Five years ago this month, Ernesto Garciaortiz was given a later-in-life gift, thanks to Jocelyn, his 5-year-old daughter who, at birth, presented him with a new opportunity that unexpectedly highlighted an innate talent.
Garciaortiz and his longtime partner, Nora Hernandez, both natives of Misantla, Mexico, came to Fort Wayne 15 years ago in search of better opportunities. Raised in poverty, each quit high school after only one year because they had to work to support their families.
Hernandez is working on her GED here; Garciaortiz also plans to do the same.
The couple, who met in 1996, have been working as detail employees at the 14/69 Car Wash SuperCenter for 12 years. This enables them to send money home to their grateful families in Mexico.
Hernandez works the first shift, while Garciaortiz baby-sits Jocelyn. When Hernandez comes home at 3 p.m., Garciaortiz takes her place at the car wash until 8 p.m., and often much later.
Both Garciaortiz and Hernandez brought a strong work ethic with them to Fort Wayne, said Dave Echenoz, general manager of the 14/69 Carwash SuperCenter.
“Nora and Ernesto are two of the most honest and hard-working people I have ever worked with,” Echenoz said. “Ernesto is a very talented, self-taught individual who knows how to get things done. I am fortunate to have them as friends and co-workers; they are special people.”
When Garciaortiz first began baby-sitting, he realized he needed something to occupy his time. Surfing the TV, he came across the program “Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting” and, intrigued, decided to learn more.
He went to the library and borrowed several books on painting and familiarized himself with well-known artists and the types of paintings they did. When one considers that Spanish is Garciaortiz's first language, checking out and studying books in English seems especially daunting.
Next, he went to a local Michaels craft store, where he purchased art supplies. After completing his first painting — an 8-inch-by-12-inch mountainous landscape on canvas — Garciaortiz decided to switch to acrylics because he was bothered by the lingering odor of the oils and turpentine.
Garciaortiz continued painting, completing several pictures monthly. One day, Brian Glass, a friend, dropped by to visit, and asked Garciaortiz what he was doing.
“I told him I was painting,” said Garciaortiz, “and he stood there with his mouth open and asked, 'Have you always painted?'
“I said, 'No,' I've never painted or sketched before now. It gives me something to do while baby-sitting.”
Four years later, Glass gave Garcia a photograph of his son, a football player, and the latter created a painting from it, which he then presented to the family. Glass wrote a thank-you note, adding, “We love the painting and have hung it in Drew's bedroom.”
Though he is mostly influenced by such artists as Jesus Helguera, Monet, Tintoretto and Constable, Garciaortiz's creations are often reflective of his homeland — mountains, trees and, yes, even the crippling poverty there.
Hernandez, like many others, is in awe of Garciaortiz's work.
“Ernesto gave our co-worker, Jhoana Chiqui, a painting, and she said it was one of the most beautiful gifts she had ever received,” said Hernandez, adding that Garciaortiz has done at least 33 paintings to date, 15 of which are displayed in their home and 18 given away to friends.
Jocelyn, a preschooler, has taken after her father and paints side by side with him. She even wears her own little denim work apron when at her tabletop easel.
“I want Jocelyn to grow up with an appreciation of the arts,” said Garciaortiz. “She is learning by watching me and by painting on her own.”
Jocelyn patted him on the shoulder and said proudly, “Dad is a good artist.”
While in the creative process, the father/daughter duo often listens to Vivaldi or jazz music.
Painting is his passion, and he does it for relaxation, said Garciaortiz, who has done variously sized pictures, from small to couch-size art, and murals.
He creates scenes on different surfaces (lampshades, license plates, wood and others) and works in several media, such as pastels, charcoal, drawing and airbrushing, while doing landscapes, water scenes, animals, portraits, religious images and more. He also does woodcarving and has made a workbench and other household items.
While many artists sketch their scenes on canvas before painting; Garciaortiz paints complete pictures without pre-drawing them.
However, their family's life is not just about unleashing one's inner Van Gogh — for fun, the three bilingual family members love to fish and do it as often as possible in warm weather. But even while waiting for that elusive Moby Bluegill to bite, Garciaortiz — ever the artist — is always noticing new scenes, which he then records on his cellphone to be later reproduced as paintings.
Future plans for his artwork?
“I would love to paint a mural of the Beatles and 'Yellow Submarine,'” said Garciaortiz, “and also be able to display and sell my art, perhaps at some of the art galleries in town. I hope people will want to buy my work.”