Interview: Artist Tony Noble

by Cass Art

Artist Tony Noble's work is currently on display in the BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery until 15 September 2013. 

As part of our Meet the Artists programme Tony Noble, who has been selected for the BP Portrait Award five times, joined us at the Islington store this August to talk about his selected art works, painting processes, portraits and answer your questions. You can find the full details and schedule for the Meet the Artists programme here.

We caught up with Tony Noble to talk inspiration, portraiture and essential materials for an exclusive Cass Art interview.

Was there a defining moment when you decided you wanted to be an artist?

I have always enjoyed making artwork, but felt that I might be able to make a good go at making it professionally when I was selected for the BP Portrait Award Exhibition for the first time in 2008. I have been painting full-time since then. Before then I worked as a primary school teacher.

Who or what has influenced your work most?

I couldn't have got to where I am now without the great support of my wife, Jackie. Of course, I've been looking at the work of other artists ever since I was at school, but I like to think that I'm my own man when it comes to painting. I love the work of Stanley Spencer, Lucien Freud, Peter Blake, Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper, John Currin and Benjamin Sullivan.

How has your practice evolved since then and what are you working on at the moment?

I'm currently working on a self-portrait diptych. Next week I will start re-working "The President: Portrait of Big D" when I get it back from the RP exhibition. I am also working on some large head drawings.

Where do you look for inspiration?

I am always looking for ideas for new paintings, whether portrait subjects, landscapes or still-life motifs. The idea for this year's BP painting came through seeing the bikers ride past my studio practically every day on the way to their HQ. I thought they looked great and approached them with a view to making a painting.

Where did you grow up and where did you study? Did these places have an influence on your work?

I grew up in Batley, where I live and work today. I did a Foundation Course at Batley School of Art and then went to Loughborough College of Art where I studied painting. I think Batley has had a massive influence on the type of work I do. I sometimes wonder what my work would be like had I been born elsewhere. Look at how David Hockney's work changed when he moved from Bradford to California then to Bridlington.

What draws you to portraiture and do you make any other work?

I love the challenge of portraiture, and love working with people - some familiar, some strangers. I love the psychological component of portraiture, but also love the structural, analytical side. I run weekly life drawing sessions in a big studio I share with fellow artist Tom Wood at Redbrick Mill, Batley - see for more information.

How would you describe your work?

In all my work I try to respond to my subjects in a very honest, personal way. I enjoy working my paintings up to include a lot of detail.

Could you tell us about your working method and process?

When possible I work from life, but often I have to work using photographs. For a portrait I like initially to take a lot of photos of the subject which I then use to work out roughly the kind of final image I'm after. A follow-up set of photographs helps me to refine my ideas and work towards the finished painting.

What materials do you use?

I always use the best materials I can afford. I use Michael Harding oil paints & painting mediums, Winsor and Newton Artists oil paints, Pro Arte brushes, Derwent pencils.

Do the materials you use inform the work or vice versa?

I select the materials I need to achieve the results I want, though unforeseen, accidental results can often occur. If something happens and I like the results I keep it.

What are the vitals tools in your studio?

Sketchbook and drawing materials, paint, fine linen canvas, palette -large sheet of melamine, mediums & brushes, white spirit, a good, sturdy Mabef easel, computer, music.

Which colours are essential in your palette and why?

Titanium White, Flesh Tint, Brilliant Pink, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Red (deep), Alizarin Crimson, Mars Violet, Yellow Ochre, Naples yellow, Cad Yellow including Pale and Deep, Cad Orange, Red Madder, Raw Umber, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine, Phthalo Turquoise, Prussian Blue, Paynes Grey, Lamp Black.

What are your favourite brushes and why?

Pro Arte series 1 sable and series A hog, these are excellent brushes & good value for money. I really like Winsor and Newton Series 7 sable brushes. I get through loads of brushes!

Overall which product is essential to your practise and why?

Michael Harding and  Winsor and Newton Artists Oil Colours. They are great quality paints which combine beautifully to give the colours required. Colours stay bright and clear and don't yellow or fade.

Find more of Tony Noble's work at

Top Image: The Roadhouse Crew by Tony Noble, 2013, exhibited at the BP Portrait Award 2013 © Tony Noble.

Second Image: The Twins by Tony Noble, 2011, exhibited at the BP Portrait Award 2012 © Tony Noble.

Third Image: The Shooting Gallery by Tony Noble, exhibited at the BP Portrait Award 2011 © Tony Noble.

Fourth Image: Love Painting - Portrait of My Wife Jackie and our Cat Amy, Redbrick Studio by Tony Noble, exhibited at the BP Portrait Award 2010 © Tony Noble.

Fifth Image: Portrait of Austin Mitchell MP  & his wife Linda McDougall, 2009 by Tony Noble © Tony Noble.

Sixth Image: Portrait of my Mother-in-Law Anne & Her Sister, Auntie Audrey, by Tony Noble, exhibited at the BP Portrait Award 2008 © Tony Noble.

Back to blog