Image of Tracy Frein with his artwork.

Tracy Frein with his artwork.


Tracy Frein is a colored pencil artist renown for using a technique he developed himself called Drawing by Subtracting. This method uses colored pencil on drafting film to help bring out elements of his canvas and subject such as texture and emotion. Tracy has lent his skill to top brands across the world but is most satisfied by the opportunities he has to capture his subject’s features as a portrait artist.


Interview with Tracy Frein by Cindy Wider

Q: Please tell us your preferred art name, year of birth and country of origin (where you were born and raised and where you are living now).

Image of "Pattern of Beauty" by Tracy Frein

“Pattern of Beauty” by Tracy Frein
Colored Pencil on Drafting Film – 21 x 30

A: My name is Tracy Frein and I was born in 1958  in the United States. I was born in Osage, Iowa and currently live in Chicago, Illinois.


Q: Tracy could you tell us when you first realised that you enjoyed creating art as a child and you were supported in your decision, if so by who?

A: I have always loved to draw. Even as a small child I used to copy the drawings of Charlie Brown and super heroes from comic books. In high school I was the artist for the school newspaper by day and at night I took private lessons from a retired commercial artist. On weekends I used lock myself in my room with a stack of 11×17 illustration boards, brushes and ink drawing political cartoons.


Extensive Experience

Q: What journey have you been on as an artist? For example when did you first begin to create art as an adult? Did you study at all and if so where? How was that experience?

A: In 1982 graduated with a BFA from University of Kansas. I worked my way through college doing freelance artwork for several businesses and departments on campus. My first job out of college was with a design agency in Chicago. I’ve been in the Package Design field for over 35 years working on projects from fortune 500 CPG companies like Quaker Oats, Kraft, Keebler, Gatorade.


Q: What is the primary motivation for why you create art? For example; Is it income or a burning passion to draw/paint?

A: I create art because that’s ALL I have ever done my whole life. When I felt I was not getting my creative outlet at work I started to draw at home.


Image of "July" by Tracy Frein

“July” by Tracy Frein
Colored Pencil on Drafting Film – 17 x17


Art in Daily Reality

Q: What goes through your mind while you draw/paint, is there a calm silence, do you listen to music or do you experience doubt, fear or any emotions at all? If you experience fear or doubt what do you do to overcome these feelings?

A: I usually have the TV on as background noise. If I really need a push I will put on music. I’m usually trying to stay one step ahead of myself. As I draw I’m figuring out how to solve the next problem and how it’s going to affect the rest of the piece.


Image of "Kel" by Tracy Frein

“Kel” by Tracy Frein
Colored Pencil on Drafting Film

Q: How do you make time to include art in your life, do you have any suggestions to help others manage their creative lives?

A: Dedicate at least one hour a day. Pretty soon you will be rearranging your schedule to draw. I find myself working out drawing problems in my head as I drive.


Developing Technique

Q: Is drawing and creating artworks your only profession or main business. If not, what else do you do for work?

A: I spent over 35 years in package design. I work for Southern Graphics Systems as an Artwork Project Manager on site at Kraft Heinz in Chicago.

I teach Colored Pencil Classes at LilStreet Art Center as well as workshops around the country teaching my technique Drawing by Subtraction to other artists.


Q: Do you have any special unique advice or skills you are willing to share with other artists who are learning to create artworks at this very high standard that you are working at? 

A: I share my skills through my workshops and various Facebook pages. You may visit my Facebook page here: fb.com/tracy.frein


"Summer's Worth" by Tracy Frien

“Summer’s Worth” by Tracy Frien
Colored Pencil on Drafting Film – 24×16


Achievements in Art

Q: Tracy please tell us about any significant awards you have won or exhibitions that have made an impact on your life. Include any significant appearances in magazine articles, interviews, Television, radio, News papers etc. Tell us how these have helped to advance your art career.

“Fallen Petal Waiting Patiently For My Rebirth” by Tracy Frein
Colored Pencil on Drafting Film – 20 x 30

A: Ever since I started Drawing by Subtraction I have won many awards and been juried into Colored Pencil shows as well as non CP shows. I’ve earned my signature status for CPSA and CPX (experimental) over the last 3 years. I was an award winner in the second CPSA International Exhibition and was asked to come back the following year to teach a two day sold out workshop. My latest accomplishment is winning honorable mention in Shades of Grey exhibition and being featured into Drawing Magazine in spring of 2017.


Framing the Future

Q: What major and significant goals and influences do you have for your art if any? Tell us who or what inspires you to be the best you can be as an artist.

A: Black and White photography is a huge inspiration. I study the shadows, textures and compositions. I find if I limit myself to following just Colored Pencil artists, I am missing out on a whole world of unbelievable creative and talented artists.


Q: Where do you see your art going into the future, do you have any goals at all for your long term development?

A: I’ve started to work on Nudes and partial Nudes. I did a photo shoot a few weeks ago and out of around 300 photos I have selected around 4-6 to make into drawings. I’m going to continue to enter multi media shows. I find competing in multi media shows are a true gauge on how your work stands up to critics.


“My Last Flamenco” by Tracy Frein
Colored Pencil on Drafting Film – 17 x 15


Drawing By Subtraction

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to tell me about your art journey so far and your inspiration to create art, that I could include in your interview to inspire others?

A: As a portrait artist my inspiration is drawn solely from my subjects and their hidden emotional truths. To be able to capture those emotions, I model my work in black and white colored pencil on drafting film. I have created a unique process where I literally strip away the colored pencil from the surface to expose the hidden values and retain a textured surface. I call this process “Drawing by Subtraction”. Working with a limited pallet allows me to concentrate on the forms, values and shadows. This limited pallet helps expose those dark and sometimes destructive emotional truths that may plaque my subjects.

Each subject is a compelling visual portrayal of the human spirit, determination and courage. Working off drafting film allows me to capture these hidden emotions while creating the depth and transparency that gives the illusion of distance in the subject’s features. I strive to show the viewer that while at first glance my subjects seem serene and normal, but show a sense of inner frailty. This inner frailty is what has moved me into my next series documenting my subjects dealing with mental illness.


Image of "Claire Teenage Angst" by Tracy Frein<br> Colored Pencil on Drafting Film - 17x 24

“Claire Teenage Angst” by Tracy Frein
Colored Pencil on Drafting Film – 17x 24



DrawPJ.com would like to sincerely thank Tracy Frein for sharing with us his unique technique in “Drawing by Subtraction” experiences and advise for colored pencil and portrait artists who would like to pursue their art. We wish him all the best in achieving his future goals and commend his achievements to date.


To see more from Tracy Frein, check out his work at the links below: