Even if you don’t know who Mark Ulriksen is, you’ve probably seen his work.
His “gracefully awkward” art has graced several magazine covers, including a widely praised New Yorker cover featuring Martin Luther King kneeling with Colin Kaepernick from earlier this year.
But despite his success in the field with pen and paint, recently he’s taken up a new challenge: Drawing with an iPad.
“I’m technologically illiterate and I’m still trying to learn how to paint,” the San Francisco-based artist joked.
“But I really wanted to eventually work digitally because it seems like that’s what the art buying public is looking for in the world of illustration these days, and I like the speed of it,” he said.
Ulriksen is just one of a new batch of professional artists who have embraced tablets like Apple’s iPad and its Pencil stylus to make illustrations easier, faster, and more ready for the computers and screens most art is consumed on these days.
There was also a professional reason: the world is going digital.
“For almost 20 years I did inside work for The New Yorker as well and then Condé Nast got a new creative director and it was out with the old in with the new and the new is all digital art,” Ulriksen said. “So almost all the The New Yorker art these days save for a couple of people, it’s digital.”
So he ended asking some friends what he should get, and last October, he ended up buying an iPad Pro, Apple’s $100 Pencil stylus, an app called Procreate, and started playing around.
As soon as he started experimenting with digital art, he found out that a lot of the techniques he admired from a distance were actually pretty easy to pull off.
“When I would see digital work in a publication, I go, ‘how do they do that, how do they get that that texture, how do they get the splatter? How they get it to look so, you know, rough and tumble, because you know because I don’t know how to do that as a painter so well,” he said.
After experimenting with every brush in Procreate, he had his answer.
“And so all of a sudden it’s like, it’s the brushes! That’s how they do it. There’s texture brushes and there’s splatter brushes and there’s paint roller brushes,” Ulriksen said. “Now I’ve learned that secret.”
One of his first projects with digital art is a series of “victory cards.” Every time the San Francisco Giants win, he recreates an old-school Topps baseball card in his signature style.
It’s the continuation of a series that he stared back in 2014 — only back then, it was on ink and paper.
“The season’s coming up, why don’t I redo the Giants baseball card idea but now I can do it in color and I can also use it as an exercise to try to learn this tool,” Ulriksen said.
Since he already had some drawings from before, his process was a streamlined. He take a photo of his old work with the iPad, changes the opacity to make it lighter, and then makes a new layer and draws on top of it. “I’ve already got my black and white drawing and now it’s just a matter of rendering it in color,” he said.
He uses the opportunity to experiment with texture, with focus, and with making hyper-flat images. He’s also found that adapting work or making changes on the fly is much easier digitally than with paper or paint. “You do a painting you’re kind of committed to the painting,” he said.
“I want to make it look like this is in shadow. I’m not really good at that as a painter. But with the iPad it’s just like I’ll just make it more of a transparent layer,” he continued.
Another advantage to digital art is that it makes follow-up pieces much more economical for working artists. Ulriksen recenly did a full-page piece for Mother Jones, but at the last moment, the art director realized the magazine needed a horizontal version for the website.
“What might have taken a few days to do (with a smidgen more money and even less desire) instead took a little over an hour. I copied the art, placed it in the requested format and then added to the background,” Ulriksen said.
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