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Rubbish pet portraits: Wonky critters raise £75,000 for homeless charity

Throughout lockdown, these badly drawn boys and girls have raised tens of thousands for charity… and now they’re about to star in their own book.

Lockdown brought out the best and worst in people. For Phil Heckels from Worthing, his best intentions were equalled only by his awful artistic skills. The Big Issue first brought you the story of his rubbish pet portraits back in October, but since then he has raised tens of thousands more for his local homeless charity.

During lockdown, attempting to encourage his six-year-old son Sam to pick up some pencils instead of playing computer games, Heckels decided to draw their dog Nala. The result was rubbish – so bad in fact Heckels shared it on Facebook, jokily offering his services: “Just send me a photo and I can produce a unique and wonderful piece of art that will grace any home and make the memories of your furry friends last a lifetime.” Amazingly, he got six commissions straight away.

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Heckels – who gave himself a pretentious sounding nom de plume, Hercule Van Wolfwinkle – explains: “Two days later my portrait requests were into double figures and I was beginning to receive friend requests from people I didn’t know, asking for pictures. By day three, I had a waiting list of over 20 people, so to see how far the joke might go, I set up the Facebook page ‘Pet Portraits By Hercule’.”

Though Hercule may be cheeky, he certainly didn’t have the nerve to charge for artworks. Instead in October he set up a Just Giving fundraiser for homeless charity Turning Tides and began raising hundreds, then thousands of pounds.

“There’s the old saying, ‘Charity begins at home’, and homelessness is an issue that it is quite literally on our doorsteps,” Heckels/Hercule says. “But not only does charity begin at home, EVERYTHING begins at home… with a home.”

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So far, the rubbish pet portraits have raised a staggering £75,000 and that figure is set to increase with the publication of a book collecting Hercule’s masterpieces together. For your delight, we’ve shared a gallery of them below, with the original photos and Hercule’s thoughts on each.

Rubbish Pet Portraits by Hercule Van Wolfwinkle is out on May 27

Marley

Hercule Van Wolfwinkle:“This is the lovely Marley, who looks extremely dashing in his wellies. Sadly, Marley is no longer with us, and I really wanted to do his family proud with this one.”

Owner review: “We really miss Marley. If I ever think I might be forgetting what he looked like, I can gaze at your portrait and know it was nothing like that.”

Charlie

Hercule:“I’ve had to use all of my artistry to imagine what a Chihuahua would look like without a Dentastix in its mouth. I think I’ve nailed it.”

[Editor’s note: We know this is a hamster. Phil’s animal identifying skills are sometimes as questionable as his animal drawing skills. See also: the lovely “cat” below.]

Balancing act

Hercule:“I loved drawing this handsome chap. And what a clever boy he is; apparently he can balance that ball on his head for about 20 minutes.”

Leonardo Caprichos

Hercule:“This mischievous-looking creature belongs to Allie Jane. I don’t know what his name is but I’ve been calling him Leonardo Caprichos. Leo likes pouncing at the milkman, chasing vans and mooching around the charity shops.”

Cassius Stay

Hercule:“I’ve named this pooch Cassius Stay. I couldn’t draw this in my usual ultra-realistic style as I had to put a pair of pants on him. I mean, I’m no vet, but I’m assuming he’s a boy.”

Olivia Ovaltine

Hercule:“This beautiful cat belongs to Joanna. I’ve named her Olivia Ovaltine. Ms Ovaltine is no stranger to a bit of fame as she once appeared in the local newspaper at a protest about the closure of the public toilets.”

All photos courtesy of Hercule Van Wolfwinkle

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