From Econ to Icon

Noble drawing
Noble is working on creating more icons for the new UC Davis brand. His first round of icons include a Unitrans bus, an olive tree, the water tower, Eggheads, Gunrock the Mustang, a cow riding a bike and Hart Hall.

Alum Converts a Hobby into a Career

By Ashley Han

An unexpected call rekindled Steven Noble’s ’90 connection with his alma mater, allowing him to showcase his post-graduation career as a world-renowned commercial illustrator.

UC Davis was reaching out to hire the artist to illustrate unique and iconic Aggie images for the university.

“I’m honored that UC Davis recognized my illustrations and asked me to work with them,” Noble said. “It feels like I’m part of the university again and brought back a flood of great memories.”

Vivid memories of the Eggheads, Unitrans buses, the water tower, the bikes and the smell of cows helped him conceptualize the illustrations, leading to whimsical takes on campus culture like a cow riding a bike.

 

However, Noble’s studies at UC Davis were far from art. He was an economics major who sketched as a side hobby because he thought becoming a stockbroker would lead to a fulfilling career.

After graduation and just a month before he planned to take the exam to become a licensed stockbroker, his father unexpectedly passed away. That traumatic event drove him to reevaluate his professional plans and pursue his passion for art.

“When my dad was still alive, he would encourage me to follow my passion and to use my talent,” Noble said. “Unfortunately, I waited too long for him to see where I am today.”

The Turning Point

Noble first considered art as a career when Stan Fleming, a professional illustrator, taught him to keep a tenacious attitude and push himself. Fleming worked with George Lucas at Industrial Light & Magic and created visual effects and illustrations for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Ghostbusters II, Dragonheart and more.

Stan Fleming
Stan Fleming guided Noble to start his own business.

“Meeting Stan Fleming was the best possible thing that could have happened after my father passed,” Noble said. “I needed somebody to be a mentor and encourage me during that time in my life.”

Fleming became a father figure to Noble and guided him to start his own business, Noble Illustrations, Inc. in 1991, just a year after Noble had earned that economics degree.

“I would draw these big architectural pieces and my mentor would say that all the little bricks were not built in one day,” Noble said. “If I’m going to pursue this path, I have to take it one brick at a time.”

Work from the Heart

Breaking into any industry is no easy task, but Noble worked with his mentor to build a portfolio and meet with advertising agencies in San Francisco. Noble honed his etching and engraving style and focused on packaging, design, brand identity and marketing.

“I would draw these big architectural pieces and my mentor would say that all the little bricks were not built in one day,” Noble said. “If I’m going to pursue this path, I have to take it one brick at a time.”

“Some of my favorite projects include working on the White House logo, the Espolon Tequila brand, and I creating illustrations for Kraken Rum’s commercials,” Noble said.

Cow on a bike
One of Noble's illustrations created for UC Davis

The key to Noble’s success was establishing a recognizable brand early on. His artwork brings products to life, giving it a persona and a story. However, he credits his hard work to Fleming, who passed away four years after his father.

“Stan gave me the constructive criticism I needed and I loved that because it helped me grow,” Noble said. “You need somebody who’s honest and I definitely want to be a mentor to somebody to pass on the torch – the guidance I received.”

Noble advises Aggies who may be rethinking their paths to trust themselves.

“I almost wasted my whole life pretending to be somebody I’m not,” Noble said. “So I want to encourage you to just follow your own path because if it comes from the heart, it’s the right thing to do.”

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