Sunday, December 22, 2013


"Goldenrod" 10x8 acrylic
I knew when I started this painting what it would be a challenge. I'm really not used to painting in such an impressionistic style, but I'm very happy with the results!

Monday, December 16, 2013

"Old Gray Warrior"

"Old Gray Warrior" 11x14 acrylic
Sometimes I just have to put a painting away for a while and let it rest. Often I reach a sticking point where no matter how hard I try, I just seem to spin my wheels and make absolutely no progress. This was one of those paintings. After several days of productive work, suddenly it seemed as though every brush stroke made the painting worse. It was time to stop for a while and work on other projects. Finally, almost 3 weeks later I was able to look at the piece with fresh eyes and get it back on track. Once it started moving forward again, I was able to finish it up a few sessions later.
I think this one is destined for the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, SC.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Get Something Started (WIP)

As the year is quickly drawing to a close, I've been itching to work on a large painting or two. Last week I went out to the garage and cut a 20x40 panel with this mule deer piece in mind. The image above shows the first layer of very thin paint. This underpainting will be almost completely cover with subsequent layers of thicker paint, but sets the tone for what the finished piece will eventually look like.
The remainder of the painting will be slow going, but I will try to post progress photos from time to time. Stay tuned.
Special thanks to my friend Ray Brown for providing reference photos for this painting.

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Rock Star"

"Rock Star" 12x20 acrylic

I struggled for several months with this painting. I was happy with the rocks and ferns, but couldn't seem to nail the bird. So I tried several times with multiple bird species, never really happy with the results. Finally, after the magnolia warblers and white-throated sparrows were painted out, a black-capped chickadee took up residence and seemed right at home.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Quiet Water"

"Quiet Water" 9x6 acrylic
The last painting ready for the Waterfowl Festival!!! Time to start packing!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Waterfowl Festival 2013

I'm hoping to finish all my last minute painting and framing over the weekend. It's sure to be another fun show... especially if the weather is good like last year!

Monday, October 28, 2013

"October Orange"

"October Orange" 9x6 acrylic
These small landscape/foliage experiments are a lot of fun. It's always a challenge to get the colors close to reality without pushing them too far.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bison Sketches

The past few weeks have been filled with time spent drawing. Bison are such a cool subject for drawing. Their musculature makes for interesting shadow and highlight combinations.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Sketchbook Pages

Some days I just don't feel like painting. It is however, a rare day when I don't feel like drawing. Here are just a few pages of pencil studies from the past two days. Keep drawing!!!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

"Pocket Water"

"Pocket Water" 17.5x10 acrylic
My love of trout water has always drawn me to places like this. Being able to capture scenes like this with brush and paint is an added bonus spending time here with a fly rod. Only good things come from visiting places like this.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Drawing.... AGAIN!!!!

"There is always time to draw, so stop making excuses and just do it!"

Yesterday's field study
It seems I say that a lot these days. During the course of a 4-day show, I'll bet I get asked a dozen times by young artists what it would take for them to be a better painter. The answer is always straight forward and simple. DRAW!

But there are always excuses. "I don't like to draw." "I don't have time." "I only want to paint." Blah blah blah. 

Drawing is the one skill seemingly forgotten among many up-and-coming artists. With the incorporation of digital photography and powerful (and very useful!) programs like Photoshop, drawing skills seem to be largely ignored. Instead of using photography and Photoshop to complement a solid concept derived from a sound creative process, they are used as a crutch or a shortcut to bypass the necessary skills needed to produce good art. That is a huge and very noticeable mistake.

A quick gesture study from a photo on the internet

Most people look, but do not truly see what's in front of them. Their perception is based on what they think they know about an object, rather than actual observation. The ability to block out this preconceived noise and learning to actually see is the most important part of creating representational art. Nothing can teach a person how to see better than constant and repetitive drawing exercise.

