Martin Alan Hirsch Decorative
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."
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.
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
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.
"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."
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
"This is an art form that you've got to study," he remarks. "Don't just leave a class and
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."
Passion for Faux"
"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.
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."
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.
the "Birth of the Renaissance"
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?"
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