Bored with canvas? Paint shoes!

So I love to paint, but I’m one of those people who simply lacks the patience to fill an entire canvas. I’ve painted on all sorts of mediums, but today’s topic will be a melding of art and style: shoes!

Here are a few of my favorite painted shoe projects I’ve done over the years

If you’ve ever been a devoted fan of something, but couldn’t afford real merch, perhaps you too have felt the desire to do a little copyright infringement. Hey, I won’t tell if you won’t. My first pair of painted shoes were these Star Trek flats!


I wore these till they fell apart. Eventually I picked up the brush again, and tried for something a bit more detailed. Super Jail flats, based on one of my favorite needlessly violent cartoons (next to Metalocalypse. Season 5 anybody? Please?) Anyway I never did finish these shoes, but I did still like the progress.


Now my nephew, Vash, is probably one of the most devoted fanboys ever. He loves collecting merchandise for his favorite games and toys. And when he was younger, we were astounded at his ability to remember and name at least a hundred Trashies. These were little rubber toys that looked like, you guessed it, piles of literal garbage. But hey, who am I to judge what kids collect? ~Cough hundreds of Pokemon cards cough.~ So I made Vash some of the sickest kicks in kindergarten.


Now if you want something a little simpler, I always suggest Galaxy shoes. I love a project that’s hard to mess up, and these are pretty cute and abstract on any style of shoes. Like these wedges!


Galaxy painting is pretty great because it’s also fairly unisex. I’ve done men’s converse in galaxy paint with a little Star Ship Enterprise as a quick and personal gift.

So, itching to get in on this paint party?

Here are my tips

  • Use canvas shoes in any style, so long as it has open spaces and won’t be interrupted by laces or seams.
  • Use acrylic or multi-surface paint, and seal with OUTDOOR Modpodge. Outdoor Modpodge (in the green container) is one of the best sealants I’ve used for many purposes. It does not dry with any tackiness, and is water resistant. Simply apply a few layers just over where you painted, to keep it from chipping.
  • Use a black permanent marker such as a Sharpie to make the fine details. Trust me on this one. Don’t bother with using a line brush and black paint, you’ll just risk messing up the linework and rage quitting the whole thing. A sharpie looks just as good, especially for boldly outlined cartoons. Make sure your paint is good and dry before trying to use it, though.
  • Don’t buy a pair of “practice shoes”. I fell in love with those Star Trek shoes, but I had some notion in my head that I should use cheap shoes first and work on better ones once I had perfected the skill. But trust me, you don’t want to duplicate your designs. Your energy and your focus have a limit, and unless you know you are willing to do the same thing twice (which I certainly am not) the first edition will always be better than the copies you make. I always wished I had just painted a good pair of shoes, since those ones fell apart within about two weeks and I just wore them with holes in the bottom.
  • Open a reference picture and refer to it often. The reason those Trashies look so true to the original is that I was constantly looking back to the images. It is a common mistake I see to ignore specific details that can be the difference between looking like real merch, and a cheap knock-off.
  • Use a puppy training pad to protect your work surface, dab off extra paint, and dry your brushes after rinsing. They are waterproof on the back, so no risk of bleed-through. It’s easier than having a paper towel plus newspapers, and you can use the same pad dozens of times. You can get them in any grocery store in the pet section. See the Trashies pic for an example of what I’m referring to.
  • Go to thrift stores or overstock stores (such as Ross) to get inexpensive shoes you can turn into personal closet favorites! (This works for purses and handbags, too!)
  • For Galaxy shoes, use the tips above and apply just a little red or blue paint to a large brush. Swipe it several times in very thin layers to create the look of nebulas. Use an old toothbrush to flick white paint to be the stars (though practice this technique first, as it’s a fickle mistress) and finish by adding painted details like comets and super novas, or even little spaceships!

Well! There’s my personal technique for painting shoes, and the things I wish I’d known before I started. In times of financial hardship I’ve offered custom shoe painting to my friends, and that’s usually good to spark some interest. I’m sure you could even set up a street-painting area near a shoe store (with permission) and allow people to watch you work on their shoes while they’re out and about! But that’s just the Taurus Moon in me trying to turn everything into a money-making venture. And there’s always Etsy and similar sites where you can offer custom hand-painted goods, so I hope these tips serve you well!

Please post any questions or feedback in the comments below!


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