Tracey Frugoli’s Art Takes Her to New Heights

Peoria, Illinois artist Tracey Frugoli

By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks

Peoria artist and photographer Tracey Frugoli was first introduced to art as a child when her father brought home art supplies for Tracey and her older sister. She always loved drawing, but when her skills began to surpass those of her sister, she realized she was on to something.

Tracey grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Her father was a drafting engineer and enjoyed sharing his talent for sketching.  She was fortunate to have had good art programs in school. Her high school art program even included jewelry making, which got Tracey hooked.

After high school Tracey earned a bachelor of fine art degree at Illinois State University with a focus on jewelry and metalworking. After graduating, she realized the passion for metalworking was gone.  “Metal working requires a lot of planning, and it’s a lot of work to get from A to Z,” she said. “I didn’t have the love of it enough to spend the time required. I wanted something a lot more immediate.”

After graduation, Tracey felt the BFA program did a poor job of preparing students to earn a living from art. She also knew she didn’t want to go the route of teaching at a university. After some searching, she discovered the art therapy program at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and quickly concluded that was the right direction for her. After earning her masters degree, she and began working in the field of art therapy and soon moved to Peoria to be closer to her boyfriend, who is now her husband.

Even while working as an art therapist, she continued to explore other artistic directions. “I tried other media, such as colored pencils and pastels,” Tracey explained.  “I first started plein air painting in water colors and pastels. I was reading an artist magazine to learn new skills and saw an article about a group of artists who had been invited to the Forbes Mansion in France for a week to paint. I immediately thought, “I want to do that.” That started me on my interest in plein air painting.”

Trace’s journey to master plein air techniques also led her to switch from pastels to oil paints.  “Plein air painting is very different, so I took a lot of workshops in Italy and France and they were working in oil. I saw that they could mix the exact color they wanted. When I got home, I tried and I liked it so much I never looked back. I still have my pastels and water colors, but I’ll probably never use them.”

“It’s just the opposite of pushing metal around – it’s so loose and free,” Tracey said. “I love the richness of the color – I love the juiciness. It’s like a weird thing we oil painters get. We love the smell of the oil and the look of it mixed on the pallet.”

Tracey also loves the challenge of plein air painting. “With plein air, you set up right in front of your subject, and you have about two hours before the light and the scene changes. You have to bring your ‘A’ game to the easel, and to every single stroke. Every brush stroke has to be purposeful. Every second is time that the light is changing.”

Tracey loves the experience of being outdoors with the scene she’s painting. “I was standing on the coast in California and the waves are crashing on the rocks,” she recalled, “and I was getting buffeted by the wind. At the end when I was packing up, I was so grateful that I had had that experience. Once I’ve painted that, I have that experience inside my brain and inside of me forever, no matter what happens to the painting. I remember I was packing up and it was foggy, and I looked back at the scene and said “Thank you. Thanks for letting me be here. Thanks for being so awesome!””

Lately, Tracey has begun to expand her artwork to include photography, particularly portraiture. “The techie side of photography appeals to me,” she said. “I really enjoy challenging my brain to understand the technical side of photography.  It’s stimulating to me.”

“Photographers see and think about light differently,” she continued. “I wanted something new – I wanted a new dialog going on. It’s our job as painters to record the light. As I looked a photographers’ work where they manipulated the light, I came to appreciate it. Photographers capture moments of light where a painter captures a period of time.”

Tracey is also drawn to the psychological interactions that occur during a photo shoot. “I love the connecting part. I was drawn to portrait photography because I thought, “This is cool. I would like to be connecting with people.””

“I also like the idea of bringing out the inner beauty of people. When we look at someone, we don’t see their wrinkles or flaws. Our friends and loved ones don’t see that. I want to bring out what our loved ones see.”

Tracey is finding a synergy between painting and photography. “There are lots of ways that photography has influenced my painting,” she said.  “In the past year, I feel like I’ve painted better than I ever have. I attribute that to photography. I also bring my painters artistic eye to photography.”

Tracey is currently preparing for a solo show for Pierce Gallery where she’ll be showing both painting and photography. “I saw it as an opportunity to have the two come together. I’ll be doing some fusion pieces that have both photography and painting in one piece. I don’t see photography overshadowing painting.

Watch for Tracey’s show opening in August at the Pierce Gallery in Dunlap. You can learn more about Tracy’s artwork at, and her photography at Tracey also worked with Peoria videographer Raphael Rodolfi to create a time lapse video of Tracey painting.

Tracey Frugoli – Juliet from Videogenique on Vimeo.

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About Craig

I have a passion to create, and I'm fascinated with the tools and technologies of creativity. My process is to interpret the scene through a combination of camera position, light and post-processing to present my unique vision and share the emotion I feel.