Bronx Born Muralist, Adam Hernandez Turns Passion Into Successful Business [Photos]

Adam’s newest piece of art, The Tiger Godmask, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin at the Bel Air Cantina.

Latino entrepreneur growing the business of art.


Bronx born muralist, Adam Hernandez turns his passion for art into a successful business

On a Thursday evening in mid July after enjoying the music and food festivities of Bastille Day in Nyack, NY, I was invited to take a stroll over to the tiniest most amazing chocolate shop hidden away from the main street, but still super busy late at night.

Named Adams Chocolate after owner Adam, I was informed by a friend that he makes incredible chocolates, as well as hot cocoa, coffee and cappuccinos.

I opted for a late night cappuccino and while waiting for my it to to be lovingly made, I checked out the fun vintage décor within the store.

Tucked away off the beaten track in Nyack, NY is Adams Chocolate where I first spotted Adam Hernandez’ art.

Tucked away off the beaten track in Nyack, NY is Adams Chocolate where I first spotted Adam Hernandez’ art.

High up on a wall, I spotted a beautiful piece of art that I asked Adam about. It turns out that his friend, muralist (another Adam),

Adam Hernandez is a Bronx born native who moved to Columbus, Ohio and is continuing his passion for art as a business.

I decided to check his work out on Instagram and immediately fell in love with the style and color of his work. Being a native Ohioan myself and having family in the Columbus area, I felt the need to contact him to discuss how he turned this incredible talent into a business.

Catching my eye at Adams Chocolate is one of Hernandez’ mythical Land of Thunderbird characters

Catching my eye at Adams Chocolate is one of Hernandez’ mythical Land of Thunderbird characters

On our Friday morning interview, Hernandez and I get acquainted; he tells me that his family is Puerto Rican and he grew up as a typical Nuyorican kid that didn’t learn Spanish.

He jokes that he thinks his parents used Spanish in their tiny Bronx 2-bedroom apartment as a way to have an adult conversation without he and his brothers being a part of it.

He also feels that at the time of their growing up, his parents wanted to make sure that he and his siblings grew up fitting in and speaking English.

Now he tries to practice more and speak it whenever he can. In hindsight, his parents wish that they would have grown up speaking the language with Adam and his siblings. I share with Adam that this is a similar experience that I had growing up and not learning how to speak Spanish fluently.

Nyack College

Hernandez and Adam, of Adam’s Chocolate actually went to Nyack College together where Hernandez says he was a bit of a rebellious kid and got kicked out of the strict Christian school.

In the time he was at the college, he met a lot of other great people whom he made friends with including a girl from Ohio. He dated her, and followed her back to Ohio. Although they are no longer together, Hernandez fell in love with the slower pace and way of life of Columbus.

He calls it a great “small big city” with nightlife, a great art scene, great music, but as he says “if you want to lay back and be chill, you can drive 20 minutes and be in the woods taking hikes”.

He remembers when he first decided to make the move to Ohio, people asked him what in the world he was thinking, there’s nothing out there, and he did wonder to himself– “What if they’re right? What will I do”.  He admits today that he finds Columbus pretty awesome.

Adam tells me that after he got kicked out of Nyack College while he was still quite young, he worked a number of odd jobs, from sauté cook at a fine dining establishment to working at a carnival manning the rides.

Hernandez who has always loved and created art since he was a child, credits his grandfather who was a self taught oil painter as inspiring him. At around the age of 25, something clicked in Hernandez when he sold his first piece of art at his first Columbus art show.

Adam says the thought went through his head… “What? People will pay me for this?” and that got the ball rolling and he’s been pursuing his ambition ever since.

Supplementing his income

Hernandez says that he had been supplementing his income doing odd jobs in the studio of the largest on-line magic retailer, based in Columbus.

One day, the company asked if he could operate a camera and do some video editing. He decided to say yes and that is what he has been doing for the last 3 years for additional income, but Hernandez says this has been the most successful year for him so far and he hasn’t been able to do both his art and have an additional job.

In the past couple of months, his business has picked up enough to keep him busy doing what he loves.

He says this is particularly the busiest time of the year for projects. He feels that he may need to pick up another job again to hold him over during the winter as things tend to slow down. That’s the typical cycle of work him. He hopes that he can get things to continue successfully so that he can solely focus on his art full time.

Adam’s newest piece of art, The Tiger Godmask, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin at the Bel Air Cantina.

Adam’s newest piece of art, The Tiger Godmask, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin at the Bel Air Cantina.

As a creative entrepreneur, I asked Adam some questions about how he manages his business and key points to share with aspiring artists who want to follow in his footsteps.

Much of Adam’s commissioned artwork currently comes from his Columbus headquarters and the surrounding Midwest. I ask him how tries to gain new opportunities for more commissions.

