Tim Borski engages the world with the heart of a naturalist. Whether painting, fishing, birding, fly-tying or hunting snakes at night with his sons, Josef and Gus, Borski is always pursuing his lifelong passion: hunting. For Borski, that means knowing his quarry, finding his quarry, maybe catching his quarry and, in his artwork, depicting his quarry in a distinctive and powerful style that shows a creature — a fish, a bird, a moth, a snake — firmly grounded and at home in the natural order.
A free spirit, the Wisconsin native left home at 17 to live in a cabin in the wild, where he fished for trout and bass and trapped muskrat and fox. Borski had always loved drawing, but he wanted some formal training, so he took art classes at the University of Wisconsin. Six years later, he visited Miami on a lark to escape the winter snow and catch a bonefish. Celebrated Biscayne Bay guide Bill Curtis hooked up Borski with an 11-pounder off Ragged Key, which got him so revved up about flats fishing that he tore up his return plane ticket.
He bought a cheap fly rod, thinking he would sell it as soon as he caught a bonefish with it, but he liked fly-fishing so much that he kept the rod and started tying his own flies, eventually working for a fly shop and selling his designs commercially. Serendipitously, Borski fell into a job as caretaker of Craig Key, a private island in the Florida Keys, which afforded him free lodging, free dockage and the time and financial cushion to do the two things he loved most — fishing the backcountry and releasing his restless creativity painting fish, birds, snakes, moths and other wildlife in acrylics, oils and watercolors. Now 53, he lives in Islamorada with his wife, Jill, and two boys, and splits his time among what are now his three loves — art, fishing and family.
My paintings are contemporary.
I’ve got my own particular style that has evolved over time. It makes me happy, and it makes my patrons happy. I’m always pushing the limits, but I’ve got to be careful not to go too far or people won’t buy my work. I have yet to reach that point, but I do think it may be time to go in some different directions, maybe in the color scheme or subject matter or composition — when or what exactly I don’t know.
I always loved drawing but had no idea how to go at painting.
After I left home, I got a job at a factory but reported for work 23 days late. I’d been out trapping and fishing. They fired me, as you might expect, so I got another factory job. My boss, who had worked there for decades, made just $3 an hour more than me and told me he stayed at it for the three weeks’ vacation he had earned. Three weeks! That was a turning point for me. I had to find something else to do. I applied to the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point and took a couple of art classes — 101s and 102s — and found I really liked that stuff. It gave me an idea of how to paint and the kind of work I wanted to do.
I love hunting.
Whether it was luna moths under the street lights when I was a kid in Wisconsin or fishing the Florida flats. Hunting doesn’t necessarily involve killing. It’s looking for stuff, finding it, putting in the time, understanding the moon, tides, seasons and weather, and seeing all this bear fruit. This always has been very, very special to me. I hunt in five-year cycles. I chase something every day for five years until I get very good at it. Then I change what I’m chasing, though I can revisit any of these cycles anytime. I burned through three trucks chasing snakes all over the country.
My kids are maniacs.
They understand the whole hunting thing, not hunting and killing but doing things a certain way to find something. The more they’re out hunting — for fish, birds, snakes, moths, spiders — the less time they spend playing video games or surfing the Internet. One of my boys just caught his first big tarpon on a fly. He’s 14 years old. He was not a fisherman in elementary school. That changed when he got to middle school. The schools down here are full of kids who are great fishermen. They’ve got access to boats and water. They just do it. Now he wants to do it, too.
If I had only one day to fish for the rest of my life, I’d fish for tarpon.
But it’s tarpon season now, and I’ve been fishing for them for several weeks. I’m already tired of looking at them. I asked a guy yesterday if he wanted to go bass fishing, and he said, “Are you crazy? The tarpon are hitting.” For years I only would throw flies. One day, I decided I’d like to throw some plugs and spinners again. It was fun. I even use a hand line from time to time.
I don’t have to catch a lot of fish.
If I get 10 tugs and catch five fish, that’s fine for me. I’m not real big on those 45 redfish days. If you get into some little tarpon, after the first 10, it’s like catching the same fish over and over. I need a little variety. I don’t mind getting skunked as long as I feel like I made the right decision [about the time, the place and the weather]. A lot of times, just being where they are is enough. It’s not just about catching fish.
I’m still trying to figure out how I find time for it all.
I usually work on five or six paintings at a time. I want to be able to fish, too, but if the weather’s crappy, I paint. Sometimes I’ll paint for six days straight because I don’t like the weather. If the weather’s right, I might say screw it, hook up the skiff and go fishing. Other times, I close the drapes and keep on painting.
My flies aren’t imitations.
They suggest a little bit of a lot of things, instead of a lot of one thing. My flies work in both salt water and fresh, and I’ve seen them catch fish all over — pike in Sweden, largemouth bass in Cuba, salmon in Russia. I use mostly natural materials, natural colors, but how you present the fly is 10 times more important than the materials it’s made of. If you show a great fly poorly, you’ll likely get poor results. I spend six hours a week tying my own flies, four hours tying them for my sons. I don’t have time to tie flies commercially, so I license that out.