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…how a little golden cocker spaniel puppy transformed a graphic designer into an Artist…

Baby Sam I was always a horse person and even to this day referred to as “pony girl” by close family, so in 1997 when my partner at the time (let’s call him “Mr D”), insisted we get a dog which had to be an English Cocker Spaniel Golden male named Harold, I have to say, I wasn’t too fussed and couldn’t understand the obsession.

I searched the RSPCA and couldn’t find a rescue dog to fit that description or any cocker spaniel for that matter. It wasn’t till we went to a local breeder that we found a litter of cocker spaniel pups. Out of the six born, there wasn’t a golden male to be found, so Harold became Samantha. Mr D chose the perfect pup, with me in the background saying “whatever you like dear”, and that’s when little Sam came into my life.

The trip home I couldn’t tell you when I first fell in love with Sam. Was it the drive home from picking her up as she sat looking up at me in an oversized box in the passenger seat? Was it the helpless little cries at night that would leave me standing outside crying with her in my arms because Mr D wouldn’t let her inside?, or perhaps it was the funny way she would fall asleep suddenly while running up stairs because being a puppy was just so exhausting? Whatever it was, Mr D had a sneaking suspicion that I loved Sam more than him… and he was right. So Mr D became “Mr Your Outta Here”!! and I gave Mr D and every joint purchase between us “the boot” except for my precious little Sam.

Sam's daily hug for "Dad" It was later that year I found my future husband Michael and I would often joke that I knew he was the one for me because he loved Sam as much as I did. The three of us continued through life as a happy little family till I realised one day something was missing. I had a university degree in Graphic Design and Illustration, a certificate in Fine Arts and 15 years experience as a graphic artist in the corporate world working for well-known companies such as MYOB and MLC. All of this gave me a life of comfort, security, independence and a bunch of really great holidays!!! Yet, like I said, there was still something missing…so I gave all that “the boot” too.

Me and Trippy With Mike’s (and of course little Sam’s) support, I threw it all away to pursue my childhood dream of becoming a stablehand. Even though I was now starting work at 4am and spending a majority of the day standing in what the average person would step over, I was as happy as a little pig in poo!

Eventually my middle-aged bones, muscles and the ever-increasing physio bills, didn’t agree with my childhood dream and I sadly had to give that away too. So naturally I went back to what was familiar to me and I started a business in graphic design and illustration.

Part of this business involved portraits and for as long as I could remember, I always had a passion for art and drawing. Even through my university years and while I was working as a designer and a stablehand, I always continued my love of portraits and bringing life to those that people cherish most with my pencil drawings. Whether it had fur, feathers, fins or skin, I drew the lot.


It wasn’t until I did a drawing of Sam for my husband Michael that I realised the impact my drawings had on other people, because this time I experienced it myself. I watched Sam come to life from a two-dimensional piece of paper and heard my husband say that all the great memories came flooding back to him when he unwrapped the drawing and saw it for the first time.

I started to remember all the other people who had commissioned portraits from me of their dogs. Remembering that moment when I handed them their portrait and watch them come close to tears of joy. One man even said he felt like he was falling in love all over again.

I love hearing people say how amazing the drawings are and how I had brought life to the image of their beloved dog that couldn’t be seen in a photo, the way it seems to magically come out of the page. That feeling of pride I got when even a photographer who has thousands of photos of her bassets is asking me for a 5th and 6th portrait because I seem to capture the essence of her furry little family.

I realised the connection I had with these people because I was as crazy about my dog as they were. Like them, I wanted to see them come alive and live forever in their portrait.

I knew I had a gift that brought life to dogs with my pencil drawings and then in turn to the owner who I handed it to. I soon realised capturing what someone loves so much about their dog with my pencil drawings was something that was close to my heart and was the only life for me. History told me this could only mean one thing…something had to get “the boot”… so I fondly said goodbye to the graphic arts, which had been my fence to lean on in times of indecision, and I moved forward to spending my days happily loosing myself bringing life to the image of the dog.

After a long joyful life of chasing birds, swimming, being fed well and basking in all the hugs and kisses she could handle from her two “pet humans”, Sam died in 2010 from kidney failure. It’s our pencil portraits of Sam we cherish the most and is a constant reminder of the little pup that came into our lives 13 years earlier and brought so much joy and laughter in our lives and who was my inspiration to follow my dream.

I now welcome you to have a look at my gallery showing a few of my pencil portraits. Take the journey and imagine what these people felt when they first saw their beloved animal brought to life for the first time.

Happy Tail Wagging!

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Helene

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