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About Martin Alan Hirsch   

"The Martin Alan Hirsch Decorative
Finishes Studio"

by Tom Evans

Decorative Finished Studio

The exterior of the Martin Alan Hirsch Decorative Finishes Studio has been faux-finished to simulate an Italian villa.

Bridging the Gap
Between Reality and Illusion

The trademark motto of the Martin Alan Hirsch Decorative Finishes Studio , located in Louisville, Ky., is " Bridging the gap between reality and illusion."

And just how does one bridge this gap? "By fooling the person viewing the faux work," Hirsch says. "They must question themselves; 'Is it real or is it fake?' If you fool them, you've done your job."

Part of the Team

Part of the staff at the Martin Alan Hirsch Decorative Finishing Studio

A prime example of such fooling took place in Louisville two years ago, when a sample of Hirsch's work appeared in a "Homearama" Parade of Homes house. A historical society preservation representative scolded the homebuilder, saying he had defaced a historic Irish castle by bringing a castle wall to Louisville. The wall actually was made of plaster board, which Hirsch had faux-finished to appear like stone, mortar and moss.

During the past nine years, Hirsch has worked to teach the same faux-finishing skills to more than 1,500 students who have taken his classes.

Old World Faux Finishing

This library ceiling exemplifies Hirsch's
Old World faux-finishing skills.

His faux-finishing school, which is located on busy Bardstown Road in Louisville, is a work of decorative art in itself. Fashioned to look like an Italian villa, the building contains the school's classroom, samples of Hirsch's faux-finishing work, several offices and a stockroom/mailing room for faux-finishing supplies.

Hirsch teaches the courses himself, with help from two assistants. The courses, which each last five days, are entitled "The Art of Faux Finishing" and "Designer Wall Finishes." Both are hands-on programs designed for professional decorative artists, with "Designer Wall Finishes" being the more advanced of the two.

The Business Aspect of Faux

Old World Faux

One of Hirsch's students works
on an Old World faux piece.

"What makes these classes different from those taught at most schools is that I teach the business side of professional faux finishing as well as technique," Hirsch says. "I teach my students that they've got to be business people first and decorative artists second; otherwise, they'll be starving artists."


Simulated Italian Marble Columns

Hirsch faux-finished these drywall columns to simulate Italian marble.

Hirsch stresses to his students that professional decorative artists must know how to set up and promote a business. "We teach them how to make a living and how to use their time valuable," he says. This includes cold-calling techniques, making and presenting sample boards, and setting up appointments with builders, architects and designers, he says.

"I teach them that promotion is key," Hirsch states. "If you don't put yourself in the marketplace, then the marketplace will put you out of the market."

In dealing with builders, architects and other professionals, Hirsch says it's vital that decorative artists be sure of themselves - and the way to become sure of themselves is through practice.

"This is an art form that you've got to study," he remarks. "Don't just leave a class and

Students at Work

Several students are shown at work in Hirsch's studio's classroom.

show up at a builder's door with class samples, yet no practice. Practice your newly acquired skills - and perfect them. When you are confident and satisfied with your results and portfolio, you are ready to venture into the marketplace."

Hirsch's schedule breaks down to about two weeks each month working on professional faux-finishing jobs, with the other two weeks spent teaching his courses. He limits his classes to 12 students each so that he can give each student a good deal of one-on-one instruction.

His students come from all over the world - from just about everywhere, in fact, except close to Louisville. "I don't take students who live within a 100-mile radius of the school," Hirsch says. "That's the businessperson aspect of professional faux finishing coming into play. We're not going to create competition in our own backyard."


Studio's Italian Renaissance Room

Hirsch is shown in his studio's "Italian Renaissance Room," which contains many examples of his work.

"A Passion for Faux"

Hirsch provides his students with course guide notebooks and all the supplies they need for their in-class projects. The one thing he expects them to bring to class with them is an intensity for decorative art and a strong desire to become the best professional faux finishers they can be.

"The one thing we can't teach is passion for this wonderful field," he notes. "You have to really want to be successful in order to be successful."

While his students work very diligently, there's always room in the classes for Hirsch's humor and lighthearted, motivational pep talks. A former student dubbed him the "Zig Ziglar of Faux," a nickname that Hirsch doesn't mind.



"Zig Ziglar has been known to entertain with fitting humorous stories and at the same time motivate and teach - that's the comparison," he says. "I have the job of taking 12 potential decorative artists and motivate them, teach them and entertain them," he remarks. "They have dedicated time, money and themselves to our program. We in turn will give them 110 percent of ourselves to help them become among the best faux artisans in the marketplace today."

Wall of Thanks

The studio's letter board is filled with thank-you letters and postcards from Hirsch's students.

Hirsch and his staff giving fully of themselves includes extensive follow-up support for students after they've completed a course. "With some of the other courses out there, the students suddenly get home and find out that they have no follow-up support," he says. "That's not the case with us; we're always interested in giving students technical help, such as via e-mail. We want them to know that we're always here to answer questions."

Students have shown that they're very appreciative of his and his staff's efforts, both with the in-class instruction and the follow-up assistance they've received after the courses are over. A large bulletin board near the school's classroom is crammed with well over 100 letters and postcards from students expressing thanks to Hirsch and his staff.

Re-created Ancient Castle Wall

Hirsch re-created this ancient,
deteriorating castle wall.

Visiting the "Birth of the Renaissance"

In addition to teaching the two classroom courses, Hirsch also leads groups of students on trips to Italy, including the famous Tuscany region. "Italy is the only country where you can go and see art from the first century to the Renaissance," he says. "The Renaissance was born there, in Florence."

One of the many aspects of Italy that Hirsch likes is that "it's a country the size of Kentucky," he says. "Everything is just three hours away from wherever you are."

He will lead students in groups of 15 around Italy. Some of the trips will be two weeks of strictly tourism, centering around viewing classic works of art as well as decorative art. Other trips will actually involve faux-finishing classes that Hirsch will teach in the mornings, leaving afternoons free for sight-seeing.

"We'll frequently use the trains to get around," Martin Hirsch says. "Other times we'll rent two big vans and go driving around and communicating with walkie-talkies." He adds that he and his students find the trips highly interesting and educational, partly from the beautiful work they're viewing and partly from two weeks of "taking 15 artists with artists personalities and touring the countryside."

When he returns to Louisville from these trips, Hirsch typically relaxes for several days before beginning to teach his Art of Faux Finishing course to another group of students.

He says he finds his teaching to still be rewarding after nine years. Just about as rewarding, he says, as working himself on Old World faux finishing. He says he enjoys teaching his students various techniques so that, when people view these student's work, they'll have to ask themselves, "Is it real or is it faux?"

Reprinted with permission from The Paint and Decorator Retail Association, 1999

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