Friday, 22 August 2014 00:00

Master Painter JoAnn Bortles Gets Dose of Reality on Motor City Masters

Renowned automotive and motorcycle painter JoAnn Bortles was eliminated at the conclusion of episode #3 on Motor City Masters (Tuesday nights, 10 p.m. PST on truTV) a reality series that pits 10 mega-talented designers from different parts of the automotive industry against each other week after week in the ambitious task of creating concept cars based around a different theme. One by one, designers who fumble their role during each weekly build will be sent home by the judges until one lone Motor City Master will remain. The winner gets $100,000, a new 2014 Camaro Z28 and becomes a Chevy ambassador for the carmaker.

Bortles is a 33-year veteran painter, the owner of Crazy Horse Custom Paint in Waxhaw NC and an author of seven books about automotive painting and airbrushing techniques. Known as a leader in custom hot rod and motorcycle paint, Crazy Horse Painting has been producing show winning and road worthy paint jobs for 33 years. Known as the “Queen of Flame”, Bortles has won numerous awards for her work including some of the top custom painting awards in the country. In 1998, 2005, and 2012 her work won Best Motorcycle Paint of the Year and in 2006 she won PPG’s Top Five Most Outstanding Paint Award.


Bortle’s paint work has been featured in Street Rodder, Hot Rod Milestones, Hot Rod, and other automotive publications. Her paintwork has appeared in nearly every bike magazine and on the covers of many magazines, including American Iron, Easyriders, VTwin, Biker, In the Wind, Auto Graphics. Her custom chopper was featured on the cover of Easyriders in Sept 2004, making her the first woman to have her own personal bike appearing on the cover.

ABN interviewed Bortles the morning after the world discovered that JoAnn had been eliminated during episode #3 of Motor City Masters. She sounded a little down, but appreciative of the fact that she was asked to be on the reality series.

“Yes, it was frustrating, but a lot of good things have come from it,” Bortles said. “My approach to my work is by always focusing on the future, so I’m not going to dwell on what happened on Motor City Masters.

I’ve been getting a steady stream of new followers on Facebook and people have been really great. One of the main themes of the show stressed my leadership skills and my positive approach to everything I do.  I thought I made some solid decisions about the design elements, especially on the truck we designed in episode #3. As soon as we were doing trucks, I wanted to do suicide doors; I wanted to give our team’s truck a step side look, so we did the suicide doors immediately and everyone took my concepts and ran with them. After that, it was all about keeping my team going to make sure they had what they needed so that we could build a nice vehicle. But in the end, you’re depending on three other people you don’t know and you can’t do it all by yourself.”

What was her overall impression of Motor City Masters in general? “I love reality television personally and I always watch Project Runway and Best Ink,” she said. “This show is different in that you break into teams. The team dynamic is a tough one, because you have a lot of very different people from different backgrounds and you have to put them together and hope they’ll work well together in a stressful situation. So, it was 100 times tougher than I thought I would. It got pretty intense out there in the design studio and some people walked out and there was a lot of arguing. On top of it, we had to do much of the physical work ourselves, even though we had build techs to help us. It was exhausting and we were pushing ourselves to the limit, both mentally and physically. We had very little sleep during each build, so we were always a little on edge and cranky. I pushed the people in my team as much as I could, but one guy walked out of the paint booth after making one little suggestion, so it was the battle of egos pretty much. If I had fought more, I think I would have had a mutiny. When I paint a car or a motorcycle at my shop, it’s pretty much me and my people, so I’m not used to the type of drama I encountered on Motor City Masters.”

It was a short run, but a great one for Bortles on the series, she explained. “This was the opportunity of a lifetime, so when they asked me to be on the show, I jumped on it. My attitude is always go for it. I don’t see how it can’t help my business, because now I’ve been seen by a whole new audience. It’s a resume builder and that’s important, because all of it works together to support and strengthen the brand—my brand. Literally thousands of people applied to be on Motor City Masters and they chose me, so it means a lot.”

Bortles was energized by the experience on the reality series and is now looking for more exciting projects. “I look back at all the work I’ve done and I think—wow I did this?” she said. “It’s a great feeling. I feel the same way about Motor City Masters. Camilo Pardo, a car designer on the show, said something and I totally agree with it—‘Shut up and let your work speak for itself’ and that’s what I do. I let my body of work speak for itself and if people can see that I am able to share their vision, then that’s the right customer for me. I try to stay humble because once I start thinking that I’m all that, I might miss the next great thing in my career. You always have to keep your feet on the ground so that you can be prepared for what’s coming around the corner.”

You can meet JoAnn Bortles at SEMA this year at Hypertherm’s booth and also some of her work will be on display at the PPG booth. This is her 10th anniversary of attending SEMA shows, she said. “SEMA is all about the networking and I have made some amazing contacts there over the years, so I am anxious to make new friendships while re-connecting with old friends at SEMA this year.”

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