Unique Co-Designed Oil Paintings: Your Ideas On Canvas

Dogs Playing Poker Oil Painting by Zann

Design Your Pet Artwork, and I'll Paint It

It’s not uncommon for a client to say “I’m looking for an artist who can paint my pet how I want them painted” or “I have a design in mind for a portrait of my dog, can you paint it this way?”

Most of these requests go beyond changing the background or adding a hat, and so the cost and timeline can be 2-3x more than a standard portrait.

These pet parents are looking for an artist who can work with them to bring their vision of a pet painting or pet memorial to life.

Co-Designed Pet Portraits

In this article, I’ll walk you through two animal portraits that were co-designed with clients so you can see the process we go through. I provide the art, and they provide the idea.

#1 Dogs Playing Poker: An Homage in Art

Dogs Playing Poker Oil Painting by Zann

Referencing of course the famous painting “A Friend in Need” from the Dogs Playing Poker series by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, this unique custom painting was commissioned by two daughters looking for the perfect 70th birthday present for their dad.

Over his lifetime, he’d had eight dogs. So his daughters had the beautiful idea of capturing all these companions in one painting. For style, the realistic caricatures in Coolidge’s paintings would be just right.

Now they just had to find the right artist for the job.

Original "A Friend in Need" Painting by C. M. Coolidge

The Dogs' Reference Photos

Because of the long time period involved (a lifetime of canine companions), many of the photos were scans of your standard 4×6 pre-digital prints.

Apart from the challenges posed by older reference photos, the expression, position, and lighting would all have to be changed for every dog. 

Custom Dog Art Painting Reference
Custom Dog Art Painting Reference
Custom Dog Art Painting Reference
Custom Dog Art Painting Reference

Painting the "Dogs Playing Poker" Homage

Painting these eight dogs into one piece of art started with a sketch. You might be able to see how far off my perspective was at first! I had to make a lot of corrections along the way.

The union jack was also a challenge. I paint animals… so straight lines are not my forte.

Fortunately, in order to make the flag more realistically flag-like, it needed some curves and wrinkles anyway.

Over the course of the week, it all came together.

My two clients drove up to my art studio from Victoria, and I got to meet the people behind the idea!

Most of my orders are placed online, so getting to meet clients and deliver artwork in person is really special for me.

Dogs Playing Poker Oil Painting by Zann

The result was an incredibly unique painting, a spectacular birthday present, a touching memorial to over a decade of family dogs.

#2 A Heavenly Portrait for a Special Pom

The goal for this painting was to capture a much-loved Pomeranian in an angelic, heavenly setting.

Imagine a beautiful garden, butterflies, fluffy clouds and a profusion of flowers, all rendered in the rich style of traditional oil paints. These were the mood references from when we first got in touch.

Ideally, the painting could be based on a favourite photo of Gigi—this one that captured her smile.

To start, we used digital mock-ups to figure out a composition, and where the different elements would go.

Moving to canvas, the challenges were in creating the background and in getting the lighting to match. 

After adding many layers of finishing touches, including gold flake paint, Gigi’s memorial was finally just right!

Angelic Heavenly Pet Memorial Painting

Getting Your Custom Pet Art Idea on Canvas

The first step in any project is a conversation.

If you have an idea or design for a painting and you need an artist to paint it, please get in touch! I’d love to hear about it.

You can reach me through my contact page, or just shoot me an email to [email protected].

Thank for reading,


Canadian Pet Artist Zann Hemphill

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Pet Portrait art of a dog and kitten by Zann Hemphill

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