3 Classics like the 'Dogs Playing Poker' Series Come Back as Custom Art
Pet portrait artist Zann Hemphill is well known for her amazing renditions of pets. She uses traditional materials (oil paints and canvas) and works entirely by hand. Usually, this means working from a client’s photo to produce a portrait that focuses on likeness, presented with an artists eye for composition and balance. Her portraits are often a single subject on a neutral background.
But sometimes people are looking for something else.
An Artist Who Can Paint Your Ideas
“I’m looking for an artist who can paint my six dogs as the dogs from a C.M. Coolidge’s series” or “I’ve always wished I had a portrait of these four together, but they never met. Can you make it look like they’re together?”
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 pet portrait would cost.
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, and Zann makes it happen.
#1 Dogs Playing Poker: An Homage in Art
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.
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.
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.
The result was an incredibly unique painting, a spectacular birthday present, a touching memorial to over a decade of family dogs.
#2 A Custom Take on 'Dogs Playing Pool'
This portrait was a very similar request to the Poker piece above, but featuring even more Easter Eggs in the background. The original, another really phenomenal painting by C.M. Coolidge, featured a Great Dane and four friends mid-shot with all sorts of action to look at throughout the composition.
Changes from the Original Painting
Right from the get-go, the clients knew they wanted to insert more of the lives of these dogs into the painting, because it would be memorial for all six of them and spanned more than one generation.
Zann used tracing paper to mock-up how the dogs could be positioned, and where the extra dog could go. Finally, they were all arranged according to who each liked to hang out with in life. And, of course, how they would behave at a game of pool!
Then it was possible to start adding mementos and details from their lives.
These tweaks went far beyond changing the colour of the table. From partially-eaten piano notes to doggy-goggles and memories of stand-up paddleboarding, a chuckit pool cue and Newfie drool, it was the details that really made the piece complete.
#3 A Heavenly Portrait for a Special Pom
The goal for this painting was to capture a much-loved Pomeranian, Gigi, in an angelic, heavenly setting borrowed from classical painters.
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 the initial request.
Ideally, the painting could be based on a favourite photo of Gigi—this one that captured her smile.
To start this portrait, Zann used simple digital mock-ups to figure out where the different elements would go. This would form a starting point for the unique composition.
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!
Getting Your Custom Pet Art Idea on Canvas
Whether you’re looking to get your own dogs playing pool, or dogs playing poker, or maybe cats playing tennis, the first step in any project is a conversation!
Thanks for reading!