Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mark Ulriksen: Cole Valley Artist Makes Good

(This is an article I wrote for the Haight-Ashbury Beat newspaper. Mark is a great guy and a fantastic artist. To check out his stuff, visit:

Mark Ulriksen is a lot more than just an award-winning freelance illustrator who creates acrylic paintings for many of this country’s best known magazines, book publishers and ad agencies. He’s also a native San Franciscan and an integral part of the creative and political environment of Cole Valley.

Since 1993, Ulriksen has published more than 500 illustrations and over 20 magazine covers for publications including the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Vibe, GQ, Entertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek and The New York Times. He has worked for advertising agencies, creating paintings for clients like The Vanguard Group and Cole Haan shoes. He also paints commissioned pieces, primarily family portraits and dog portraits. In addition, Mark has done several book covers, and recently illustrated his second children’s book called “The Biggest Parade” by Elizabeth Winthrop.

Ulriksen, 49, was born in San Francisco and grew up primarily in San Carlos. He graduated in 1980 from Chico State University with a BA in visual communications. Upon graduation, he got a job as a graphic designer for a publishing group for Northeastern University in Boston, a position he held for the next two years. After that, he worked in various capacities within a variety of graphic designer jobs. In 1985, Mark returned to San Francisco and in 1986 moved to Cole Valley. At that time, he tried his hand at freelance illustrating and found the experience “very humbling.”

In 1986, Ulriksen parlayed his freelance gig into an eight-year stint as an associate art director and then later head art director for KQED’s San Francisco Focus magazine. In January of 1994, Mark made a full-time commitment to working independently and hit the ground running.

“After I decided to seriously start marketing myself, things happened quickly,” Ulriksen said. “In the course of one week, I got assignments from GQ, Rolling Stone and Esquire. I knew at that point I could do this for a living.”

Mark said it takes him approximately three days to create an illustration – one day to conceive it and two days to paint it. When he’s doing magazine covers, the deadlines can be very tight. “Typically the most a magazine will give you is a week,” Mark said.

Mark loves living in Cole Valley, where he resides with his wife and two daughters. He likes being close to Golden Gate Park and enjoys the political environment, the architecture, and the fact that there’s a friendly neighborhood market right down on the corner.

“We love this neighborhood and don’t plan on ever leaving” Ulriksen said. “It’s a very creative environment here. The actor Danny Glover lives down the block. Many creative individuals, including artists, musicians and filmmakers, live in this area. It’s a great mix of people here.”

Mark is also very interested in keeping the look of the neighborhood from changing for the worse. “We recently formed a neighborhood group to fight the demolition of a house nearby,” he said. “We tried to preserve the house and we lost. But, we did win in a sense, because we were able to force the contractor into building a new house that fits the look of this neighborhood. We prevented him from building another one of those faceless stucco condos.”

Mark said that one of his more well-known New Yorker covers is the one he created as a take-off on the movie “Brokeback Mountain,” featuring Dick Cheney and George W. Bush on a hillside standing very close to each other while Cheney holds a smoking rifle. The cover appeared in February shortly after Cheney shot an associate while bird hunting. Another famous cover he did that has received a lot of attention is called “Shakespeares in the Park” which shows the playwright walking a dog, riding a bike and just generally enjoying himself in New York’s Central Park.

Ulricksen was one of the local artists participating in San Francisco’s annual Open Studio, October 21-22 again this year. “Leslie and I welcome people into our home,” Mark said. “Open Studio usually happens right around the same time as the World Series. We’ve actually had people come here and sit down with us and watch a game.”

Mark also likes visiting other artists in their homes during Open Studio. “I enjoy seeing how other artists set up their workspaces,” he said. “Where they put their brushes and how they do their art is something I can always learn from.”

In some cases, Mark will paint portraits of people for publications and then later the personalities themselves will purchase the paintings from him. Martin Scorsese, John Travolta and O.J. Simpson attorneys Christopher Darden and Robert Shapiro have all bought original Ulriksens of themselves over the years.

Mark’s goals for the future include getting more heavily involved in working for the New Yorker doing covers, as well as increasing the amount of personal work he does for galleries. He’d also like to continue to do illustrations for children’s books and maybe even write his own.

“There’s a lot of freedom in kid’s books,” Mark said. “I want to explore that avenue more, because I enjoy being a storyteller.”

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