We sit down and chat with Ray Frenden


My name is Ray Frenden. Raymond, technically, but almost no one calls me that. Most of the time, people truncate it even further to just “Frenden.”


My portfolio and blog resides at frenden.com; I’m just about to redo it. I feel like the current design, though fun, pigeon holes me a bit. Zombies and monsters are great, but I think I’ve taken that about as far as I can and I definitely have more diverse interests. Especially where my personal work is concerned.


I’m self taught. I went straight from high school into the workforce. I’d drawn a bit in elementary and high school, but nothing serious outside of a poorly funded, though well intentioned, high school art class that was positioned to teach you how to make a ceramic pot more than how to draw.

Essentially, I had a six year, or longer, hiatus between drawing in high school and starting up again. It took an additional three years of self teaching and learning from my peers before I started to illustrate full time. My early work is really abysmal, but I find that heartening, not depressing. It feels good to know I’ve made a lot of progress. And, being self taught, there’s a certain inherent insecurity that comes with the lack of proper tutelage. I’ll take all the good feelings about my work I can get.

Why/How Did you get into design?:

After a few dead end sales jobs, a profession I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy unless he was a soulless automaton capable of skewering babies with sabers, I happened into a print shop. I wore a lot of hats, but mainly that of print designer, project manager, and art director. A few years into the print shop gig, I got my hands on a Wacom tablet.

That pairing proved to be a fateful one; I started noodling on the thing more than I used it to arrange copy and touch up photos, that’s for sure. It was love at first click.

Before I’d stumbled upon Drawn.ca, it hadn’t occurred to me that one could earn a living as an illustrator. There, I met a fellow named Paul O’Sullivan (an illustrator who goes by Dro online), and he introduced me to a private art collective named Robot Face, which is since largely defunct. I learned a lot from the guys and gals that comprised the collective. Over the next three years, I practiced as often as possible. Over the last two, illustration has become a full time gig for me. My success has been largely dependent on surrounding myself with good people.

Favorite Project(s) that you have done:

Most of my favorite work isn’t commercial. I have a few personal works that I’m most proud of, but my opinions on my work change as often as the weather. I seldom feel satisfied, so the honest answer to your question is that there is no answer. Everything is in a constant state of flux. But, I guess that means I’m succeeding in my effort to continually improve and expand my body of knowledge even if the impetus for said improvement is a smidgen of insecurity mixed with a lot of ignorance. Check these out smart-ak .


Old comic books are my largest influence, stylistically speaking. Milton Caniff, Alfredo Alcala, Johnny Craig, Frank Frazetta; the list is long. To focus on one of them in more detail, if you aren’t familiar with the expressive brushwork of Caniff, please check him out. He doesn’t treat his lines as precious things.

I read somewhere that Stephen King says you have to be willing to kill your darlings. For me, my biggest “darling” is my instinct for really clean line. It’s a fine style, but it’s limiting. There’s something raw and real about an inky brush hitting a page and being okay with eventual screw ups or less than perfect strokes. There’s a humanity there that is lost in much, though not all, of the digital work people do.

How would you describe your Style:

In flux. I’m teetering between line-centric work and painterly, mass-centric pieces. I think that you have to have grasp on both. Definitely more illustrative than design driven, but even that is changing.

Is this your full-time gig?

Currently, yes. It has been for two years. The economy and the state of the illustration industry is making that a bit difficult. With a preponderance of amateur designers and illustrators working for much less than industry standard, the death of print, and the rise of stock, even a successful illustrator has a hard slough ahead of themselves.

I was talking with Michael Kupperman (of Snake ‘n Bacon fame), and he feels that illustration, as a career path, has been obviated. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. Even if you are lucky enough to have a full schedule, add up all the possible billable hours in a day. There’s still not enough money at the end of the year.

I’m trying to diversify a bit – make inroads into the fine arts scene. Moving to traditional work ought to help with that. Digital still has a stigma attached to it in most circles. I mentioned that I started the second chapter of my vocation learning to draw digitally. I’ve returned to the traditional fold. This is coming from a pretty unabashed digital apologist.

Selling product, earning money while you sleep, that’s the only way to make a decent living. It forgoes the limitations of billable hours. Prints, tees, skate decks, vinyl toys, etc. I’d rather not fill the world with more commercial pap, but I have a family to feed like everyone else.

Maybe my savior will be the graphic novel I’m working on.

One Piece of Advice:

Don’t obsess over what other people are doing. Be true to what motivates and interests you. Better work is almost always a result. Be willing to fight for, and educate clients about, decisions that you feel are important to a job. At the end of the day, you’re the one that has to live with being associated with the final product. Don’t sell yourself short. Ask for a fair wage.

Favorite Medium:

My favorite medium, lately, is traditional brush and ink work.

Favorite Website:

This is a bit of a plug, but I run an illustration collective (more like they run me) that has many of the members of Robot Face in its roster as well as some of the most talented folks I have had the privilege of meeting. Our group blog is http://styl.us, but my favorite part, and the part that satisfies your question, is the private forum. It’s a constant source of inspiration. The guys and gals there go out of their way to critique each other and spur each other on. Flickr is a close second.

Favorite Band at the Moment:

My favorite band is probably Grandaddy. Or Neutral Milk hotel. Or the Decemberists. Or Arcade Fire. Or…

Favorite Clothing Line:

My favorite line that I’ve worked with is probably 410bc. I usually wear plain, solid-color tees. Pocket optional. So my answer to your actual question is pretty boring. It figures. I illustrate tees for a living, but I don’t wear them.


  • thetshirtvault

    Amazing work!

  • thetshirtvault

    Amazing work!