Two of Adam’s core insights:

1. He says networking and getting to know people is key and although it sounds cliché, it’s not always what you know, but who you know. He says it’s important to stay fresh in people’s minds and keep up a good reputation. Continue to network within your circle but also extend to outside of your circle.

Adam says he knows that he needs to continue to put himself out there before other artists and be his own best promoter. He says that for a long time, he wasn’t confident doing this, but he realized no one is going to just give him the work. He has to take it.

In addition he believes in educating people outside of the industry on how to even commission an artist. They don’t know the first steps or “what does this arrangement even look like”. It can be intimidating for them as well.

2. Adam’s second point is based on a saying he once heard – “it’s not what you do, it’s how you make them feel”.

Adam strives to be the best at his craft, but he also believes it’s about the experience he creates for his clients and the relationship he develops. He says that sometimes, the experience can speak louder than the actual content of his work.

If he can make people feel good about the decision they’ve made to hire him, make it a great experience, and make them feel that he is an easy person to work with, it will grow into more financial gain. He may be more likely to be hired back and his clients will share their experience with others.

An artist’s  compensation

I ask him how he negotiates the pricing of his commissions and making sure that as an artist, he is compensated for his talent and work.

He says this is a tough question which he struggles with a lot. In his discussions with other artists, he says they also agree and say the same thing. Adam laughs with a bit of sarcasm because he says, people love the idea of art and supporting the arts, but when you tell them how much it’s going to cost, they are surprised at the price.

He says “you pay a plumber a price for his service so why can’t an artist get paid for their craft?”

It’s a skill that took an artist some time to become very good at. Not everybody can do what he does and he’s worked hard to turn it into a business . Adam says that he has to stick to his guns and be confident in his pricing.

There are other times when he is over someone’s budget, but if he feels that it’s a project he really wants to do and it will create a relationship that can grow into something else, he will sacrifice price on the front end because he knows at the end it can turn into something more valuable.

Adam charges a set price per square foot which keeps things very open and candid with his potential clients.

He says “it’s OK to say no sometimes. You can’t always agree to every project that comes your way even when you’re desperate for work. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. If it happens though, get through it and treat it as a learning experience”.

Adam is a night owl and likes working in his own basement so that he has the flexibility to get to work immediately when he is inspired. It also keeps his overhead low and when he’s done working on a late night project at 3AM, he can just walk upstairs and go to bed.

One of Adam’s murals in Cape Town, South Africa

One of Adam’s murals in Cape Town, South Africa

Adam is inspired by Joseph Campbell, an American professor of literature and a modern day mythologist who passed away in the late 80’s.

According to Hernandez, Campbell believed that human beings for thousands of years continued to connect using the same themes and stories of sacrifice, love, heroism, and darkness in the world. Adam decided that as an artist, he needed to create his own mythology to share ideas important to him.

So based on images and motifs often associated with hieroglyphics, he modernized the motifs to create his own unique brand of storytelling. He cautiously says to me that he may sound  a bit weird, but he likes to think he’s continuing the legacy of a modern day shaman telling tales of a mythical time and passing his messages on to his generation and generations still to come.

Aesthetically, he inspired by the art of Aztecs, Mayans, Native Americans as well as street art and graffiti.  In Adam’s mind, he feels that graffiti and hieroglyphics are very similar. They are both about people creating images that leave a message for others after them. He says that people have been writing on walls for thousands of years and he is taking the torch, passing it on and keeping it alive.

Parting thoughts

A stained glass portrait of a character named Peezler at Condado restaurant in Dublin, Ohio

A stained glass portrait of a character named Peezler at Condado restaurant in Dublin, Ohio

Lastly I ask Adam what his recommendations would be to other aspiring artists wanting to create a business out of their passion.

He says that you need to go into a business knowing that it will be a lot of work; it’s not a paved golden road. You will always be learning, and adapting.

He sees the pitfalls of social media telling people how easy it is to make a living and just go do it! These people are not being realistic in telling people about the long days and late nights.

“You need to be aware that you’ll have to burn the candle at both ends, a lot of people will say no, they won’t believe in you. You need to be able to push through all of this and just continue”.

He also says it’s important to set yourself goals so that you’re not just aimlessly out there trying to do it. Give yourself a target whether it’s a financial goal, or to get your work featured somewhere.

Where to learn more and connect:

You can read more about Adam’s work here on his website

And follow him on Instagram at @ahernandezart

And if you happen to be in the Columbus area this fall, make sure you see him in person at the following events:

  • Rival Lands (art show with Brian Gonnella), Sept 3-30, 2019, Opening Reception: September 6, 6-9 PM

Blockfort, 162 N 6th St. Columbus, OH

  • Creative Control Fest (Adam will be speaking at the event): September 12-14, 2019 The Lincoln Theater, 769 E Long St. Columbus, OH 43203

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