So... my young artist friends... buy a sketchbook. Hell! Buy 4 or 5 cheap ones! And start filling the pages with what you see. It's always interesting to look at the pages of a full and tattered sketchbook and see the progress from the first page to the last. It is at that point you will learn the importance of drawing. It is always a productive and enjoyable way to pass the time.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Prelude to Autumn"

Inspired by a recent day afield, this small painting came together rather nicely. I may need to explore the possibility of painting this motif in a larger format.

"Prelude to Autumn" 8x6 acrylic

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Plein Air Afternoon

I've been wanting to do more plein air work recently, so today I took the afternoon and set out to find a suitable location to paint. It didn't take long to find a good spot. With the leaves starting to change to their autumn colors, I parked the truck and lugged my easel to an overgrown field in Goddard State Park. The warm sun felt good as I set up my easel and a young deer wandered by as if curious about my intentions.
It's funny how quickly time passes while I paint outdoors. I try to work fast hoping to capture the essence of a scene before the light changes too drastically. Today, I finally noticed I was starting to get cold and the sun was dropping behind the trees to the west. I'd been there for nearly 2 hours at that point and wished I'd brought along the sweatshirt I left in the truck.
As you can see in this last photo, the light was significantly different than it was when I started the painting. Still, I managed to get it to where I could say "done". 
I smiled as I hauled my gear back to the truck, happy with my effort. I'm looking forward to getting out there again soon!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Problems to Solve

I've been working on a piece titled "Rock Star" for several months and I can't seem to finish it to my satisfaction. It has been one of those paintings that came together very quickly, only to land with a thud at the end. It's spent a large part of the past 6 months leaning against the wall facing the corner... being punished like a rotten child!
The bird... the most important element... has been the sticking point. I've painted in several, only to paint them back out as though they had perched for a second and flown away. I have gone back and forth between a white-throated sparrow and a magnolia warbler... working many poses and gestures... but they feel stiff and lifeless to me. They don't yet feel like they belong in the painting and it frustrates the hell out of me!
So I am going back to the drawing. I may even change the species of bird (again!). I'll keep working until something clicks. It's not so bad. The challenge inspires me.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Plunge Pool"

"Plunge Pool" 14x11 acrylic
As a painter, the things that excite me, both in the studio and in the field, don't register much significance to my non-artist friends. It's nothing new when, after talking with me, someone wanders away muttering, "I always knew Bortz was nuts." I can't really disagree, but I'm quite happy in my little bubble of insanity.
In this painting, "Plunge Pool", I've achieved a couple of things that, in the past, have largely eluded me. I've been doing some experiments trying to get the natural green tones in my work to be more lifelike. I hit on some mixtures that seem to work well in most situations. Surprisingly enough, there is not a drop of "out of the tube" green paint in this piece. It was all worked out with subtle shifts in mixtures of various yellows and blues.
More importantly, there is an impressionistic quality to this piece not really noticeable in my previous work. Not that I haven't tried. Up to this point, most of my efforts toward this effect have come up miserably short. I like painting with bigger brushes. I'm just not very good at it. Smearing and blending big blobs of paint to get a desired look without a bunch of tiny brush strokes intrigues me. I smile every time I pull it off.
There are usually parts of a painting that are my favorites. This piece had several! I like the way the mossy boulders emerge from the background at the top of composition. It's out of character for me not to render a painting right out to the edges of the board. But here, the lack of detail in that area seems to work, allowing the viewers eye to take in the tumbling water without being distracted by unnecessary detail.
Even in the foreground of the painting, I've managed to paint the stream gravel with more of a suggestive technique rather than detailing every tiny stone. This makes me happy.
Is this a new direction for my art? Perhaps. I think there is a balance between "loose and painterly" and "photographic detail" that I'm constantly searching for. I may have found it with this painting. Now the challenge will be to do it again, prooving to myself this was no accident.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

"Flash - Rainbow Trout"

