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Immortalising Shae

An Artist's Portrait of a German Shepherd

By Simon Aberlé, April 10th, 2018

My name is Simon Aberlé. I am a pencil artist from Adelaide in South Australia, specialising in realism, but when things get too real, I like to escape into abstracts.

My life's passion is art. I love looking at it, reading about it, and creating it.

Like any passion when using your creativity, your drive can be challenged; creating an artwork requires the artist to tap into their reserves of natural inspiration and creativity. Sometimes it takes extra strength to zone into that place in my soul where I go to create when life gets in the way.

But most of the time, the artist's role is extremely rewarding.

Not only do I get to use my talents to inspire and amaze people, but I also am so blessed to be able to give my clients such a powerfully emotional gift, and this gift keeps on giving because it comes back to me in pure love and appreciation.

Meeting Shae was one of these moments.

In February 2018, I was contacted by Geoff, who found me on Google, amongst a three page list of other similar pencil artists. He looked through the websites of each one and decided to contact me as my personality resonated with him, along with an admiration for my pencil drawings, especially Milo.

He told me the story of Shae, a beautiful glamour coat German Shepherd, black/red/tan coloured. She was 12 years old and did not have much time left on Earth due to hip dysplasia and arthritis due to old age. She was in a lot of pain and going down-hill very quickly.

I gave him a few different quote options, and he provided me with some photos via email.

The photos were not bad, but I wanted this portrait to be amazing, so I offered to take reference photos of her myself using my DSLR camera.

He enthusiastically agreed to meet, and we met in a park down the road from his house, along with my partner and kids. We had a great afternoon, a glass of wine and a good chat.

Shae was such a lovely dog. Despite her obvious limitations, she was still very sharp and full of life. She had so much character about her and I loved the way she would cock her head to the side when Geoff whistled to her. It was so cute!

My partner and I took heaps of photos of her, but she mostly wanted to hang out in the shade because it was a particularly warm Summer day in Adelaide, Australia. This made the photos a bit patchy due to the filtered light through the trees and shadows all over her.

What we really wanted to capture were her gorgeous vibrant red colours, so we tried to coax her out into the sun briefly with treats and a stick. We ended up getting a few but she wasn't comfortable in the full sun, so we let her go where she wanted to.

We could see that she was getting tired because she just wanted to sit down, and the way her legs were placed in unnatural angles, she was also not very comfortable.

Geoff told us that she didn't really leave the house anymore because it was too much of a strain for her.

He had been told by the vet that she had literally only 3-4 weeks left.

It was pretty clear how loved this special dog was. Geoff seemed to be struggling to keep his emotions in check the whole day.

He wanted this portrait to be a surprise for the family who all adored this member of their clan. But unfortunately to be able to facilitate the secret photo shoot, he had to let the kids know so they could help keep it a secret from their Mother, Bobbie. She was working that day so it was the perfect moment to sneak in some photos and discuss the commission. Before we departed, he invited us back to his house and showed me some photos of Shae when she was a puppy. Gosh she was cute!

Geoff was hoping that I could complete the artwork before she passed, but made it clear that he would prefer quality over speed. So I took the photos home and tried to decide which would be the perfect one to immortalise Shae. It had to combine all of her key characteristics: her colour, her mane, and her big fluffy tail.

I was hoping to find a photo of her in the sun, because there you could see her colours really stand out, but most of her photos were taken in the shade.

So I worked my Photoshop magic and edited the photo that was close to perfect, aside form the colours, which were dulled by the shade. I referenced the colours from a photo taken in the sun and adjusted the tones in my chosen photo to match. I also had to centre her in the shot and remove the bench on the left hand side.

Here is the photo I chose to use:

The Pastel drawing progressed at a pretty fast rate, and I had it in the back of my mind that I had to do this quick, but I didn't want to rush the quality so I stayed focused and knuckled down every night after work.

Here are the progress shots that I took on my phone after every session:

I got to this stage when Geoff texted me to let me know that Shae had deteriorated to the point where she was basically lame and couldn't move, so the family had decided to take her to her favourite place the next day, the beach, before going to the vet to be put to sleep.

Understandably there were a lot of tears from his family and this was going to be a very heartbreaking experience for them all, so I told him that I was almost finished but I would wait for him to get in contact with me after the emotions had settled down a bit so I could present my artwork.

We arranged to meet a few days later at a pub so I could handover the artwork.

My parner, Lisa and our kids waited in anticipation in the bar for Geoff, Bobbie and their son to arrive. When they did, Bobbie still didn't have any clue as to why she was there, or who we were. Geoff had only told her that they needed to go to meet some special people.

We ordered drinks, and when everyone was settled, I explained that I was an artist who had been commissioned by Geoff to create an artwork of their beloved dog Shae.

She was shocked when we told her we had already met Geoff and the kids, and had a glass of wine at the park to take photos of Shae almost a month earlier. She had no idea!

I presented the artwork to Bobbie, and as soon as the first rip in the brown paper wrapping occured and she saw Shae, she burst into tears, and that caused Geoff to also burst into tears, and we all felt incredibly emotional.

This was such a raw and intimate experience that we all shared together, 7 strangers that became instant friends.

This is what makes my gift so worthwhile. Yes it's nice to be told how talented I am, and that people at first think my drawings are photos. It's great to receive the compliments, but the most rewarding part of being an artist for me is being a bringer of love, joy, amazement, and nostalgia to people. I love what I do, and I am so blessed to have such a gift.

Here's my final artwork:

Thanks for reading!

Please follow me on Facebook and Instagram

If you would like your own personalised artwork please contact me via my website

#simonaberleart #pasteldrawings #pencilartist #portraits

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