Tracey Frugoli’s Paintings of Beauty

by Channy Lyons

Tracey Frugoli has more paintings in her mind than she'll ever be able to paint. When she sets a blank canvas on the easel, she has already sifted through reminders and images she likes and decided which one she feels excited about starting today.

"I have a vision in my mind of where I am going with this painting," she says, pointing to a watery scene clamped onto her easel. She draws the shapes in first—a bright water lily, the lily pad it rests on, and the frog half-hidden in the greenery nearby. Her shapes are rudimentary, drawn with a paintbrush, not a pencil. She will build them up, layer by layer, to create a sensual scene. Her scenes are so vivid that you think you can put your hand into that murky water as you float past the lilies in the creek.

She paints in an American Impressionist style, which means her paintings are slightly more realistic than the French Impressionists', and they make use of stronger value contrasts to achieve dramatic effects. Her brushstrokes are usually vigorous, creating a thick, juicy appearance on the canvas which gives energy to her paintings. Sometimes, when a quieter subject determines it, she creates a thinner, more subdued finish.

In her studio at the Murray Center for the Arts in downtown Peoria, Tracey is surrounded by finished works painted by her and her studio-mate, pastel and oil portraitist Ken Tiessen. At one end of the large room are her supplies and lights, her easel, a bed covered with fabric as a sofa, a wide-back Victorian-style loveseat, and collections of small objects she uses when demonstrating to her painting students what light does to different shapes. The adjoining room, where Ken works, has additional storage space where she keeps costumes and a hanging shoe organizer with pockets filled with beads and other items used as props in her paintings.

A Healing Message
Tracey wasn't always a painter. She began as a metal crafter and jewelry artist at Illinois State University, and then worked in sculpture for a semester until she discovered art therapy. “I thought, ‘This is for me. This is what I can do for a lifetime.’” She studied at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, receiving her master’s in art therapy, and went to work.

Therapy is often heart-wrenching. “I wore my emotional armor every day,” she says. It's tough to see what people do to one another, and the long-term effects actions can have. "I give therapists who have worked in their careers for 20 years a lot of credit. They are uniquely suited to do it for so long."

Tracey needed something she could do to take her out of herself, “something that was healing and beautiful.” She began to paint, mostly landscapes. "Connecting to the land, which is so much larger than we are, helps you feel that you aren't really so important."

Before long, she realized that she preferred painting to art therapy. "I was able to apply what I learned about emotional upheaval in my therapy work to my paintings." She knew that with her artwork, she could put out a healing message.

Beauty in Mind
As a painter, Tracey forms an authentic, intimate connection with the subject, which dictates the manner in which she will portray it. That makes the painting unique. That makes it beautiful. And beauty is what she is after.

That’s also what draws people to her work. She is the artist you see in a pale pink cowboy hat, working at her easel at the annual Fine Art Fair on the Peoria Riverfront. Passersby stop to watch and want to know how long it takes her to do a painting. "Well," she says, "to be a good painter took me 12 years of training and practice." Add to that a month or two to complete some paintings, less for others, and you'll have an idea of the timing. "In my mind, I know where I am going. All I have to do is make the vision come from here”—she points to her head—“to my brush and onto the canvas."

What she hopes is that her paintings touch a viewer's soul. There is a "sense of wholeness" in things that are beautiful, she feels. That's what she offers you. a&s

To see some of Tracey Frugoli's work, visit her website at or her blog at Visit her studio at the Murray Center, 100 Walnut Street in Peoria, from 5 to 9pm on the first Friday of each month for the First Fridays studio tour.