UC Davis alumnus Steven Noble at work. (Muamer Celik)

From Econ to Icons

by | Mar 8, 2021 | Alumni Achievers, Culture, Fall/Winter 2020-21

An unexpected call rekindled Steven Noble’s connection with his alma mater.

Noble ’90 is now a world-renowned commercial illustrator. And UC Davis needed an 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.”

He developed the illustrations using photographs of well-known campus icons like the Eggheads, Unitrans buses, the water tower — and his own vivid memories. The end results were 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 with plans to become a stockbroker. He sketched as a side hobby.

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.

“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.

“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

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.

Now, Noble is a sought-after illustrator who is known for his stylized technique for a range of clients, including food companies, car manufacturers and book publishers.

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

UC Davis came calling for a visibility and awareness campaign that launches this year. His illustrations will be used for materials produced by the university.

The key to Noble’s success was establishing a recognizable brand early on. His artwork brings products to life, giving them personas and stories. 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.”