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Artist paints watercolors after stopping 50 years ago
Aug 09

Janesville Gazette

MILTON, Wis. (AP) _ Al Bortles started painting with watercolors in the mid-1960s. He stopped after about four years.

Now some 50 years later, he's back at it, the Janesville Gazette reported .

He has painted about 35 pieces since he picked up his brushes again, about three months ago, he said.

``Once I get going, I get cranked up. I can't quit,'' the 83-year-old said last week as he showed his paintings of flowers, buildings and landscapes in the Milton apartment he shares with his daughter.

Bortles was one of the artists who sold their pieces at the Tallman Arts Festival on Sunday, Aug. 6.

The short answer about why he stopped painting: He got busy with other creative endeavors. The results dot the Rock County landscape.

He built a house for his family on Janesville's west side in 1965, with his own hands, and later got into contracting for residential and commercial buildings.

His projects included an art gallery he ran on Highway 14 on Janesville's north side in 1971. Later, he built churches and log homes.

He was a contractor for Bethel Baptist and Christ Presbyterian in Janesville and Hope Lutheran in Milton, he said.

He dabbled in early efforts to use geothermal heating and cooling, including at the former Gunness Art Center in Janesville, he said.

Bortles grew up in the Baraboo area. He and his wife were new parents in 1956, and he was working for $1 an hour, 80 hours a week, to make ends meet. That's when he heard Janesville Paper Box Co. had a job.

Over the years he worked for Parker Pen and designed packaging machines for Panoramic. He also designed tools and molds for the then-fledgling Prent Corp., he said.

He's been called a design engineer, but he has no formal training.

He has talent in his eyes and hands, however, and enthusiasm that has blossomed into a variety of creative projects.

The 83-year-old has kept busy for years with history research and making memorial photo collages for businesses and organizations, among other endeavors.

One project is selling reproductions of his ink drawing of the Mayflower. The drawing is laser-etched into wood. He's a member of the Mayflower Society and a descendant of Edward Doty, a servant on that historic ship.

After moving his family to Janesville years ago, Bortles discovered the same Doty family had made its mark here, being among the first settlers and later owning a manufacturing company that produced an early hand-cranked washing machine.

Another relative served in the Civil War, and Bortles portrays him as a Civil War re-enactor.

A few months ago, he thought he might help pay the rent if he got back into watercolors. He likes the various techniques available, and he likes how fast he can create a piece. He has finished some in just three hours of work, he said.

He likes a technique he learned that fools the eye into seeing dewdrops on flower petals.

It all started, he said, when he wanted a painting of mountains in Wyoming for the house he had built, but he couldn't find one he liked. He decided to paint his own. Soon after, he underwent stomach surgery, and he found painting was great therapy for recovery.

That's how it's gone for Bortles over the decades. One thing led to another, and that creative urge appears as strong as ever.


Information from: The Janesville Gazette, http://www.gazetteextra.com

By The Associated Press, Copyright 2018