern on the Green, owners Jim Caiola and David Salama wanted Steven Noble to create a logo that felt contemporary while still referencing the restaurant’s storied past. The logo will be used throughout the restaurant on menus and business cards, as well as on the restaurant’s famous red awnings through how they tweaked each iteration of the logo — beginning with the first prelimnary draft — before landing on this final look.
Tavern on the Green was originally built as a sheepfold in current day Central Park . The sheep were actually held there at night and let out on Sheep Meadow during the day to graze and mow the lawn. Since we were going for this farm to table concept, the sheep really were a good vision for that sort of food.
The idea was to contemporize the Tavern on the Green brand. But they always knew they were ode-ing to the sheep. There was a history they were trying to acknowledge with the crest and the animals. When you see this, you think of a family’s history or a place’s history, so they liked this idea.
The final design feels timeless, but also contemporary. It feels fun, but not too self-conscious. It’s beautiful and modern and clean.
Interview with Steven Noble
“A good logo will transcend time.
When it’s done right, people will experience it and identity with it over and over again…”
Steven Noble has been called the hardest working man in illustration. And given his massive portfolio—which includes thousands of projects completed over nearly two decades—we’d have to agree. In this issue of Ascender, we find out what makes this prolific commercial artist a cut above the rest.
Your portfolio is bursting at the seams with big-name clients—Sam Adams, Altoids, Kraken rum, to name just a few. How did you discover your tremendous talent?
Illustration has always been an interest of mine. Commercial art obviously wasn’t a concept I was aware of as a child, but I drew as a kid—just doodling on whatever surface I had in front of me. My father was a portrait painter, and he had a great influence on me. I’m lucky to have inherited many of his qualities and his love for art.
Believe it or not, I went to college at the University of California Davis and actually majored in economics. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I met a commercial artist through my mother and learned about the field. He saw my work and recognized that I had this talent; I saw his studio and recognized that this type of career is a viable one.
It seems you’ve built much of your career on the technique known as scratchboard. Can you tell us how it works and how you discovered the form?
Unlike traditional illustration, where you’re adding dark strokes to a light-colored medium like paper, scratchboard works in the opposite direction. You start with a block and you carve away the dark portions to reveal the light. You sort of peel back the surface and the artwork reveals itself in reverse.
I’ve always loved line art and I’ve sketched in black and white my whole life. I needed to find a specialty—as an artist it’s really important to find your niche, so that you can refine a skill set and establish a unique style. I’m a great fan of work by artists like engraver Albrecht Dürer, so I started toying with scratchboard. The more I worked with it, the more engrossed I became.
Your work runs the gamut from editorial illustration to logo design. What’s your favorite type of project?
That’s a tough one … I think choosing a favorite type of project is a little like picking a favorite child. I love them all in different ways. Editorial, for example, can really let me stretch my creative legs and run with a concept. On the flipside, editorial artwork is fleeting—it’s the kind of thing people see once and may never go back to. Logo design, on the other hand, can sometimes be a little more restrictive creatively—say, if I’m working within an existing brand. But a good logo will transcend time, and people will experience it and identify with it over and over again. Some of my clients are still using my logo designs 15 years later.
Fair enough—we won’t make you play favorites. But is there a single project that stands out in your mind?
The identity for SLS Hotels in Beverly Hills probably tops my list. The logo was a significant challenge because it needed to include a number of individual components—my solution was this group of mischievous monkeys hanging from a chandelier in a Baroque style, each with its own personality and holding an object that represents the luxury of the brand, such as a fork or mirror. I started with pencil sketches and continued to refine the design through a few revisions, each time adding new elements. I used an X-acto knife to create the engraved lines on a clayboard background, and ultimately scanned the separate elements into a layered Photoshop file, so that the design could be used digitally in multiple ways.
An animated version of the logo was used on the SLS website, where the monkeys actually jumped onto the chandelier. The design was also used to create a three-dimensional bronze logo and headboard ornament for the hotel’s rooms.
Earlier this year you completed a series of stunning motion graphics for Kraken rum. Can you tell us a bit about that process?
This was a monster project—no pun intended. We worked for about three and a half months to pull it all together. I collaborated with a design firm and a team of animators to bring everything to life.
The animators built a wireframe of the scene, and I provided all the illustrations. The whole scene was built in four of five layers, so I’d provide the tentacles, for example, and then go back and draw the shadows on another layer and the lighting on another. Then they’d drop my illustrations into their software and work their magic. I always enjoy collaborating with other designers, so this was great fun for me.
>> See Steven’s Kraken animations
Another interesting project we’ve seen from you recently is a rebranding campaign for Got Milk? How does rebranding differ from other work?
