Father's hilarious 'rubbish' cartoons of pets raise £100k for charity

Well, they’re not EXACTLY spitting image! Hilariously ‘rubbish’ cartoons of people’s pets – including Boris Johnson and Dilyn – raise more than £100,000 for charity after father, 40, picked up crayons to entertain his son during Covid lockdown

  • Phil Heckels, 40, from Worthing, West Sussex, uses the pseudonym Hercule Van Wolfwinkle for his work
  • Office worker admits his creations are ‘c**p’ but has been inundated with completing 1,100 pet portraits
  • Unwilling to accept payment, he gives proceeds to homeless charity, Turning Tides; has raised over £131,000
  • The father -of-one now has 170,000 Facebook followers and is working through 50,000 pet portrait requests

A father who drew ‘rubbish’ portraits of people’s pets – including a special commission from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his dog, Dilyn, has raised more than £100,000 for a homeless charity in just two years.

Phil Heckels – who uses the pseudonym Hercule Van Wolfwinkle – has completed over 1,100 pet portraits in two years and despite claiming his creations are ‘really c**p’, now has 170,000 Facebook followers and is working through 50,000 pet portrait requests – even quitting his real estate job to pursue the doodles full-time.

The former estate agent, 40, began his fundraising mission entirely by accident during the coronavirus lockdown in 2020 when he attempted to draw a portrait of his dog for his then six-year-old son to copy.

His wife Ashley, also 40, and son Sam, now eight, found the doodle so amusing that Mr Heckels decided to share it on his private Facebook page for the rest of his friends and family to see.

But the 40-year-old, from Worthing, West Sussex, was shocked when they took a keen interest in the ‘sarcastic’ pet portraits – asking him to draw their own pets.

A dad has raised more than £100,000 for a homeless charity in just two years by drawing ‘rubbish’ portraits of people’s pets

Heckels received a special commission from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his dog, Dilyn

Mr Heckels – who uses the pseudonym Hercule Van Wolfwinkle – has completed over 1,100 pet portraits in two years

Despite claiming his creations are ‘really c**p’, Heckels now has 170,000 Facebook followers

The father-of-one has quit his real estate job to pursue his doodles full-time and donate more money to charity

How it all started: ‘The pictures made us laugh so I put them on Facebook with a jokey comment saying ‘pet portraits for sale £299 – come and place your orders’

Mr Heckels said: ‘My son Sam had been sent some money at the start of the summer holidays by his grandparents to buy himself an ice cream. We told him he had to send them a thank you card but we spent the whole summer putting it off.

Phil Heckels (pictured) began his fundraising mission by accident during the covid lockdown when he attempted to draw a portrait of his dog for his six-year-old son to copy

‘So it got to the last week of the summer holidays and just to get Sam interested in it I got all his pens and paper out on the dining room table and drew a picture of our dog Nala.

‘I thought to myself that the picture I’d drawn was rubbish and I could’ve done better, so while Sam was doing the card I copied a photo on my phone, and to be honest it was just as bad as the first one I drew.

‘But the pictures made us laugh so I put them on Facebook with a jokey comment saying ‘pet portraits for sale £299 – come and place your orders.’

‘It only went out to my friends but by the end of the first day I’d drawn seven portraits.’

Mr Heckels had no idea just how popular his doodles would become until his loved ones started to share them on their own Facebook pages and he began to get commissions from strangers.

The former commercial estate agent added: ‘I just started drawing them because I had nothing else to do – it was a rainy summer’s day in some weird stage of lockdown.

‘Art has never been a hobby or even a passing interest of mine but I started to quite enjoy it.

‘My friends began sharing them on Facebook and suddenly I was getting friends of friends contacting me asking me to draw their dogs and cats.

‘By the end of the first week I had 100 requests for portraits and I was getting friend requests from people I didn’t know.

‘I nearly stopped but me being me I thought “let’s see how far I can take the joke” so I set up the a Facebook page.’

As interest in Mr Heckels comedy pet portraits began to peak, people also started to express an interest in paying for them.

It was then that he got the idea to use his new venture as a means to raise money for a local homeless charity.

He added: ‘I wasn’t charging anybody to begin with, I was just doing them for fun.

‘But I’d been doing the drawings for two or three weeks when a mate of mine in Newcastle asked me to draw his dog and send him the original copy so he could frame it and put it on the wall. Up until that point I’d just been taking a photo of the drawings and putting them on Facebook.

‘So I sent him the original and he came back to me saying he wanted to give me some money.

‘I didn’t want to take any money for it – it was a c**p picture of his dog – but he was insistent.

‘It was during that back and forth that I asked him to give some money to our local homeless charity.

‘And then I had this lightbulb moment for the fundraising and thought maybe there’s something in this.’

Mr Heckels set up a JustGiving page to raise money for Turning Tides – the biggest provider of services for homeless people in West Sussex – and put a link to the site on his Facebook page, which was becoming increasingly popular.

He said: ‘I just started asking people to chuck some money into the pot if I drew their pets.

‘I set the fundraising target at £299 because that was my spoof retail price.

‘My other half told me not to set it so high – she said “you will never raise that selling these stupid pictures,” but the gag worked and we hit it in three days.

