“I work out of a too small upstairs room (150 square feet) on the second floor of our 1897 Victorian in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. I’m very organized though a bit untidy. My desk gets progressively piled with more papers and reference whenever I’m drawing.
I basically do two things in this world, draw and paint. When I finish a drawing I have to reconfigure my desk so that I can now paint. To alleviate tedium I switch mediums between acrylic, gouache, egg tempera and oil and each requires a slightly different set-up. My studio is full of books, music and piles of paper but in an organized manner. I have a mirror in front of me where I act out what I want my characters to do in any given scene.
My first creative decision each day is what I’m going to listen to. I play music that puts me in the right frame of mind for whatever project I’m working on and typically have a half-dozen different paintings I rotate around. I have certain givens I listen to each day, Fresh Air and All Things Considered on the radio, Charlie Rose and The Newshour on TV and whenever the SF Giants are on I watch and listen while I work. Baseball was meant to be worked to.
Despite how crowded, my studio has some nice features. French doors open up to a deck with some minor views of the neighborhood Victorians, hills, Golden Gate Park and of course the ubiquitous fog. I had flat files built to stash a lot of work away. I even had drawers made to store my albums and cassette tapes (for younger readers that’s an old format for playing music), now virtually obsolete. My eldest daughter shares a bedroom adjacent to mine and now that she’s off to college I’m wondering how long I have to wait before I can tear down that wall and double my studio space.”
Mark Ulriksen is a San Francisco-based artist and illustrator whose instantly recognizable portraits and whimsical take on life have led to a variety of projects. He specializes in figurative work that blends humor and darkness with psychological insight. After working for 13 years as a graphic designer and magazine art director, Mark went through a relatively early mid-life crisis and gave up a world of monthly deadlines for weekly ones, pursuing a new career as a freelance illustrator and artist. Ulriksen is best known for his work for The New Yorker, where he has been a regular contributor since 1993, with more than 30 magazine covers to his credit.
Mark’s covered the 2008 Masters for Golf Digest and created murals for United Airlines and the Chicago Bears. His dog prints adorn the halls of Kaiser Permanente hospitals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s the regular illustrator for the San Francisco Jazz Festival, as well as a children’s book illustrator, and the recipient of numerous awards, including Gold and Silver medals from the NY Society of Illustrators. His 2006 New Yorker cover parody of the film Brokeback Mountain was named the year’s top magazine news cover by the Magazine Publishers of America. Ulriksen’s work is in the permanent collection of The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress.
Mark now balances his time between illustration assignments, children’s books, gallery work and private commissions, primarily family and dog portraits.
MARK ULRIKSEN: I fell in love with baseball and the Giants when I was 8 years old. Other than being too busy in college to follow closely (and with the Giants lousy and the Yankees ascendant) I’ve been a die-hard fan ever since.
MU: The greatest ever, Willie Mays. And Juan Marichal my favorite pitcher, plus Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry (he was on my paper route) , Jim Ray Hart, Jim Davenport (he lived around the corner from us) and Orlando Cepeda (I cried when he got traded for the dreadful Ray Sadecki). When my parents divorced, I knew my mom and Mays were the same age so my secret hope was that somehow my mom would marry Mays. I also liked pitchers Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Bob Gibson and even the dreaded Dodger Sandy Koufax.
The Polo Grounds, Oct 3, 1951… The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!
FYD: You seem like a purist. Has the recent steroid explosion hurt the game for you?
MU: Definitely. I’m not a Barry Bonds fan, like some of my friends. Of all sports, baseball’s stats are a huge part of the game and these chemically enhanced players have cheated the prior greats who achieved their numbers without going through mad scientists.
MU: I love stadiums and the stadiums that have come along since Camden Yards in Baltimore was built are totally great. We SF fans suffered for so long at the freezing Candlestick Park and now we have one of the great stadiums in baseball with Pac Bell Park (sorry, I can’t keep up with which regional phone company has declared the stadium as theirs).
FYD: But hot dogs have gone gourmet. There’s sushi and carved meat; yikes!
MU: I’m more of a sausage with onions and kraut or a Cha Cha bowl at Pac Bell kinda guy. (Cha Cha is pulled pork with beans and cole slaw and BBQ sauce).
FYD: Are Fenway and Wrigley the last two great parks around?
MU: Yes. I used to live in Boston and was a 14 minute walk from Fenway. I drove cross country in the summer of 1981 and there was a strike so I couldn’t go to any games but my wife and I drove by as many stadiums as we could and we walked around the perimeter of Wrigley. That’s as close as I’ve come to seeing a Cubs game.
MU: The Polo Grounds, Oct 3, 1951… The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!
FYD: I own your Stars and Stripes from 20×200 (see above). Your work seems to have a slanted edge. Edge being great. Have you been illustrating the same way since boyhood?
MU: My style evolved into what you describe (slanted and hard edged) once I started taking illustrating seriously, around 1993. I can’t say that I had a style growing up. I used to copy my heroes from Mad Magazine, like Don Martin and Jack Davis when I was a kid.
FYD: We have a golden retriever, Eddie (named after a surfer and rock star). What kind of dogs do you own?
MU: We have an 8-year-old chocolate lab, Henry. Prior to that we had another chocolate lab, Ted. Starting to see a pattern here.
FYD: Dogs are easier to hang with over humans?
MU: I like dogs and I like people. I’ve always been attracted to both. Dogs of course are much nicer than people.
FYD: What makes dogs so special?
MU: Dogs love you unconditionally and care intensely about where you are walking, in case it may be near food.
MU: Dogs have even more personality than some people I know. They share every emotion with you and are enthusiastic about everything; eating, walking, driving, playing, sleeping next to you, going to the bathroom.
FYD: Dogs save on the shrink bill.
MU: Yes, they also make you walk a lot and are people magnets.
FYD: Back to baseball. Please predict who is going to the World Series.
MU: I would love to predict that the Giants will be in the Series but as life long fan I know how consistent they’ve been at letting us down. I will go out on a limb though and say the Texas Rangers will make it (given that they made it in last night!)