Thursday, 22 March 2012 16:03

Airbrush Artist JoAnn Bortles is Writing Her Seventh Painting Book

Airbrush artist JoAnn Bortles, who owns Crazy Horse Custom Painting, and lives in Waxhaw, NC, started airbrushing her art onto motorcycles as a teen in the seventies on a dare. A lifelong interest in art led her to Parson’s School of Design in New York City, but she eventually had to return to suburban Connecticut to help out her parents. She had taken welding classes in high school and became a certified welder after returning home. She worked various factory jobs for the next few years until the words “If you’re such a hotshot artist, why don’t you try and paint my bike tank?” jolted her into the world of custom painting.

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Her painting career really took off after the unexpected death of a friend in 1993. Her friend David had always pushed JoAnn to take her painting to the next level, saying she should be more serious about her talent. After he passed away unexpectedly JoAnn decided to honor his memory by taking a crack at becoming a professional custom painter. So she moved to Florida, which then, as now, was a hot spot for custom painting and honed her craft.

“Being around all these great painters made me really want to up my game,” said JoAnn. While in Florida JoAnn met and married her husband (now ex-) and they moved to Waxhaw in 1996. When she got to North Carolina, JoAnn realized it was a totally different game and since she was relatively unknown in the area she had a hard time finding people who would let her paint their cars.


“Those first years in North Carolina were pretty rough,” said JoAnn. She painted hot rods, motorcycles, boats, just about anything she could.

Then in 1998 JoAnn showed six motorcycles she painted at the Easyriders Bike Show in Charlotte, NC. The six bikes took home the six top trophies, including Best of Show. This got the attention of one of the Easyriders Magazine editors and he told her if she did well at their show in Columbus, OH, that the magazine would do a feature story on her. JoAnn’s Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute bike won Second Place Best of Show at the Columbus show, so the magazine did the article on her.

The publicity from the article and her awards at Charlotte attracted many more customers and was a turning point for her career. JoAnn was featured in (and wrote her own articles for) Southern Living, Easyriders, VTwin, Street Rodder, Hot Rod, American Iron, Ironworks, Hot Bike, VQ, and many other magazines.

She has also written no fewer than six books on custom painting with publisher Motorbooks. Her first book “How to Custom Paint Your Motorcycle” was published in 2005. JoAnn is currently working on her seventh book with SATA Spray Equipment, to be titled The Complete Guide to Automotive Painting: From Prep to Final Coat, which will have a heavy focus on waterborne painting techniques, using PPG’s Envirobase waterborne paints in particular.

The book is slated to come out in 2013 and will have two main sections. The first half will focus on vehicle restoration from plastic repairs to sheet metal to body restoration. JoAnn’s welding and bodywork background will shape this how-to section. The second half will focus on custom painting using both waterborne and solvent techniques. One of the main projects in the book will be restoring a 1967 Firebird that has been waiting for attention for 20 years.

The car is “pretty rough” says JoAnn, but by the end of the year she will have the car restored completely. The book will detail this process and JoAnn hopes it will show her readers how manageable a big project can be if approached with the right attitude and processes. The goal is to make the book answer any question about bodywork, painting and custom work. The book will be available through all SATA jobbers worldwide in addition to being sold on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.

JoAnn started using PPG paints in 1995, and she says she couldn’t be happier with their products.

“PPG is without a doubt the most user-friendly product I’ve ever used,” said JoAnn, “And that’s what makes it the best bargain for painters. The high quality of PPG products actually save painters time and money. PPG products make my painting life easier.”

JoAnn stands behind her work and the durability of PPG’s products with a consumer guarantee on her work for 5 years.

JoAnn also says that of all the waterborne paints she has used, PPG paints the smoothest with the tightest lines. She finds it especially unique for painting woodgrain faux finishes. She also still uses PPG’s solvent-based paints for some applications.
“Whether I’m using solvent or water, I use whatever works best for the painting situation,” said JoAnn.
JoAnn also likes SATA Spray Guns. She recalls first starting out using the cheapest equipment she could find. Then when she met the people at SATA and tried out their products she said she realized why you would pay more to use these guns.

“Paint is so expensive,” said JoAnn, “When the paint is all mixed and you’re ready to go into the booth, is not the time to find that you have a problem with your paint gun. And time is money. Having good quality equipment makes all the difference.”
Joann now uses SATA guns exclusively on her work.

“Using good equipment changed the way I work,” said JoAnn. She is really thankful for some of her other product relationships, including Evercoat, Gerson, American Tape and Meguiar’s.

“Just being able to say I work with these companies is a very humbling experience, it shows just how far I have come,” said JoAnn.

JoAnn says her process really depends on the vehicle she is working on; she generally creates a pre-work drawing on the computer to show the client and get their input. Sometimes JoAnn and the customer will collaborate on the design a bit here, and sometimes the customer is happy with the initial drawing. Then after customer approval she starts painting. JoAnn basically free-hands a lot of the art; sometimes she uses Art Tool templates on more complicated projects.

“The templates are really a time saver,” said JoAnn. She often uses a combination of templates, sketching and free-hand to get the look she wants.

“Custom paint is only as good as what’s underneath it,” said JoAnn. And in her shop, much of the bodywork and prep are handled by her assistant David Malkin.
JoAnn has won dozens of awards for her work, including PPG’s Top 5 Most Outstanding Paint in 2006, Best of Show and First Place at the 2006 Easyriders Bike Show, GoodGuys Shows Best Flames in 2005, Best Paint at the Boardwalk Show at 2005 Daytona Bike Week, Big Bear Car Show Best Flames in 2009, Best Painted Motorcycle of the Year in 2005 and 2012, and many other awards.

JoAnn will attend the SEMA show this year and will also paint a 1932 Ford on Power Block TV’s Muscle Car section in the coming weeks. She is also a member of the SEMA Association and serves on their SBN Select Committee.

For more information about JoAnn and Crazy Horse Custom Painting, please visit www.crazyhorsepainting.com.

Crazy Horse Custom Painting
PO Box 623
Waxhaw, NC 28173
(704) 843-3780