1537 W Oakey Blvd., Las Vegas, NV 89102
Monday – Friday 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM
“Don Rickles with a Pen”
Neal Portnoy is an internationally acclaimed artist and entertainer who has been drawing since he was five years old, and over the years, he has had his art published thousands of times. Neal spends his days at Portnoy Gallery, where he draws and showcases his one-of-a-kind originals.
If you’ve ever wondered how highly talented and passionate creatives spend their day, NSAEN sat down with Neal Portnoy to find out. We go behind the scenes to learn how he got into illustrating, to hear about some of the notable projects he has worked on and is working on, his commitment to his craft, how he built his career and his brand to this point, how he uses his illustrations to tell a story, and how he brings to life the characters he creates.
NSAEN: Have you always been artistic?
Neal Portnoy: Since I was five years old, and I have no formal training, it’s an ability I was born with; it’s my passion. I tell people if you don’t have a passion for what you do, then do something else. Listen, I don’t want to pat myself on the back, but I am a damn good artist. You have to believe in yourself because if you don’t, no one else will.
NSAEN: Have you always used your art to make a living?
Neal Portnoy: Yes
NSAEN: You call yourself a portrait artist or a caricature artist or both?
Neal Portnoy: I am a creative, and I call myself an illustrator, but I can do caricatures and portraits; I also do commissioned art.
NSAEN: Who are some of the most famous subjects?
Neal Portnoy: Frank Sinatra, Mr. Las Vegas himself – Wayne Newton – Jay Leno, and sports legends Jack Nicklaus, Red Sox Hall of Famer, Ted Williams; Walter Zenga, quarterback Drew Bledsoe, WNBA star Rebecca Lobo, former Boston Red Sox outfielder Dwight Evans, hockey great Ray Bourque, and Doug Flutie, Jr. Creating limited edition lithographs for these sports stars earned me the title of “The Norman Rockwell of Sports Artists.”
NSAEN: You only use felt-tip markers; how did that come about?
Neal Portnoy: I used to use nothing more than pen and ink. Pen and ink is all crosshatch.
NSAEN: What is cross hatch?
Neal Portnoy: Crosshatch is when you do a line horizontally and then vertically; you keep adding the lines to create the illusion of shade or texture in a drawing. Then I tried Sharpie Markers. I asked myself, ‘Why am I trying to do 300 lines to get black. When you make one line with a Sharpie, you get the same effect. Then I found out they made Sharpies in different colors, then I went to design markers and then to Chartpak AD Markers, and they have over 200 colors. I don’t say Magic Markers because it’s a brand name; the correct terminology is that I work with “felt-tip markers.” If you put a paintbrush in my hand, I am useless.
NSAEN: Tell us about your time with the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Neal Portnoy: I worked as the illustrator at the RJ for 16 months. I was published 197 times on the front page of every section, including national recognition for my Trump/Pence Inauguration Day drawing on the front page of the paper.
NSAEN: I understand you are active in philanthropic causes, and you use your work to help raise money. Can you explain a little about that?
Neal Portnoy: We love giving back to the community. I work a lot with non-profits and many different charities, especially where children are involved. I have a passion for children! I’ve done work for the Children’s Miracle Network and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children. An illustration of Mike Krzyzewski, Hall of Fame coach from Duke – 1,000 prints numbered and signed — raised $374,000 that built a wing in Duke Children’s Hospital. Now I’m working with the Tyler Robinson Foundation on a very similar project that has the potential of raising $500,000 for the Foundation; all the money will go to the kids and The Tyler Robinson Foundation!
NSAEN: How long have you had your art studio in Las Vegas?
Neal Portnoy: I have owned Portnoy Gallery since 1974.
NSAEN: So everything on display in your Gallery is for sale?
Neal Portnoy: Yes, everything in my Gallery and on my website, from originals to reproductions of the originals on multiple different surfaces from paper, canvas, and acrylic to textiles and reproductions in newspapers, magazines, and publications.
Reproduction rights, the keyword is ‘published.’ Published means, how will you reproduce the artwork? Will it be featured on the cover of a magazine, will it be printed on a wearable item, or will it be double matted and framed on somebody’s wall? Multiple uses, reproductions…keyword ‘published.’
