NEW YORK -- Washington Heights native Ruben Henriquez had only one goal in mind: to attend the School of Visual Arts this fall. To pay for his education, the 23-year-old was holding down three jobs, selling his art and freelancing as a video producer.
But he still couldn't afford the $30,000 tuition at the Manhattan arts college.
That's when the wheels started turning.
Anything to reach his goal.
"I took a photography class, and my professor would always tell me I had a good eye. He was the one who brought it to my attention that I could really make a career out of this. It was eye-opening for me," Henriquez told HuffPost.
His professor, Rees Shad, is the coordinator of the digital design program at Hostos Community College in the Bronx, where Henriquez graduated with an associate's degree in digital design earlier this year. Henriquez was a recipient of the William T. Morris Foundation Scholarship, awarded to students demonstrating particular excellence in theater or design.
Since then, his prints have been sold on the subway, on the street and online. HelpRuben.com describes his art as "12 inches by 18 inches of escapism that will transform your living room, kitchen, office, or lobby into a Caribbean Paradise, an Urban Oasis or a Modern Art Gallery." The photographs sell for $100 a piece. Customers who invest in Henriquez's art or simply donate money will receive updates on his recent work "both artistically and scholastically," the website says.
In the video below, Henriquez also tries out "panhandling on the subway," which didn't prove to be lucrative. He only made two dollars, he said.
"As an artist I am intrigued by the power of a still image," explains HelpRuben.com. "A writer would not be able to tell a story through one word, nor would a composer be able to create a symphony with one note. I am, however, able to create an entire world through one captured moment of time."
And on he went, experimenting with other forms of art, including T-shirt design (his "Young'n pull your pants up" shirts) and video production. Now, Henriquez is creating an online magazine, Mirrors.
Did growing up in Washington Heights, a New York City neighborhood known for its vibrant Dominican community, influence his work?
"Everything I do exudes and represents Washington Heights 100 percent," said Henriquez. "This is where I was born. It's in my DNA."
He loves the atmosphere and ambition that Washington Heights exudes. "Whether it be local women selling pastelitos [savory turnovers] or frio frios [shaved ice with fruit syrups], people here do what they can and have no shame when it comes to surviving," he said.
So far, Henriquez has raised less than $5,000 -- a full $25,000 short of his goal -- since he started his HelpRuben.com campaign. He's taking out student loans. But even with the spring semester just around the corner, he still plans on "further building HelpRuben.com and keeping people in the loop of my work and the progress." He also intends to do more video production and hopes his merchandise -- prints and T-shirts -- will sell better so he can avoid taking out additional loans.
But whatever happens, he said, "that's okay."
"Ultimately what I really wanted was support," said Henriquez, " and although it didn't all come financially, I couldn't ask for more encouragement and love than I have received through the Help Ruben project."
See examples of Henriquez's photography and art: