How a Chocolate Lab Oil Painting Gets Made

Labrador retriever Oil Painting

A Chocolate Lab Oil Painting in 4 Steps

Coco’s dog-mom wanted a custom oil painting of her dog, so she reached out to me with a few photos. In this post, I’ll walk you through the process we went through to turn her pet portrait idea into a beautiful, polished chocolate lab oil painting!

Step 1: Choosing the Right Photo to Paint the Dog From

To start off, we needed to choose a photo to work from. When painting dog portraits from photos, it’s important to know what makes a good reference. I’ve written a comprehensive guide here.

For this portrait, there was only one photo that really caught Coco’s “look”. But because the photo was shot inside (indoor lighting does strange things to colour), some other, naturally-lit images were needed to really get her beautiful chocolate colouring right.

There are a surprising number of colours you need to paint to make a chocolate lab look chocolatey!

Step 2: Sketching our Chocolate Lab on Canvas with Paint

The next step is to sketch out where the dog with sit on canvas.

chocolate lab oil painting sketch process

When I sketch my animal subjects, I use the same oil paints that will make up the final piece. However, I thin them with mineral spirits. It’s helpful to thin paints out during the sketching process for a couple reasons. For one thing, thinners add fluidity, which means I can move quickly without any scrubbing motions. And for another, there’s not as much pigment there, so it’s easy to paint over all the wrong bits.

Step 3: Blocking-In the Chocolate Lab in Bold Oils

In this step, I’m looking at big patches of colour. It’s important to get the shape of her head right before I get distracted with details. Otherwise, the portrait won’t look like the right dog!

Custom Chocolate Lab Oil Painting Process

You can see in the above image that these are very rough shapes I’m painting, no detail whatsoever.

Step 4: Details that Make the Dog in the Oil Painting Look Alive

Now, finally, I can start adding texture!

This is my favourite part of painting dogs, because fur just lends itself so well to being a brushstroke.

Coco Custom Chocolate Lab Oil Painting Portrait

In the final painting, Coco’s eyes and fur have both depth and detail.

This is because a string structure was put in first—all the light and shadow—before any of the little details were added.

Looking for More Dog Art

You can see more examples of my custom oil paintings of labs and other dogs in the Paws by Zann Dog Portrait Art Gallery

Or, check out All Pet Portraits

To get your own dog painted on canvas, send me an email at I’d love to bring your art vision to life.

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Thanks for reading! See you next time.


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Zann Hemphill

Zann Hemphill is a practising pet portrait artist, writer, and video producer.

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