NSAEN: So not only are you a talented artist, but you’re also an athlete and an entertainer, and people book you for corporate and special events?
Neal Portnoy: Yes, they book me as an entertainer. I am an entertainer who just so happens to be able to draw. It’s a live performance with a quick sketch, humorous caricature, cartoons — for the entire five minutes that it takes to do a full-color cartoon, you can’t shut me up. I am a comedian, but the real entertainment is taking a white piece of paper and suddenly making it come to life in five minutes. People want to listen to me as much as they want to be drawn because I am very quick-witted and humorous; I pick on everyone; I roast anyone within ears distance.
NSAEN: So have you always been funny?
Neal Portnoy: Yea! (Sidebar, I guess you had to be there, but that made me laugh right out loud)!
NSAEN: Do people come to your studio for a drawing?
Neal Portnoy: No, I do everything from a picture.
NSAEN: I heard you were an athlete.
Neal Portnoy: Former athlete. I played semi-professional baseball for two years and coached college baseball for 14 years. I got started with my own art studio after an injury derailed my hopes of playing professional baseball. So I enhanced my abilities as a sports artist by illustrating everything from Media Guide covers to Hall of Fame award portraits for schools nationwide.
NSAEN: I am dying to find out how you got your drawing in the new Allegiant Stadium.
Neal Portnoy: Persistence. I went after them; the drawing was done before they even got to Vegas. I did an 18′ x 24′ drawing that took me two weeks to complete. I heard the Raiders were moving to Vegas, so I said, ‘You know what, they’re going to build this new stadium, and I would love my drawing to be at the entrance when people walk in.” A drawing of the greatest names in the Raider’s history, so I started drawing. I researched contact numbers, sent emails, posted on social media trying to find out who knows who, who knows what — and then when I finally got through to them — they said to me, “We are very aware of who you are, everyone has seen your drawing.” They hired an art firm who reconfigured my original drawing to fit in a 28′ x 40′ space going up the escalator inside the stadium, which I had to okay before they mounted it on the wall. The NFL and the Las Vegas Raiders now own the original artwork, but they still need my approval before reproducing it onto anything because the artwork is signed by me.
NSAEN: What are some things you can add your artwork to — greeting cards, canvas, glassware, cups, tote bags, awards — the possibilities seem endless.
Neal Portnoy: Yes, it has all been done.
NSAEN: So what do you see for your future, do you want to expand?
Neal Portnoy: Yes, I always want to expand. I will always have my studio, although it’s more like a museum with 48 years of artwork. We have events all the time so people can come to see what I do. It’s overwhelming; you have to see it to believe it.
I want to be on Ellen; I want to be on Jimmy Kimmel, Good Morning America, to show the world my art. I have a unique style; literally, no one in the country can do what I can do with felt-tip pens. I certainly haven’t seen anyone, and no one else has either. There are better artists out there than me, but the fact that I am a portrait caricature artist at heart, when I cross over to do an illustration, I’m not trained anatomy-wise to know the structure…there’s always caricature in it, but it looks exactly like the person, I am to capture personalities; it’s not a distorted or a gross exaggeration like most caricatures.
If you look at any piece on the walls in my Gallery, no matter where you are in the Gallery, the eyes look back at you; the eyes talk to you. That’s emotion, that’s personification; uniquely important. In caricature, every line is an expression, and there is caricature in every illustration.
NSAEN: Let’s end with some personal stuff. Where are you from originally, are you married, how do you like living in Las Vegas?
Neal Portnoy: I’m married to my beautiful wife and business partner, Dorothy, I’m from Holden, Mass; I have two sons. We’ve lived in Vegas for five years, and we love it!
NSAEN: Thank you so much for taking the time to tell us about yourself.
Neal Portnoy: My pleasure.
NSAEN: There is no end to Neal’s talent! This larger-than-life personality is a comic, an entertainer, and a talented artist. If you’ve been “Portnoyed” and included in Neal’s distinguished collection, or you own an original Portnoy, consider yourself lucky.