I thought it might be interesting to post some progress shots of my recent "Flash - Rainbow Trout" painting. Above, the preliminary block-in stage helps to establish the large shapes. The paint is pretty thin at this point and I work fast with a large brush. You can see some of the white charcoal outlines around the trout. I wanted to get the drawing correct on this important element at the very beginning. The colors seem pretty wild here and I was a bit concerned with how they would all fit together in the end.
In this image, I've refined the trout quite a bit. It's not quite where it needs to be, but at least it looks like a fish! I've also started to push the dark shape below the trout's head. It's a major element in the painting and the finished product will lean heavily on how well this area is handled.
Now things are really starting to take shape and it's starting to have an "underwater" feel. I've refined the mossy rocks on the bottom with rather large blobs of paint. Close up, the colors seem a bit ridiculous, but in the overall context of the painting, they're beginning to work. The blue swath of color behind the trout helps to give the image some depth.
More refinement and just about done. At this point, I need to set the painting aside for a few days. The rocks on the bottom are feeling a little overworked and I'm not happy with the transition between that blue swath in the middle and the rocks. That needs a bit of attention. Also, the slashes of light along the trout's body need some work. They're close, but not quite believable enough for my liking. The underside of the water's surface, on the other hand, is just about dead on.
"Flash - Rainbow Trout" 15x15 acrylic
FINISHED! I went back in with bigger brushes and simplified many of the shapes in the stream bed. I repainted nearly the entire trout to get the slashes of light to read properly and still have the trout recognizable as a rainbow. Now it's ready for a frame and the McKeever Show in September!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wood Duck Drake Study

I'm not a big fan of this type of motif... the profile "field guide" pose. It's been done thousands of times and I usually make it a point NOT to paint things like this. The pose itself is pretty boring and the bright over-the-shoulder lighting in the reference photo wasn't really adding much. There are however, some redeeming qualities to this image that made it worth taking on.

"Woodie" 6x8 acrylic

I was immediately drawn to the iridescent feathers on this wood duck's head. I knew it would be a challenge to get this to look "right" and would likely make or break the painting. The subtle transitions between blues, greens, purples, and blacks also give the head some volume and hopefully keep the painting from looking flat.
There were a few issues with the head and neck in the photo I was working from... mostly the outstretched neck with the head upright and alert. This is a problem with a lot of reference photos (especially of waterfowl). Our mere presence is enough to put the birds on edge and they always seem ready to flee. I wanted the duck to appear more relaxed, so I tucked the head down and back a bit, all but eliminating the neck.
The biggest challenge and the main reason I didn't dismiss this image as a potential painting was the patterns reflected on the water around the bird. I knew if I was successful, the water would be a subtle, yet powerful element to the painting few people would notice. If I was not successful, it would be a glaring miscue and EVERYONE would notice.


"Cloudburst" 11x14 acrylic

I'm always experimenting with different styles of painting. This one took a while to put together, but I'm happy with the results. I wanted to work with mostly larger brushes and blend the paint on the canvas (not always an easy task with acrylics). I learned a lot while working on this piece and it should help me moving forward with my art.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"Passing Through"

"Passing Through" 8x6 acrylic
This small study is another in my series of sky paintings. It also is the 3rd piece I've done using Golden's "Open" acrylics. The longer drying time is taking some getting used to, but has allowed some interesting brushwork. I've also noticed I'm having a bit of trouble photographing the open acrylics. I haven't quite figured out how to get the hues quite right. In other words... the painting looks a hell of a lot better than the image above!

Friday, July 5, 2013

"Rock Bottom"

"Rock Bottom" 5x7 acrylic

I love these little trout studies. I think I need to go fishing to get more reference material! :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

"Harbor Sunset"

Quick block-in
I always set goals for myself when it comes to my art. The big goal on the immediate horizon is learning how to paint better skies. Skies can be dark and brooding, subtle and quiet, or explosively brilliant. They offer a chance to add a splash of color to a painting than might otherwise seem obnoxious.

From my days of fishing the Buffalo Harbor area many years ago, this study depicts a November sunset over Lake Erie. It is the first of hopefully many more studies aimed at pushing my art to the next level. 

