Phil Heckels, 38, perhaps now better known as Hercule Van Wolfwinkle, embarked on his incredible pet portrait journey by making a thank you card to his parents, aided by his reluctant six-year-old who he was trying to get away from computer games.
The Worthing artist has since received hundreds of commissions for his 'rubbish doodles', which he turned into a fundraiser for West Sussex homeless charity Turning Tides.
People interested in a portrait are invited to donate any amount and, if lucky, Phil - or Hercule - will draw their pet. Demand became so extreme it has now come down to a lottery system, as Phil also balances a separate full-time job.
Phil said: “Honestly, I just never would have believed these rubbish doodles of mine would cause such a sensation – it still doesn’t feel real. All I did was a drawing of my own dog for my parents, posted it on my Facebook page and then my friends requests started pouring in…. Before too long I found myself drawing pets every evening!”
“One of my mates wanted to pay me for the portrait I did but I honestly didn’t want any money because they are really not that great! I wanted any money to go to the charity I have supported for many years, Turning Tides. So I set up a JustGiving page and Facebook Page under the Pseudonym “Hercule Van Wolfwinkle’s Pet Portraits” and the rest, as they say is history! I have almost 13,000 people following me!”
You can see dozens of Phil's portraits in all their glory here: Worthing artist’s ‘rubbish’ pet portraits become internet sensation - in pictures
In the last few weeks, Phil has appeared on the BBC and ITV's This Morning, as well as national newspapers and local institutions like the Worthing Herald.
His portraits, which have a distinctive style, have been accompanied by fake reviews penned by Phil himself, for example:
“Like a firework display, massively overwhelming at first but ultimately not what I had hoped for and bitterly disappointing!”
“I was told you would capture the essence of my dog. Well you’ve certainly captured her scent. And let me tell you this now, she STINKS”
“Did you draw this in the dark…… with your eyes closed ….. and your hands tied behind your back?”
Ruth Poyner Head of Fundraising and Communications at Turning Tides, said: “We, are absolutely thrilled by the amazing talent, energy and enthusiasm Phil (aka Hercule Van Wolfwinkle) has poured into his Pet Portraits. Phil, and all his avid supporters have not only raised a staggering £18,000+ in such a short space of time, in support of our charity; he has also increased awareness of the rising numbers of homeless men and women in our community.
"Phil has supported our charity for a number of years and shares our passionate belief that no one should be without a home. We are facing an unprecedented need for our services in West Sussex. We are incredibly concerned as we enter the winter months, how the ongoing pandemic will have an impact on the hundreds of men and women we already support but also those who will inevitably become homeless and need our support as the economic consequences of Covid take effect. The winter months are looming and this poses a great risk, particularly to the lives of people who are forced to sleep rough. It will be a real challenge this.”
"Phil has a very ‘normal’ office job and is exceptionally critical of his drawings that take on a character and charm delighting the owners. Phil is exceptionally self-effacing but he has really brought a smile to so many at such a difficult time. Additionally, to know the donations from his much beloved pet portraits will also have a lasting positive impact on the most vulnerable people in our community is really very special.”
https://www.facebook.com/portraitsbyhercule/https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/portraitsbyherculeTo donate or find out more about Turning Tides visit: www.turning-tides.org.uk