A look at the Custom Pet Portrait creation process


sketching process for custom pet portrait of Archie the Chi mix


This post is a part of Custom Pet Portrait series, where I share an in-depth look and answer questions. The rest of the posts are linked at the bottom of this page.


Each Oxford Dogma Pet Portrait is custom made to order, meaning I have a process that I use to fulfill the order but each one is treated individually, with care. And I know it’s totally worth the care that goes into them when I get a response like this:

“I am obsessed with these. You nailed their expressions perfectly. I am amazed at how much personality you can see in these!”

—Danette, dog mom to Watson and Angie

Step 1: Gather the source images

Because I really want each illustration to reflect the unique personality of each pet, the project begins with you answering questions about your pet and sending me photos for visual reference. The photos show me things like the way your pet sits or stands, their facial expressions, coat and coloring, and even a special accessory or toy.

Step 2: Getting to know your pet

I start by spending some time looking over each photo and making notes about the key things the pet parent wants to incorporate. For example, some of the requests that people have made include:

  • the look their dog gives people when they walk by
  • their dog’s favorite chew toy
  • a signature collar
  • strawberries, to reference the way a dog likes to watch her parents garden

I also make note of key characteristics that the breed might have. My portraits are a clean and simple style, so picking up on iconic features allows me to simplify while still communicating the important traits.

Step 3: Sketching it out

Then I begin making pencil sketches of the pet. Even though the final artwork is a digital illustration, the sketching step helps me gain a deeper understanding of the lines of the pet and their physical character.

After I have enough sketches to draw from (usually 3-5), I snap pictures of the sketches and bring them into Adobe Illustrator.

Step 4: Digitizing the illustration

Here’s where I turn it into a clean, vector illustration. (Vector just means that it’s infinitely scalable without losing quality. As opposed to “raster” which is what you’d get if you had a .jpg or .png, and if you stretch them up in size they look grainy and uneven.) I love the powerful drawing tools in Illustrator and the flexibility of resizing the image without worry.

While drawing the illustration on the computer, I personalize it with colors picked up from the photos and add in the additional elements such as a collar or pillow. Since I have so much experience using this software (more than twenty years!) I’m able to express those little details that help make each portrait unique to the particular pet. For one dog, she had a collar with a particularly detailed pattern on it, and my familiarity with the software made it a piece of cake to create.

Step 5: Taking a final look

Once I’m happy with the illustration, I create a framed mockup image of it so you can see how it might actually look hung on a wall with a mat and frame. It can be really hard to mentally make that jump from computer screen to final printed product, so this step helps you see it in context rather than just a plain image on your screen.

This framed mockup is sent to the customer before creating the final art print. Because of my graphic design background, I tend to see a project like this as the intersection between art and design. So I like to give customers the opportunity to have a look at the artwork before making the final art print. Pet parents know their fur babies so well, and I would hate to accidentally miss one of those key characteristics they see in them! Typically there’s either no change needed, or something minor like a change to a color or an adjustment to a feature on the pet.

Step 6: The art print

Currently I use Society6 for printing the 8x10 art print. Their quality is fantastic and they use archival inks and papers. I place the order for the print and it’s delivered straight to whatever U.S. mailing address you provide.

Update: I'm excited to say that I'm now able to print these in-house! You'll still get the archival inks and paper, but some time will be shaved off. And I'll be able to sign each one, so you'll get a print signed by the artist which adds to the art quality of them.

And if you choose to purchase the digital artwork file as a part of your order, you can use your choice of printing service to order accessories with your pet’s image. 

The process I use to get to the final portrait has been very effective — the response is overwhelmingly positive, which is immensely satisfying as a creator! I’m so happy that people love their portraits. And one thing I wasn’t expecting when I added this item to my shop is how much people like giving them as gifts to family, friends, and clients. Being able to help them say “I know how much you love your pet!” is really special.

“This is SO cute! You really captured her perfectly. I love the blanket, the bully stick, the collar…it’s so Izzy!”

— Shaina, dog aunt to Izzy

Ordering your own Custom Pet Portrait

Do you know someone who’d love to receive a custom-illustrated art print of their pet? (Or is that someone you??) You can place an order for a portrait here and once I’ve received your order I’ll follow up about the pet’s details and next steps.

And if you have any questions, please let me know! You can email me at amy@oxforddogma.com or fill out my contact form.


Want to read more about the Custom Pet Portrait? The other posts in this series can be found here:


Oxford Dogma featured on

Pet Portraits by Oxford Dogma featured on DogMilk.com Pet-loving designer turns her hiatus into new business Oxford Dogma featured on 12 News Arizona Midday program Oxford Dogma featured as a Spotlight Vendor on the Jackalope Art and Craft Fair Blog

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