1 Oil Dog Painting that will Make You Think Differently About Fur

Oil Dog Painting Analysis

Why Painting Fur in Dog Art Isn't About Texture

The fur in an oil dog painting can do a remarkable thing. From far away, it looks like every hair is meticulously plotted out. But zoom in, and you discover one or two brushstrokes creating that remarkable effect.

In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into one piece of dog art to really explore what’s going on.

Hint: it’s not about texture or “hairs”.

The Dog Oil Painting

Dog Oil Painting Portrait

This is a 24″ x 30″ oil portrait of Coco the chocolate lab. Below, you can use me for reference to see how big it is.

Zann and Dog Oil Painting Chocolate Lab

The key to the realism in this piece isn’t actually the texture— it’s the big areas of light and dark that make your eyes believe that this dog, as a whole, is real.

Creating Realism with Light and Dark

Let’s take another look at the light and dark areas, this time with some lines to help. Now it’s easier to see that the dog in the painting is effectively split into two zones.

Everything on the left of the red line is darker, with less saturated colour. On the right, there’s bright sunlight and warmth.

(for tips on taking reference photos for portraits like this one, check out this post)

Light and Dark Oil Painting

Lose the Texture

Even if I blur the painting completely, you can still clearly see those shapes. And with the texture obliterated, you can still see a dog (if you’re having trouble, try standing back or squinting).

Doing Fur the Right Way in an Oil Dog Painting

So now that you can see how much of the painting is still there without the texture of the fur, where does texture come in when you’re working in oils?

Well, the simple answer is… after the shapes!

Once the dog’s areas of light and dark are established, you don’t need to add every single hair to make the painting feel realistic. In fact, that can be distracting! Take a look at a couple closeups below and see if you can spot any “hair”. Most of it is just, well, brushstrokes.

Here’s a video on how I paint, if you’d like to see how this effect is achieved.

Dog Oil Painting Fur Close Up
Dog Oil Painting Nose Close Up

It’s only near the focal point—the eyes—and around the edges that I add a few extra strokes to indicate actual fur.

Dog Oil Painting Eye Close Up

So there you have it! You can achieve realistic fur in dog art without going overboard with every single hair. The flipside though, is that now you have to render lighting accurately, and that can be even more of a challenge 😉

Looking for More Dog Art?

See more of my work in the Paws by Zann Dog Portrait Art Gallery

Or, take a peek inside the painting process with this Chocolate Lab Portrait (also incidentally named Coco)

For art updates, fresh pet portraits, videos and more, sign up for my occasional newsletter (below).

To get your own dog painted on canvas, visit me at Paws By Zann. I’d love to bring your art vision to life!

Thanks for reading.


Canadian Pet Artist Zann Hemphill
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Zann Hemphill

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

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