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20 Years in The Game, Illustrator Mitch Frey Schools Us On What He Does Best

 20 Years in The Game, Illustrator Mitch Frey Schools Us On What He Does Best

Today we have a chat with illustrator Mitch Frey about his extensive career and passion as an illustrator. Happy Phuza Thursday. Enjoy!

Who is Mitch Frey and what do you do?

For the past 20 years, I’ve been creating illustrations in Portland, Oregon, USA.

If artists were motor vehicles, I’d be a pick-up truck.  Pretty versatile- can carry a load, and take you to where you need to go. A bit dinged up, but that patina tells you I’m experienced, dependable, and ready to get the job done.  But hey, I’m also eager for adventure, to kick up some mud and blaze new trails. Hop in, slam the door and let’s get rolling.

How would you define your style or art?

That’s a tough one to pin down, since unlike many artists, I do not have a single signature style. So let’s take them one by one:

Woodcut: This is the style that I worked in when I started out back in the early ’90s. There’s a range here, from literal, highly detailed engraved look, to simpler and expressive.  I prefer creating the latter, but am more than happy to go conservative for the client.

Vintage poster style: I began developing this WPA-inspired look at the turn of the century. It also has a range from highly detailed and realistic to simple Art Deco-inspired.  Both are mostly made up of flat shapes of color, although some of the simpler variation includes a spattered airbrush gradation. Color palettes tend to be muted and limited.

Line over Color: I developed this simple, whimsical style for spot illustrations.  It is very commercial and has been applied to many assignments over the past 15 years.

Simple Vector: All of my styles can be vector, but this one shouts it. There’s a range here too, from flat minimalism to info-graphic.  I enjoy using bright playful colors, and stylized renderings of people.  I would prefer a bit of a wacky interpretation of objects, scenes and people, but often the typical client understandably requires a more corporate and mainstream approach. The info-graphic look is my latest development as I continue to experiment stylistically.


What inspires your work?

I love the craft and the creative expression that I get to experience, but the number one purpose in this for me is to provide for my family. Serving the client while also creating something that appeals to my aesthetic is very inspirational as well.  Providing excellent service with a positive attitude appeals to me on two levels:  Firstly, treating people right fulfills me in the most basic way. Secondly, it’s good for business, which circles back to the main goal of supporting my family.

In terms of creative expression, communicating about an idea or product that I believe in gets me pumped up. I also want to have fun along the way, so working in a style that allows for an enjoyable process inspires better results.

What are you currently working on?

I’m contributing simple line drawings for an ongoing series of animated short interview/documentaries for Nike. This is a fun project in that I get to collaborate with my brother, Dave Frey, of Sound Images, and my nephew Tyler Frey who works the motion graphics angle. They do fantastic work. The art accompanies Phil Knight and other Nike originals as they are filmed telling stories about the history of the company.

15 food icons for Rhythm Superfoods for their Baked SuperChips product line. Artist Rep: Christine Prapas…she’s such a fantastic advocate and friend. Agency: Koopman Ostbo. Creative Director: Robert Shepard…always smooth sailing and fun to work with Robert.

Info-graphics for Portland General Electric.  I’ve been working with designer Cindy Classen of two • c creative on PGE’s Update for the past 18 years, and with our recent introduction of the info-graphic approach, we get to collaborate even more. Cindy does stellar work and has become a close friend in the process. I am also very thankful for the long working relationship I have had with PGE. They have been the one constant throughout my career.

Portland poster. Self initiated in the simple vector style.

Woodcut-style self portrait. I’ve started over a couple of times as I experiment stylistically. Just for kicks and to explore the medium.


 What advice would you give young creatives looking to do what you do?

If you aren’t sure of what style you would like to work in, then you can browse online directories or artist communities like Behance to see what excites you. Not to copy, but to gain direction and inspiration.

When determining if a style will be a good fit for me to explore, I have to ask myself three main questions:

1) Is it going to sell?  This may require some research into marketing trends. Look at ads, collateral, magazine articles, product packaging, etc.  Depends on what you are interested in selling for.

2) Is it something I can do and make my own? We all take inspiration from other artists, but the trick is to put your own unique aesthetic into it.  Hopefully enough that it becomes recognizable as only yours. Just because you are drawn to a certain style doesn’t mean that you can do it.  Try it and see. If you can’t then go easy on yourself. Use the experience as an opportunity to learn about yourself and what may be a better fit for your particular skill set and temperament.  For instance, I’m finding that for my level of patience and desire for creative expression, that the “less is more” approach is a better fit than highly detailed and realistic.  I am happy doing either, but am preferring the simpler path over time. These things you may learn through the years, or in your initial trials. This leads to the third question…

3) Can I see myself doing this over and over and over again?  You gotta love doing it or it will become a drudgery with repetition. Even when you like doing something, when it’s a job it becomes less recreational, because a client is deciding or directing much of what you create. So find out what you really love doing and then you will enjoy your work, even when it is for someone else.


Show mediocre work. Show styles that you can do but that you don’t like doing. Give up or stagnate. Undersell yourself…remember, your mechanic makes $60-$85 per hour, and that is acceptable. You can set your rate and if a potential client balks at it, let them hire someone else.  You will find that respecting yourself and your value is a selling point to the best potential clients.  Undersell yourself and you will have crummy clients. It’s hard to get motivated when you’re under-appreciated.


Provide the best service you can. Treat each project as a potential portfolio piece. Adapt to the ever-changing world that you create in. Go places(I’m telling myself this too), see and do things, exchange ideas, both online and in the real world.  This is the stuff of inspiration.


Where can our readers follow your work? 


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