“He was looking out the window and he had a very serious look on his face,” he recalled. “He looked a bit sad.”
So Hernandez turned and told his son that he could make the man smile. He took out his pencils and paper and within a few minutes, the man’s face began to take shape on the page.
“When I finished, I reached across the aisle and said ‘Excuse me, this is for you,’” he said. “And I handed him the picture.
“For a second he was shocked,” he continued. “But then we got the biggest smile from him. He loved it!”
Kiko Hernandez is a graphic designer who lives in Woodhaven and is making a name for himself through a series of portraits that capture the essence of his subjects.
I can testify firsthand to this, as I unexpectedly ended up as the subject of one of his pieces. I was at Neir’s for Bingo Night, and Hernandez and his wife Meghan were at the next table.
We had been talking back and forth throughout the night, but later in the evening I noticed Hernandez was drawing something. I’m always interested in artists and their work, so I asked if I could see what he was working on.
Imagine my surprise when he turned the piece of paper around and I saw myself. The smile he elicited from me probably rivaled that of the man on the train.
Hernandez came to the United States from his home country of Honduras, and while living in Ridgewood he began attending the National Academy of Arts.
“I started with abstract work and theater before going into graphic design,” he said. “While studying theater, I became very interested in people’s expressions.
“I love actors, so I began concentrating on drawing their faces, hoping to capture the essence of each person,” he added. “I really love getting the reactions from those who know that person well. When they say ‘Oh my God, you really got him,’ that’s the payoff for me.”
And that’s exactly what happened at Neir’s as I showed the portrait of myself to my wife and close friends. It wasn’t just that Kiko had drawn a picture that looked like me, it felt like he had really captured me.
Another happy subject of Hernandez’s pencil was Victor Hui, one of the owners of Dexter Wines & Spirits on 76th Street and Jamaica Avenue.
“Kiko’s been a regular customer and we got to talking, and the next thing I know he asked me to stand still for a minute,” Hui told me. “Less than 30 minutes later, I’m looking at myself on paper. I was left thinking ‘How did he do this?’”
His nephew looked at the drawing and said “Oh my God, uncle, that’s spot on,” Hui
said. “I really love what’s he’s doing.”
It’s a remarkable talent, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy path to a career. Hernandez spent a considerable amount of time trying to sell his artwork on the streets of Manhattan.
“Selling your work on the street is really tough,” he admits.Instead, he has posted much of his work on Instagram, which he describes as a “great online gallery.”
“I’ve had people see my work there, and I’ve been commissioned to do a few pieces,” he said.
For now, Hernandez earns a living as a graphic designer for a chocolate company designing the packaging. It’s clear that his talent will take him far, and Woodhaven is happy that he calls our community his home.
Over the next year, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be further emphasizing the “Cultural” part of our title, and Hernandez is one of the many local talented artists we will be excited to introduce you to.
But you never know, you might run into Kiko first. And if he’s studying your face and he’s got his pencil and paper out, then just sit still because you’re in for a real treat.