For this particular project, I was commissioned to illustrate old-fashioned woodcuts that harkened to the ’30s and ’40s. Digital production firm Silk Tricky turned the illustrations into awesome motion graphics for a fun new website and TV spots.
Rebranding projects can bring their own set of challenges, but it varies by client. Sometimes the client wants a clean break with tradition to develop something totally new, which is in line with what I did for the Got Milk? campaign.
Other times, you have to consider a more gentle shift within the existing brand. I remember working on the Coors logo about 15 years ago. Coors wanted to update their traditional waterfall while maintaining that “high in the Rockies” feel. The original logo had a wide, rushing waterfall and Coors ultimately decided to go with a narrow, Yosemite-style waterfall for the new design. So we did some preliminary sketches with a new waterfall and followed that with test marketing that went really well. Then, at the last moment, the CEO stepped in and had us switch back to a wide-style waterfall. So we kind of came full circle, still updating the logo but keeping the same feel as the previous version.
After 20 years of client relations, what advice do you have for working well on such large-scale projects? How do you ensure that art is completed on time and within the agreed scope?
I can’t stress enough the importance of communication when working with clients. The more you ask, the more you discuss, the less will be left to chance.
Near the start of every project, I ask my clients to enter what I call the homework phase. This is where the client brainstorms internally and pulls together all the relevant material—research, thumbnails, samples, etc.— that will help give me something to work from.
For example, say a client wants an illustration of a dog. Seems simple enough, right? But what kind of dog? Do they want a portrait or a profile? Are there other elements to include? These details can create a drastic difference between a client’s vision and mine, so it’s important to work them out before I begin. It also helps guard against changes in scope later. Projects can shift like the sands, so forethought and proactive planning are a must.
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.
Cactus Marketing Communications and Steven Noble worked over the course of a month to create these illustrations to represent 4 different parts of the human anatomy that includes Cardiology, Endocrinology, Neurology, and Oncology for the University of Colorado Hospital. The maps simulate the different shapes of the human organs such as the lungs, heart, brain, and thyroid but integrated into the landmasses on each of the individual maps. These map illustrations were created in a line etching style to give that aged “old world” map feel with parchment background along with a muted watercolor wash.
Short Mountain Distillery collaborated with Steven Noble in October of 2011 to create an illustration for their new moonshine labels that includes a one color and b/w label illustration in a scratchboard woodcut style. The illustration includes a scene with two men distilling moonshine with a landscape scene with corn fields in the background under the moon’s gaze.
Kraken Rum just released three new advertising spots that will be aired during the ESPN March Madness that includes “Existence,” Strength” and Survival” with can be view in the following links:
The Design firm, Dead As We Know It, along with illustrator, Steven Noble, and animator, Adam Gault Studio, combined their individual expertise to create these unique animations. All the illustrations were individually hand drawn in the old engraving woodcut style and supplied digitally to the animators. For example, the Kraken octopus was illustrated over a supplied wire frame with different Photoshop layers applied for the shadows.
Silk Tricky commissioned Steven Noble to illustrate five new logos for the new redesigned “Got Milk” website and commercial national TV spots. The old fashioned style woodcuts were used on the original glass milk bottles from the 30’s and 40’s. Leveraging the awesome 3D and Motion work Silk is known for, combined with their smooth and fluid Flash animations, the new website is a fun and whimsical look at this beloved beverage. View the site at http://www.gotmilk.com
Lance Winters along with the team at St. George Spirits collaborated with Steven Noble and Juli Shore Design to create three new original Gin labels: Terroir, Botanivore, and Dry Rye.
To showcase how distinctive and expressive gin can be, St. George Spirits distiller Lance Winters has created a brand-new liquid triptych with three distinctive variations:
St. George Botanivore Gin
Because of its broad botanical recipe, this gin is the most versatile of the three, with floral coriander seeds balanced by juniper and earthy California bay laurel. Botanivore also features fresh ginger, dill and celery seed, and cilantro, giving it an herbaceous brightness. Therefore, the illustration incorporates those ingredients to capture the essence of that distinctive flavor.
St. George Dry Rye Gin
Made with pot-distilled rye and a minimal recipe of cracked juniper berries, caraway, black peppercorn, grapefruit and lime peel, this gin has a pear aroma with deep malty, woody flavors. All the ingredients are
once again positioned within the illustration to help pronounce those flavors as if luring you into an unforeseeable bear trap.
St. George Terroir Gin (Mt. Tam Edition)
This drinks like a walk in the woods. It’s made with hand-harvested juniper berries, wild Douglas fir from Mt. Tam, California bay laurel and coastal sage. It’s what John Muir would have carried in his flask. The label
tries to convey the outdoors with the symbolic California bear with Mt. Tam as a backdrop.
All the illustrations were created in a handcrafted scratchboard engraving style and tinted in a sepia tone for that “aged” distinctive look.