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Portfolio of
 Neil Borrell 

New York, NY
United States

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Gallery Direct Interview with NEIL BORRELL

Neil’s finely detailed pen and ink drawings, of country and nautical scenes, take the viewer on a visual journey around the world. His works have been published and exhibited extensively throughout New York and Massachusetts as well as Spain.


When did you decide to become an artist and what formal or informal education have you found most useful during your career?

I guess I decided to become an artist in high school when I started doing posters for class dances and events. I thought I was going to be a cartoonist but quit drawing after a lot of rejection slips. I eventually sold a drawing to the New Yorker a long time later. I haven't had any formal education because I always felt that what I do is very personal and I just didn't want any rules


Who has given you the most inspiration and/or encouragement during your career as an artist, and how has this affected your work?

Definitely my wife, Geraldine. She has been an unending source of encouragement and knows when to step back when I don't want any more input.


Has pen and ink always been your choice of medium and what made you choose this medium above the rest?

I've tried everything but I really like the way pen and ink jumps off the page.

Menemsha Fishing Shack by Neil Borrell
Artwork-ID: 32-6650
Menemsha Fishing Shack

I see you have experimented with adding color to some of your pen and ink drawings. Could you tell us what medium you use to add color and why you only use this technique on occasion?

I used to plan on adding color after I finished a drawing but it never worked out. I would agonize over making the exact right color and then be unhappy with it. Usually I would like the result so much in black and white that I would be afraid to ruin it with color so I would leave it. I am slowly moving into color. The computer gives me the ability to scan the black and white, print it, and then experiment before adding color to the original. It is going very, very slowly but that's okay.


You seem to be drawn to nautical scenes and recording images that are historic or that will soon disappear. What is it that pulls you to these subjects?

I love the honesty of old commercial fishing boats. They are beautifully utilitarian and no two are exactly alike even though they all have a lot of the same parts. I think the old wooden ones disintegrate in a beautiful fashion. It's like their construction is being reversed by time.

Lagos, Algarve, Portugal by Neil Borrell
Artwork-ID: 32-6653
Lagos, Algarve, Portugal

Much of your artworks are scenes from places where you have travelled. Do you sketch these scenes and complete the drawing at a later date or do you complete the final image while at the site.

I always complete the drawing at the site. If I block out the entire drawing and fill information in I inevitably get something wrong. I generally hold the blank pad up in front of the scene I want to draw and that gives me some idea if it will fit on the paper. I tend to draw things the size that I'm seeing them. This is why I have trouble drawing in New York City, where I live. It is almost impossible to get far enough away from a lot of scenes I would like to draw.

Fireplace by Neil Borrell
Artwork-ID: 32-6200

Many artists work on more than one artwork at a time, returning to a piece of work many times to add more detail or color. Could you tell us a little about how you approach your work and how you decide when that image is complete?

I really like working on more than one drawing at a time. I can work steadily for about two hours before I start feeling that if I don't stop for awhile I'm going to just race through and be unhappy with the result. I can then move on to another drawing but it needs to be in a different location. I usually leave shadows and water level until the end. They both change over the course of the day and I promise myself I'll find my favorite time and come back and put them in. I always do the water but often leave a lot of shadows out. They seem like big blotches of black ink while I'm doing them even though I know that I'll like them afterwards. I try very hard to keep the image always complete enough to stop at any time, even though it isn't the entire scene I had planned. There is a surprising kind of deja vu moment when it comes to me that the drawing is done. At that point I'll usually show it to my wife and say something like; "I'm pretty sure this is done, what do you think?"

Menemsha Texaco by Neil Borrell
Artwork-ID: 32-5472
Menemsha Texaco

What are your favorite pieces of work you have done and why are they your favorites?

I must say that two of my favorites are actually two drawings put together into one. I did the last boards of an old fishing boat on a beach in Wellfleet on Cape Cod. I was so taken with the perspective and shading that I stopped with the boat sections. I always felt like something was missing. I had done another drawing some years earlier that was the scene from the backyard of a house we rented one summer in Barnstable, also on the Cape. I was never happy with the foreground of the second drawing. I put the foreground from Wellfleet on the background from Barnstable and it became one drawing; "Boat on the Beach" Even though I love drawing nautical things I think the rest of my favorites were done in Paris. I live in New York City and love it but Paris is something special. There's a drawing called "A Corner of Paris" that looks a little medieval. It's three narrow buildings. I was bored with two of the three shops on the ground floor of the buildings and made up shops for them. I enjoy the way it all comes together.

Boat on the Beach by Neil Borrell
Artwork-ID: 32-6201
Boat on the Beach

You are also an accomplished writer and story teller. Is this a natural talent or have you had some training in this field?

I have always enjoyed telling the story around an event and seem to be able to remember small details of what was going on when I was doing these drawings. I have never been trained in writing but I was a television director for forty years and I guess that helps in the detail part. Actually that's one reason I don't like a lot of advice while I'm doing a drawing. A television show involves a lot of people, each performing a small part of the whole. Even though I was the Director it's not possible to think of a show as belonging to only one person. I love that my drawings are just me and my pen and my pad.

Wellfleet Steps by Neil Borrell
Artwork-ID: 32-6197
Wellfleet Steps

You describe your series of work as an “Online Coffee Table Book.” Could you describe what this term means and how this process of illustrating a story with your artwork evolved?

I do a monthly email called "neilink". The idea was to feature one drawing each month and tell something of the story around the drawing. After the first one was done I realized how much like a coffee table book this was. Each month's chapter links to a "history" page that features other drawings and is perhaps more free form. I feel like it's a book sitting on your desktop with a drawing that's nice to look at and a story that is fun to read. I have realized for a long time that I can look at one of my drawings and remember many details like where I was sitting, what the weather was like, how people reacted to the drawing, whether anyone kept coming back to see. I try to put that flavor in the story.


Can we expect to see your Online Coffee Table Book published sometime in the future?

I certainly hope so. That's the plan. Now that I've completed the first year and am into the second I think I'm ready to offer it to a publisher.

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