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Not quite black and white: The story of Juan Hernandez

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kristin High
  • 51st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Beethoven said, "Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the divine."

This can be interpreted as not letting limitations impede one from success.

Like Beethoven, there is an Airman at the 731st Air Mobility Squadron air terminal operations center senior information controller, who has a talent that otherwise would be hindered, but through practice and exasperating patience, has allowed him to create extraordinary art.

Tech. Sgt. Juan Hernandez is color blind.

"I've been drawing 'ever since,'" said Hernandez. "By that, I mean literally as long as I can remember. I specifically remember when I was four, I painted a wolf sitting on a log, looking at a cabin with three pigs poking their heads out.

"My mom left it on the bathroom wall and we had it there the entire time we lived in the house, for some reason, that image sticks out to me."

Hernandez said he learned very early that he wasn't like most children and never would be.

"I remember being in school; the teacher was showing us a red and a green light, but I wasn't interpreting anything correctly," he said. "We conducted a test and quickly learned that I was indeed color blind, not completely but enough to make everything challenging growing up.

"I still drew and created art, but learning what colors to use took time," he continued. "I would have to ask people, if I was drawing a comic book character, what colors to use for each area."

Over time the hurdles he faced became easier.

"I learned to read colors by the labels or numbers embedded on each pencil and marker," said Hernandez. "I had to memorize numbers for what I wanted to draw or color so my work was accurate.

The average person sees colors based on the visible spectrum, which is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. Many premier art companies create number codes to represent the different colors on the spectrum.
"It doesn't affect my job, but it does make being an artist difficult," he continued. "I feel like everyone else has an advantage over me because they can make their work look more realistic and create gradients that I have such a hard time putting together. People never notice, but I always feel like I can do better."

To cope with his own difficulties, Hernandez found other outlets to show his vibrant personality.

"I randomly dress up as and visit children's hospitals," he said. "It gives me a great sense of purpose to see the children's faces when I walk into the room, in-turn, filling a void I think I've been missing all these years.

"It also inspires me when I am creating new art," he continued. "I put a lot of passion and emotion into my art and if you pay attention to the details, you can see various elements of intelligence, formulas, different languages and cultural symbols. It's all very abstract."

His added that his favorite piece is a self-portrait in his super hero costume.

"I love the portrait because it reminds me of why I started wearing the costume," said Hernandez. "I feel like I have to. It's my way of giving back."

Overcoming limitations is a challenge Hernandez will live with for the rest of his life. It's not quite black and white-- an artist's work is never finished.