Here’s Looking at You, Kid! Capturing Your Pet in a Portrait

As we tiptoe cautiously closer to an easing of some lockdown restrictions and take baby steps in the direction of a more ‘normal’ way of life, I started to think about all the different ways we’ve passed the time during this last year as we’ve been in and out of lockdowns and, for the most part, unable to pursue our usual activities.

We’ve collectively been pretty creative with our newfound hobbies! While the nation has been baking more banana breads than could possibly be consumed, quizzing obsessively, leaping around front rooms with Joe Wicks and turning back gardens into miniature Kews, I remembered reading about one man’s slightly different lockdown hobby which, surprisingly, ended up earning a fortune for charity… Phil Heckels, who goes by the name Hercule Van Wolfwinkle on Facebook, has made £64,692 to date for Turning Tides Ending Local Homelessness by drawing what he affectionately calls ‘rubbish pet portraits!’ What started off with a doodle during the first lockdown, which he jokingly pretended to sell online for £299, has turned into something huge.

He’ll openly admit he’s no artist but these portraits seem to have struck a chord with pet owners who are clamouring after his ‘skills’ and he’s inundated daily with requests to draw people’s pets in his inimitable style. This isn’t a business to Phil/Hercule, it’s just something he does in his spare time, but his off-the-scale generosity and sense of humour has allowed him to raise an extraordinary amount for a charity close to his heart.

There’s no official charge for the portraits (he says he couldn’t charge as they’re rubbish!), but instead he asks that people make a donation to Turning Tides of a suggested amount of £14 – enough toprovide someone with a hot shower and a breakfast.

While they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, these fabulously terrible portraits are truly unique and do manage to capture an essence of the pet’s character. They have provided a bit of humour and entertainment for thousands of people during these very strange times – not to mention raising a magnificent sum for charity, too. I bet Phil would never have imagined 12 months ago that this would be the journey the year took him on!

Going back to more ‘conventional’ pet portraits, we all love a picture of our pet whether it’s a drawing, a painting or a photo. It’s like having a picture of any member of the family, really; it’s something to gaze at adoringly and a reminder of happy memories. If you’ve visited our practice you’ll know that, instead of generic artwork on the walls, we’ve got photos of our pets to greet you and brighten the place up. It’s nice for us, as we love to see our furry friends’ faces every day when we’re at work, and it’s nice for our clients too – as they can see that we go just as mushy over our beloved fur babies as they do! I sometimes pause to have a little moment with Ziggy, Poppy and Betty as I pass (not that you’ll hear me admitting that very often).

However much we love a pet portrait though, getting that perfect picture is really not easy. I mean, have you ever tried to get an animal to pose? It’s just really not going to happen, is it: “Sit, Fido. Stay. Look at me… no, not the treat, me! No, sit! Stay! No, you can’t have it yet. Oh, forget it.” And, if you want your kids in the picture too you can think again. They say never work with children and animals… attempting to get a good picture of both together is nigh on impossible!

Much like small children, animals rarely look at the camera (they’re more likely to want to sniff it), they’re easily distracted, and they never stay still. Usually, by the time you’ve thought ‘Oh, that’d make a good picture, I get my ca… Oh…’, the moment’s passed. There are some excellent professional pet photographers out there who know all the tricks for the perfect picture or, if you’d like to try your hand at some amateur pet photography yourself, here are some top tips from the experts at…..

Digital Photography School which should help you to get a great shot.

When you do achieve that amazing image … well, it’s just magical. Whether it’s an action shot of your pet loving life, one that shows the strength of the relationship between your pet and family members, a picture of them sleeping soundly in their favourite spot or playing with their favourite toy, you just can’t beat the feeling of preserving a special memory forever.

Once you’ve got a beautiful photo, you can make something really special from it by sending it to a specialist pet portrait artist who can create a piece of art for you to cherish (Top tip: pet portraits make great presents and are sure to elicit an emotional response. If you’re struggling for gift ideas for a loved one you could earn some serious brownie points with this!). Make sure you do your research first and check out the artist’s portfolio to see what their quality of work is like… or, of course, you could opt for a ‘rubbish’ pet portrait and have your very own sketch by Hercule done as a memento of the time the world went mad (as if we’ll forget in a hurry!)