San Francisco artist Mark Ulriksen is an award-winning illustrator, and although his paintings of celebrities are most well known, he’s also received numerous accolades for his dog images. Ulriksen has donated several of these to “Paws for Laughter,” the comedy fundraiser for Rocket Dog Rescue on Jan. 15 at Fort Mason Center.
We recently sat down with Ulriksen to find out more about his history of painting dogs throughout his successful career.
Northside San Francisco: Would you consider yourself a dog person?
Ulriksen: Some people are dog people, and I’m definitely one of them. When I was a kid, our first dog was a springer spaniel named Saber. The other dogs I grew up with were Tiger, some part German shepherd and some part something else. Cleo was my favorite, a St. Bernard we had when I was in grammar school. Buck, another St. Bernard, was a relative’s dog we took in for a while. Next came along Doog, a standard poodle with a bipolar personality. Bernie, a poodle-ish mutt would get so excited by food he’d piddle on the floor next to his bowl. … Finally, as an adult we had Ted, a chocolate Lab who remains the greatest dog I’ve ever known, and now we have Henry, yet another chocolate Lab who is a lovable nut.
NSF: How many dogs have you painted?
Ulriksen: I’ve probably painted about 50 individual dog portraits over the years and more than 100 dog images. I’ve illustrated two children’s books by Elizabeth Winthrop about a basset named Fred, and if I’m known at all for dog images, they would probably be the eight New Yorker covers I’ve done about dogs. I’ve also illustrated a few Bark magazine covers.
NSF: What’s your approach to painting dogs? Many artists have problems emulating the look in a dog’s eyes, but your dogs have definite expressions and attitudes in your paintings.
Ulriksen: I’d say my approach to dog portraits is similar to how I paint anything. I try to capture the essence and also have a little bit of me show up as well in the portrait. By that I mean to show off a personality, uniqueness and an attitude towards life.
NSF: Tell us the backstory about the painting for our January cover, Sally of Baltimore County.
Ulriksen: This was an assignment from the Washington Post Magazine. It’s a story about the antics of the author’s dog Sally, since deceased, who loved to jump on the family trampoline.
NSF: Baseball and dogs – they seem to go together, and several of your paintings combine both.
Ulriksen: They’re just a couple of my passions. While there’s sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll, there’s also dogs, baseball, jazz, and movies. I’m not really into painting sex and drugs, but all of the others make for great topics.
NSF: If your beautiful chocolate Lab, Henry, could talk, what would he say?
Ulriksen: Let’s get out of this house and go smell a bunch of stuff, now!
NSF: Are you working on a book about Henry?
Ulriksen: I’m trying to get my children’s picture book done, and yes, it’s about Henry and his penchant for being a clown. It’s told in verse, and the imagery is a bit ironic. The imagery is in my head right now, because it hasn’t been committed to paper yet, let alone paintings.
NSF:: Tell us about your recent appearance where Henry was also in attendance.
Ulriksen: A few months ago, City Arts & Lectures featured an evening with two New Yorker cartoonists, Matt Diffee and George Booth – he of the raggedy, rural dog drawings. To augment the evening’s entertainment, a casting call had gone out (friends notified me) for local dogs to join in on stage at the Herbst Theater and have their pooches illustrated by these two cartoonists. Henry and I made the cut and got to be part of the festivities.
– E. Attanasio