The Day I Met Hank

The Day I Met Hank

Illustrator Jean Abernethy makes characters come to life in The American Quarter Horse Journal.

An oil painting of a friendly dog is part of an American Quarter Horse Journal layout.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

Illustrator Jean Abernethy, who hails from Ontario, sent us this note after she created the illustration for Dr. Bo Brock’s column in the June-July issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal:

I never met Hank. The pup was delivered to Doc Brock’s clinic and grew into a 100-pound guard dog who watched over Dr. Bo Brock’s home and family for 15 years. He even saved Bo’s life once, and now Bo was writing about his death.

As an illustrator, how do you give life to this story? The presence of emotion was palpable in Bo’s written words. I’ve buried two dogs that I loved. I know that grief.

It seemed to me that nothing short of a portrait would serve, even though the story included a grand dispatching of a rattlesnake. But this was not an action story. It was a tribute. “What sums up Hank?” was the question I asked myself. Dr. Brock described him as a gentleman.

               Jean Abernethy and her painting of Hank. 

Hank watches me now from the shelf. It’s a bit weird; I’ve never met him, but I know it’s him. Somehow, through Doc Brock’s description, my knowledge of dogs, and that tiny, sunshiny photo, the essence of Hank appeared on the canvas.In a day’s work, Hank arrived on the canvas. I kept wondering if I’d been too hasty, if I might still receive some better-quality photos. But the day after I finished the painting, I got a message from Doc: “Unfortunately that’s the only photo we have.”I decided a warm, friendly portrait in oils would be best. This would be an opportunity to emulate the work of one of my illustrator heroes: Rein Poortvliet. I haven’t touched my oil paints since 2012. In pandemic lockdown, I cannot buy art supplies. Opening the paint box, squeezing gently, I discovered I had plenty of colors, and they hadn’t dried up. So I set up my kit, leafed through Poortvliet’s book of dogs, queued up the tiny pixilated photo of Hank and began to paint.I tossed it about in my mind for a few days, measuring the sentiment in the story, and concluded that only a portrait would be appropriate. But I needed more than a verbal description to make a portrait. I appealed to the Journal team and Dr. Brock for reference photos. Only one came, a tiny, blurry, pixilated image. But I could see him, kind of. I contacted Doc on Facebook to see if he had anything else. 

I don’t know when Dr. Brock will see it, or how he will respond. But when I look at Hank, he’s just sauntering back to the world to say hello to those he loved. In this case, I feel like I was just the instrument. Hank wanted Doc to see his smile one more time. I look at that wee painting there on the shelf and think, “Hello, Hank. It has been an honor to meet you. Glad I could be of service.”

AQHA members can read the June-July issue of the Journal online by logging into their account at AQHA Services and scrolling to "Subscriptions." The Journal  is an AQHA member benefit, published eight times a year.