Putting the ‘liquid puzzles’ together – Bill Hirsch and the pursuit to paint outside the lines
December 16, 2016
With his “steady hand and good eyes,” Spring Mill’s Bill Hirsch has put together an incredible collection of paint-by-number masterpieces he calls his “liquid puzzles” over nearly the last 20 years. He’s now putting his amazing work on display for the first time.
The pieces of the puzzle are scattered out in front of him.
Brushes, paint, a canvas and a set of numbers.
With each careful and delicate stroke, the artist’s work comes to life as vibrant colors splash onto the canvas.
Bill Hirsch is painting by the numbers, but he’s hardly painting by the book. “I refer to them as my liquid puzzles with all the pieces you have to put together,” said Bill, a native New Yorker who, along with his wife of 66 years, Hannah, has lived at Spring Mill for the last year.
“You have to have a steady hand and good eyes,” he said while pointing to one of his completed masterpieces.
These are not the kinds of paint-by-numbers portraits you may be accustomed to. They are incredibly detailed, with colors and angles and brush strokes coming together ever so intricately to form extraordinary works of art.
For years, his craft has remained largely unknown. That was until earlier this month, when he put them on display at Spring Mill, for friends, fellow residents and their families and Presby team members.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but it was a nice feeling,” Bill said of finally showing off his some of his collection that he’s put so much time and effort into all these years. “It was nice, especially since the people who saw it said they enjoyed it. And they were nice enough to come over and say, ‘Bill, I didn’t know you could do that.’”
For Bill, his paint-by-number masterpieces are done for pure love of the craft he taught himself how to do after his retirement. Bill would not describe himself as an artist. According to him, his only prior painting experience was when he “hated” painting walls in his house.
By trade, Bill was a nylon thread manufacturer after a two-year stint in the U.S. Army from 1952-54.
When he retired, Bill and Hannah packed up from their Long Island home of 35 years and moved to Boynton Beach, Florida for the next 21 years. While there on Florida’s east coast, Bill’s favorite hobby was tennis, which he would play almost every morning.
But eventually, Bill felt like something was missing. He would enjoy his tennis-filled mornings, but what then? He was looking for something to do in the afternoons when he had free time. And one day about 15 years ago when he was reading the newspaper, it jumped out at him.
A lightbulb moment, you could say.
“I read about something where somebody did some paintings, numbered paintings. And it looked like something that would be right up my alley,” Bill explained.
“I think it was in the New York Times, and it had this fellow who did it and his walls were covered with numbered paintings. I looked at them and thought maybe this would be something I would like.
“I tried it and I fell in love with it.”
How detailed are Bill’s paint-by-number pieces? He estimates he’s completed 40 to 50 paintings over the last two decades. On average, it takes him up to four months to complete one painting. He attributes this to his extreme dedication to carefully constructing each portion of the canvas.
While each kit comes with its own paints, Bill invested in a large collection of his own acrylic paints, forming a cache of different colors to choose from for the right section on the right canvas. Even if it goes against the grain of what is suggested.
“Like I said, you have to have a steady hand and good eyes,” Bill reiterated. “But it’s not easy to do. I think it’s easier for a painter to paint a scene than it is to fill in like I do. Because he’s doing his work and he knows it’s going to come. For me, it’s a little more difficult.
“The musical one is the most intricate one and I enjoyed doing that. And I like the Indian woman in the headdress holding the baby and the one with the two sailors in the boat. I like them all.”
And Bill has no intention of selling any of the paintings. He’s given some to his two children, two granddaughters and close friends.
“I just want to hang them up on the wall in our apartment,” said Bill, who, with Hannah, moved back up north to Spring Mill to be closer to their daughter who lives right down the road in Lafayette Hill, Pennsylvania.
“They’ve become too much of a part of me. It’s like saying I’m going to buy or sell one of my fingers. After so many months and so many years, [Hannah] would be angry if I decided to sell them!”
“I just think it’s great he gets these ideas and follows through,” Hannah said of her husband, who thanked his wife for her encouragement with the paintings over the years.
Eventually the glow of Bill’s big reveal will dim. The paintings and the decorative frames they’re encased in will make their way back to Bill and Hannah’s cozy Spring Mill apartment.
But the inspiration that they provide will continue to shine as reminder of what happens when one person’s pursuit becomes their passion.