A spur-of-the-moment decision by a recent Wayne Community College graduate to enter her college drawing in the local fair earned her a win at the North Carolina State Fair.
Jennifer Pittman said the assignment in Angie Waller's Drawing I class was simple -- "go online and find a picture that we couldn't say no to."
For Pittman, that turned out to be a German shepherd, which bore a striking resemblance to her beloved pet, Loki.
This was her first art class and the third project. The 22-year-old hadn't even doodled on a scrap piece of paper, much less done anything of this magnitude, she says now.
Armed with photos taken on her phone, drawing paper and graphite and charcoal, she produced a sketch to scale on the 15-by-17-and-one-half-inch canvas. It took a whole month, spending an average of three to four hours a day, she said.
The decision to submit it at the Wayne Regional Agricultural Fair almost didn't happen.
Since graduating with an associate in science degree from WCC in the spring, she has been working to pursue her dream of "wildlife rehabilitation."
"When I was doing my vocation paper for 12th grade, I really didn't know what I wanted to do," she said, explaining that there are plenty of veterinarian services for cats, dogs and other pets but very little for wild animals. Hopefully, one day she will be able to be trained in the field.
Meanwhile, bolstered by positive feedback on her sketch and encouragement from family to enter it in the fair, she agreed, just shy of the deadline.
"It was the last day anyone could enter something in the fair," said Sandra Best, exhibit coordinator.
It wound up winning in the adults amateur art contest, and was named Best of Show in its category.
When this year's event wrapped up, fair representatives chose which items to submit to go on to the state contest. Every fair has the option to enter one adult entry and one child entry.
Pittman's was chosen for the next round.
"I had to call and ask permission to take it," Best said.
"I was ecstatic," Pittman said of the news. "In fact, it's very rare to see me tear up at all, but I did."
Best took the Wayne County submissions to the State Fair in Raleigh and wound up sticking around for a bit. No one is allowed to be there for the judging, but Best doubled back before heading out and discovered Pittman's entry had been ribboned -- again, first place and Best of Show, adult category.
The accomplishment is even more impressive when considering all the other entries submitted from fairs around the state.
"It was competing against all kinds of crafts and different handwork, whether it's art, photography, crochet, woodworking, carving, just a huge variety of items there," Best said.
For the second time, Best got to call and deliver great news to the fledgling artist, who was a bit overwhelmed.
"It takes me awhile to actually understand some things," Pittman said, admitting she didn't grasp the enormity of the announcement until her mother later explained it. "I am autistic. I have Asperger's, so it takes me a little while to actually understand some things."
A trip to check it out for themselves was definitely warranted, says the daughter of Jarvis and Cathy Pittman, from the Belfast community.
"I don't go to the State Fair usually because it's so crowded, so noisy, it drives me crazy sometimes," Jennifer said. "But if it's their 150th (anniversary) and it's something like that, I will go at least once."
Finding it among all the exhibits amid the vast layout was another matter, she said.
It took awhile, she said, but once she located it, she says she was extremely happy to see it for herself.
"It was like the icing on the cake," she said.
The prizes earned for the effort have also been impressive.
In the Wayne County event, the awards were $20 for Best of Show, $15 for being a first-time entrant and $7 for first place.
At the state level, it was significantly higher.
One prize was $200, which is suggested to be divided 50/50 for the home fair and the entrant.
"We just give it all to the entrant. So she received $200," Best said, adding that there is a $1,000 prize for winning Best of Show. That, too, could have been divided but again, the entire amount was given to Pittman. "So she received $1,242 (with other prize money)."
"The wildlife rehab fund is kick-started," Pittman said.
So far, this has been the biggest outlet for her newfound artistic talent. Pittman said she has been getting requests to recreate similar efforts for others, wanting a rendering of their pets.
She said she is just glad to have finished her class project -- "It's just this nice feeling" -- and basks in the fact that it reminds her of her own pet. It's possible she will pick up a sketchbook again in the future.
Best said she hopes that will be the case.
"The fact that she cares so much about animals shows through," she said.