‘By the end of the first week we’d raised £500 and by the end of the first month we’d raised £800.

‘Fast forward two years and we’ve raised over £100,000.

‘The best part is that none of it was thought out, it just happened.’

By the end of Heckel’s first week he’d raised £500 and by the end of the first month £800. ‘Fast forward two years and we’ve raised over £100,000’, he said

In the two years since he started doodling people’s pets, Mr Heckels has drawn an estimated 1,100 portraits and undertaken an array of fundraising challenges – including drawing non-stop for 24 hours and completing 100 portraits before sleeping.

He is currently wading his way through around 50,000 pet portrait requests.

As a result the dad-of-one has raised an impressive £131,075 for Turning Tides – more than 4,000 times his original fundraising target.

Mr Heckels said: ‘Turning Tides are extremely grateful for the money they’ve received. My fundraising came during Covid when their normal sources were diminished so it was very welcome.

‘They’re a charity we’ve supported as a family for a number of years but the reason I chose them is as simple as this – all of us, every single one of us, are going to need the help of someone else at some point. Not necessarily finding ourselves homeless but needing someone’s help.

‘We’re a little bit of bad luck or a couple of wrong turns away from needing the help of other people.

‘It’s been amazing to see we’ve had people from all over the round – from California, Australia, New Zealand and more – donating to a small homelessness charity in West Sussex.’

And it’s the support from his 170,000 Facebook followers that has inspired the dad-of-one to ditch his job as an estate agent after 23 years and focus on pursuing his unusual hobby full time.

Mr Heckels said: ‘We had to make a decision because the bigger the project got, the bigger the circus got. I was working around 14 to 18 hours a day.

‘Something had to give – there was no longevity to keep going like that.

‘But you regret the things in life that you don’t do and I knew I couldn’t just scale it back.

‘This project has my heart and soul. When you put your heart and soul into something you can’t do it half-hearted.

‘It’s a massive risk we’ve taken but we’ve raised another £50,000 since.’

But the 40-year-old is positive that people will continue to buy his drawings whether they’re ‘rubbish’ or not because they make people smile.

‘I am just a normal bloke and haven’t really drawn in my life other than at school. I didn’t even do GCSE Art or anything,’ said the artist

Mr Heckels said he had no idea his artworks would be so popular; above, another of Hercule Van Wolfwinkle’s masterpieces

The artist’s Just Giving site states: ‘Hercule has two styles of portrait, one super realistic full colour which is just like looking at a photograph or alternatively the more contemporary black and white portrait that will grace any home’

‘Soon I found myself sitting crossed-legged on the floor while my wife watched Netflix churning out several portraits a night,’ said Mr Heckels

Mr Heckels said: ‘I have had so many requests it’s a bit of a lottery if you get one now. I have had to manage people’s expectations’

He added: ‘I know it can continue to do more good for vulnerable people and I want to eat the life out of this project for as long as I can.

‘I hope we can find a formula to keep it going for a little longer yet.

‘But ultimately people love their pets so whether it’s a c**p drawing or not people are going to love it.

‘They make people smile and there’s not been an awful lot to smile about in the last couple of years – especially on social media. It can be a really horrible place to be at times.

‘We’ve carved out this happy little corner of social media and people just like being there.’

Mr Heckels, who has now been committed to the project full-time for three months, has released a book of his portraits aptly titled ‘Rubbish Pet Portraits’ where some of his work is showcased.

He has also started supporting a second charity called Street Vets who provide veterinary treatment to the pets of homeless individuals – raising more than £43,000 for them so far.

The dad-of-one was even awarded a Points of Light award by Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his fundraising efforts in 2020.

A selection of some of Phil ‘Hercule Van Wolfwinkle’ Heckels’s artworks – no doubt taking pride of place in their owners’ living rooms

Mr Heckels said: ‘It all started when I was trying to coerce my son into making some thank-you cards’

These are the hilariously bad pet portraits people are queuing up to pay for, which invariably appear to be caricatures

The 38-year-old father, from Worthing, West Sussex, discovered his ‘unique talent’ after doodling a picture of his dog, posting it on Facebook and finding friends offering to pay for one of his portraits

In a personal letter to Mr Heckels, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: ‘Congratulations on the success of your pet portraits!

‘What started as a fun project with your son has now raised a significant sum for local charities. Your ‘rubbish doodles’ by Hercule Van Wolfwinkle have also lifted the spirits of the nation.

‘I loved the picture of me with Dilyn and I am delighted that we were able to help raise funds for local charities.’

And as for his pseudonym- Hercule Van Wolfwinkle – he explained that was also entirely accidental.

He said: ‘About 10 years ago I’d had enough of social media and deleted by Facebook page. But after a few weeks I realised I missed seeing stuff from my family.

‘I didn’t want random people to find me so I came up with the pseudonym Hercule Van Wolfwinkle.

‘And now I couldn’t think of a better artist name if I tried.

‘I even got it tattooed on my backside when we reached £75,000 with the fundraiser.’

Strangers have inundated Mr Heckels with around 50,000 requests 

As he was unwilling to accept payment, kind-hearted Mr Heckels has sent all his proceeds to homeless charity, Turning Tides and has raised more than £100,000 for the good cause

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