Mark Ulriksen's Dream Job

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday September 28, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, San Francisco-based artist and illustrator Mark Ulriksen sent a play-by-play account of a dream assignment he had over the summer. Here's an excerpt from what he wrote:

Earlier this year I was asked to create the catalog cover for SFJAZZs 5th Anniversary season. Their newish building is clad floor to ceiling in windows, revealing both public and private spaces. 

SFJAZZ founder and executive/artistic director Randall Kline asked me do a painting of their building with the upcoming season's line-up of performers as the people seen in each room. I was also asked to portray some luminaries from the past. Sounded like big fun.  After drawing the building I drew each musician individually and then Photoshopped them into a room of my choosing. I even had leeway to pair up any musicians I chose to. I love freedom like that, which can be rare.

I often let the sketch determine which medium I'll use. Because I switch around a lot between acrylic, gouache, egg tempera  and oil. Because it's easy to get bored. But it also means I often choose the wrong medium. Too often. But this time I was happy I went with egg tempera. 

Seeing as this piece has 37 portraits (yikes) I decided it would be fastest to mix a bunch of skin tones and paint all the musicians’ faces and hands first. But I wanted to paint one figure with clothes and instrument all included, just to get an idea of how the piece might eventually look. I started with Ornette Coleman (below, left).

In a project with many figures like this one, body language can come from shots of the subjects or from my personal library of poses I clip from newspapers and magazines. Here on the far right, above, Rosanne Cash is talking with Vijay Iyer, who's face and clothes come from his reference shot, while his hands-in-pocket pose comes from the shot of Lyndon Johnson (above, right).

I made a design decision to place a trio of musicians in the foreground, to beckon readers into the cover and to serve as both a focal point as well as to keep this from merely being a scene with a bunch of windows with a bunch of people in them, more or less the same size. Then one Friday night, five days before the painting was due, I returned home to an urgent phone message from Randall Kline, "Call me ASAP".  Big problem. A trio in the foreground of the painting will block the iconic glass corner of the building as well as create unnecessary political problems by deciding who warrants being out in front in this scene. Uh oh. Better get out the sandpaper. And ask for more time. And more money.

The big question was how to save the painting, with my desire for a main character and Randall's need to show the signature corner of the building and not cause political waves. We talked it over and decided that I could keep Joshua Redman's figure ((above left, middle figure) and remake him into Ornette Coleman, which made sense for Randall as he was a cornerstone in the development of SFJAZZ some 33 years ago. I redrew Coleman's face, hat and horn on tracing paper laid over the painted figure of Redman, transferred it with carbon paper and got to work. Redman becomes Coleman.


How the painting looked the night before I finished it, eventually completed an hour before I had to deliver it.

Randall was very happy. Yay. But curiously when the marketing and sales people came in to the conference room for a viewing they were very somber and didn't say much. Of course I was bummed by their collective non-response. Then the marketing director T.J. Gorton explained to me that as I entered the building, set to present the finished piece, the staff had just learned that Prince had mysteriously died! Oh. Bigger bummer.

Mark Ulriksen is a San Francisco-based artist and illustrator whose instantly recognizable portraits and whimsical take on life have led to projects for a variety of major clients. After initially 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 a world of weekly ones, pursuing a new career as a freelance illustrator and artist. [more]


By Peggy Roalf   Tuesday September 27, 2016

By Peggy Roalf   Monday September 26, 2016

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday September 22, 2016

Older Posts