Traditionally, oil paintings are created either from live sittings or from reference photos, typically shot by the artist. For many reasons, we believe a superior result can be had by separating this process. So we begin by using professional photographers to create the reference image, and from that image we create your oil painting.

This division of labor plays to the strengths of each link in the chain. The resulting painting is both superior in quality and surprisingly accessible in price.

After being photographed on location by one of our affiliated photographers, the images from your shoot are edited and a final selection is made. This will serve as the reference art for your painting. The image is then sent to our studio in Xiamen, China.


At Zhang Studio, your painting is hand-made by a master artist. There are no photo or mechanical processes employed. We paint on canvas coated with gesso, which is a blend of white paint and a binding agent that helps oil better adhere to the canvas.

The first layer of content is a rough sketch, to map out the major elements in your painting for proper size, location and proportion. This is done by eye, as are all of the steps in your painting.

Next, the artist will create the base color layer. This is a rough version of the subject that will establish a tonal and color palette. After allowing time for the base color layer to dry, the process is repeated with successive layers, each adding more depth and detail.

Seen above, Zhang Studio artist Thomas Linn is working on the second layer of oil. Several layers later, the painting is finished:


Below, Zhang Studio artist George Wen works on an early layer of a portrait, the final version of which seen at right. This layered approach is time-consuming. But it ensures a rich, luminous result with translucent skin tones.

That’s because an oil painting is not really two-dimensional. It can best be envisioned as many layers of pigment particles suspended in a transparent medium. Light reflects back from all of the layers in the painting, creating the illusion of depth.


After the optimal level of detail has been reached, a photo of your painting will be sent for your approval. This jpeg is a pale representation of the in-person painting. It’s not possible to capture the depth and luminance of an oil painting in a digital photo.

The copy photo is primarily for judging content. If changes are required, they would be addressed at this time.


Your painting will not be an exact, mechanical reproduction of your reference photo. This is a human-driven, organic process. And oil has a different tonal range and color depth than does a photograph.

Our artists blend various colors, often complementary, to build the appearance of depth and detail. For that reason, homogenous, neutral-toned backgrounds do not translate well to a painting. So the painter may shift the color cast slightly to get a better result for the new medium, as seen above.

Zhang Studio painters are experts at interpreting the color range of a photograph to most ideally fit the new medium of oil. Expect some color and tonal value shifts according to the painter’s experience and judgement. If you have specific wishes in that regard, please let us know in advance.


Framing Allowance

When your painting is framed it will be stretched on a stretcher bar. This requires a small foldover at the edge, which will steal a little bit of your content. The “rabbet” (i.e., inside rail) of the frame itself then obscures a little more content. This averages a half an inch in total on each edge of your painting, and is illustrated by the light-shaded border on the painting above.

This is of no consequence if your subject has some space to give around the edges. Our painters can easily extend that space to compensate for the framing process, and that’s exactly what they will do.

But if your reference photo crops into someone’s head, expect the painter to extend that subject matter to compensate for the foldover and the rabbet. They are merely creating something for the framing process to steal, so it will leave remaining the content you originally intended to be seen.


Shipping and Customs

After your painting is approved, it is allowed to dry sufficient for safe shipping. Paintings are shipped unframed, rolled, tubed, padded and boxed for safe transport. (In addition to safety concerns for the painting, we believe framing choice is subjective and best left to the end recipient.)

Oil paintings typically do not incur customs duties upon import. In the rare event that they do incur a duty, that is the responsibility of the recipient.

International shipments require a declaration of contents and value on the waybill. For declarations purposes, we label our paintings as “commercial painting sample” and declare a nominal commercial value (usually $200) on the waybill.

Painting by Thomas Linn/Zhang Studio from a photo by David Hobby
Painting by George Wen/Zhang Studio from a photo by Regina Pagles
Painting by Thomas Linn/Zhang Studio from a photo by James Hays
Painting by Zhixing Zhang/Zhang Studio by a photo by Brian Rickey