Hal Lasko may be 98 years old, but while many of his peers devote their leisure time to shuffleboard and bridge, he has a very different passion: creating huge works of art pixel by pixel in Microsoft Paint.
While most people have long since abandoned MS Paint as an outdated graphics application, Lasko has spent the last 13 years using the program to digitally create works of art, spending up to 10 hours a day on his work. Originally a traditional painter, he switched to MS Paint in 2005 when his vision was impaired by wet macular degeneration, an eye disease that causes blindness in the center of his vision. He has since created more than 150 digital works, though his blindness means he will never be able to view them in their totality.
“When I started to go blind, I wasn’t able to get the brush quite where I wanted it,” Lasko told WIRED. “So when I got into the art program on the computer, I appreciated that I could blow it up eight hundred times [larger] and be sure that I was hitting the right spot.”
Although he had never used computer graphics software before, Lasko did have experience with artistic design after working as a typographer. He mastered lettering as an apprentice after high school, creating fonts by hand, and learned to paint traditionally on his own. His grandson, Ryan Lasko, initially introduced him to Microsoft Paint, but according to Ryan, that too “is all pretty much self-taught.”
Hal’s work has been inspired by artists including Edward Hopper, Charles Burchfield, and Paul Clay; lately, he has come to appreciate impressionism, and experimented with ways to adapt its thin, layered brushstrokes with an 8-bit twist. While he initially didn’t realize that his digital paintings could be printed, he now has a website selling 16” x 20” prints of eight different works; he may soon begin printing on canvas as well.
Last July, Ryan, who works as a graphic designer for a New York City software company, teamed with Josh Bogdan, a college friend and San Francisco copywriter, to direct a short documentary called about Hal and his art. The Pixel Painter (above), which runs eight and a half minutes, spends an entire weekend with Hal discussing his love of making art in MS Paint; the shoot included his 97th birthday celebration and the debut of an art exhibit at a senior center where Hal displayed two of his digital paintings.
“He’ll talk to anyone for hours about his artwork,” Bogdan said. “It’s his passion. He loves to chat, and it takes nothing to get him going.”
Asked if he thinks about his paintings a lot, Hal laughed, “that’s all I do.” He says he has “enjoyed every minute” of his work, including having his story told as a documentary. Since the video was posted on Vimeo last month, it has since tallied 1.2 million plays, reaching viewers in Poland, China, and South Korea.
“I was trying to explain things like Facebook and social media to him, but he still can’t really believe it,” Ryan Lasko said. “This worldwide scope is something he’s still trying to wrap his head around.”