"Harbor Sunset" 4x6 acrylic

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Steady Progress

"Stone Wash" 9x12 study
It's been a while since I last posted. There has been an unusual amount of concentration in the studio on a commissioned painting and I've done little else. The piece is a larger version of a small stream study (right) I did earlier this year and though progress has been slow at times, the painting seems to be coming along quite nicely. The current painting is 22x16 which is a fairly large piece for me.
22x16 block in

I've included images of the block-in stage of the painting as well as the first stage of refinement. At this point, I will probably set the painting aside for a week or two and come back for finishing refinement with fresh eyes.
I hesitate to move onto another project when this one is going so well, but I always paint better if I let it sit for a while.
While the larger painting will be similar to the study, there will be some distinct differences. The pool at the bottom of the painting will hopefully appear much deeper than in the study and some of the foreground rocks will be eliminated.

First refinement


Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Middle America"

"Middle America" 5x10 acrylic
I get a kick out of trying new things with my art. This is not the typical "Bortz" painting, but a pretty cool piece nonetheless. This is the last of my minis for the History Meets the Arts show in Gettysburg (June 13-15). One more big one and I'll be all set.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Bounty of Spring

Like a lot of outdoor types, I like to occasionally harvest a bit of the seasonal bounty the land (and water) has to offer... especially if it means a chance to cook an outstanding meal! I'm always on the lookout for morels the first couple of weeks of May. Most times they're not easy to find, but very much worth the effort. Last night the morels were coupled with freshly caught rainbow trout, both sautéed in a bit of olive oil with a dash of lemon on the fish. A couple of ice-cold beers were also required... one while cooking and the other while eating. It was terrific!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Another Birds In Art Flight Begins!

My recent painting "Five Below" has been accepted into the 2013 Birds In Art exhibit! What an outstanding start to the day!!! I can't wait to get back to Wausau in September to catch up with all my BIA friends. Woo hoo!

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


"Apparition" 12x9 acrylic

I haven't been having much luck getting any projects finished lately. I have 7 paintings in various stages of incompletion. It felt good to sign and photograph this one today.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April at Its Finest

I left the studio yesterday morning at 9:00 setting off to explore a small trout stream I had not fished since I was a youngster. My calls to fishing partners the day before were unsuccessful, so I was on my own... and that was okay. The solitude would offer me the luxury of moving at my own pace, poking along the stream banks and lingering as the mood dictated.
Soon after I left the truck, the morning sun had warmed the countryside enough to make my fleece jacket unnecessary. I stuffed it into my daypack and started looking for trout.
It's funny how I can get distracted from the task at hand on days like this. Wildflowers carpeted the brushy stream banks and I found myself spending quite a bit of time photographing them. Trout lilies, spring beauty, and large toothwort (I think) were thriving in the rich soil of the valley floor. I happily crawled along the wet muddy ground shooting photo after photo.

Trout lily
Large toothwort

Caddis flies along the stream
With that out of the way, I got back to trout fishing. There were clouds of caddis flies hovering above the water. The streamside brush was covered with them. It wasn't long before I caught my first fish... a large fat brook trout that made me smile as I popped the hook from its jaw and let it swim away. That was a very good start!

Rainbow trout
The trout, mostly rainbows, were finicky. I fished long stretches of spectacular water without a sign of a fish, then happen upon a spot where I'd catch one and maybe miss another. The lengthy distances between fish contacts were puzzling. I don't feel like I ever really figured the fish out, so every time I managed to hook one, it seemed like I accomplished something.
One of many deer along the stream
The wildlife activity along the stream made me think the critters were enjoying the warm sun as much as me. Deer would wander up to me as I stood in the middle of the stream before realizing I was there. Turkeys scurried through the skunk cabbage. Ruffed grouse flushed ahead of me offering only a glimpse as they winged through the dense undergrowth. At one point, a sharp-shinned hawk nearly took my hat off as it zipped by.
This morning, my sore legs are a reminder of a great day afield. I can get back to my work in the studio with a renewed enthusiasm. Time to get busy!