“A Day In The Life” With Painter Zann Hemphill

Zann Hemphill does amazing portraits. She always wanted to do her own thing, and was always making art with animals, and then one day the two just kind of clicked. Running a pet portrait business was a manageable thing to start, even with zero budget and only a small shared apartment to work out of. And unlike a lot of other business options, it totally meshed with her art background from Emily Carr. After initially investing only a few hundred dollars in a website and some advertising, she made her first sale! That was back in 2017. After a few months testing the waters, she quit her full-time job to work on Paws By Zann, and started getting more clients. Now Zann has a dedicated studio space and has done hundreds of paintings for people, not just dogs and cats. Sometimes birds and horses and hedgehogs appear. These last two years she’s focused a ton on improving her use of value in her art, practicing painting from life with anything or anyone available. The studio is filled with sketches of Peaches and Tiberius, her St. Bernard and tabby cat—mostly while they’re napping.

Packing Art for Shipping – I pack everything at home because I need to know my work will arrive safely. The material here is recycled foam from a local car dealership, and then that gets packed in a waterproof coroplast box cut to fit the painting.
Paint and Palette – Grey wax paper palettes are great for oil painting because the paint slides around on there really nicely, and 50% grey lets you see the value of your paint more clearly. Most of the colours I use are earth tones – siennas and umbers – and I like a really opaque white like titanium oxide.
Tiberius and Peaches – Sometimes Tiberius joins Peaches and I, and the two have an uneasy truce. They want to play with each other but unfortunately, Tiberius plays with the wrong end of the dog: she thinks Peaches’ fluffy tail is a cat toy.
Peaches in the Studio – Peaches is a delight to have in the studio, just a big orange ball of love. We live about 5 minutes from the beach, so in Summer we’ll head down for a swim mid-day so she can stay cool more easily.
Zann Hemphill
Practice from Life – Lighting is the most important part of art, in my opinion, so I spend a ton of time practicing from life. Anything with a round surface, I’ll paint. Tomatoes, people, pinecones, you name it.
Zann Hemphill
Painting the Edges of a Pet Portrait – I make sure the edges of the painting get just as much detail and attention as the main surface, so when the piece goes on the wall it has more dimensionality to it.
Zann Hemphill
Paintbrushes – I have a ton of different brushes I use, even for one piece. I start big and then work smaller and smaller as I go from the broad strokes to the details.
Zann Hemphill
Myles and Zann – When I’m not in the studio, I often hang out with my husband Myles in the garage. It’s like a studio, but louder, and the art drives off sometimes.


Which ’hood are you in?

My studio used to be right in Downtown Vancouver, in Yaletown, but I’ve since moved to Lantzville where I have more space to paint.

What do you do?

I paint pet portraits! People send me photos of their pets and we talk about what kind of painting they’re looking for. Once the composition is mocked up, I get started on canvas and show them how it’s coming along over email. Most of my work is done in a classic oil style like you would see with regular portraits. I put a big focus on realism and beautiful lighting.

What are you currently working on?

I have some really cool projects on the go right now! There’s one portrait that’s going to be a surprise gift for a couple in Port Moody, and I get to deliver it in person when they come by the studio. Another is going to be two golden doodles… painted as the Grady twins from the Shining! That one is heading the US. I love getting to work on projects like this where people really get creative with what they want. Another is a golden retriever lit from the side with an amazing landscape behind, also heading across the border.

Where can we find your work?

I post a ton of my paintings on my website.

Because almost everything I do is a commission, almost the only way to see my paintings in person is to happen upon one in a friend’s house (or to order your own, of course). I’ve painted hundreds of pets in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island, so it’s getting more and more likely you’ll run into one!