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What’s the work that goes into these?

Much to my surprise, people often think that the shoes that I paint by hand are digitally printed. I don’t understand it because I always see the discrepancies in the work that you would largely avoid with digitally printed shoes. I guess that is equal parts my discerning eye and my high sense of self-criticism playing in that tune. There is a lot more love, time, and steady handed-ness that goes into hand painted shoes, especially when you are crazy enough like me and decide to conquer fine detailed imagery. This new batch of shoes was no exception.

The first step that goes into any pair of shoes is design consideration. I generally gather a ton of imagery based on what either I would like to make or what an individual “client” would like me to make. I utilize that imagery to come up with the composition that would look best on the shoes…and also, would look damn cool and unique on a pair of shoes!
With these pairs of shoes however, I had already made a different pair last year, so I wasn’t going to be changing a lot when it came to the “Recycled Percussion” side of the shoe. The side that was going to be changing was the “Chaos & Kindness” side of the shoe. Their branding changed for this new season and I wanted to make a shoe that reflected that.
The biggest change from the previous branding was the change from the black to the white background. The white provided more of a blank canvas around the portraits so I had to come up with something that would fill the literal white space around them. I decided to utilize a smattering of their branded Chaos & Kindness heart logo that is an asymmetrical heart. That was nice because I could free hand the heart without worrying if each side was symmetrical. They were able to be painted more easily.

After the design is decided upon, I draw on tracing paper the bits and pieces I am going to use on the shoes. After that is complete, I cover the back of the sketches in graphite and then trace the sketches onto the shoe! I know! Super high tech! The difficult part is the transfer of the sketch will inevitably get super wobbly because the canvas shoes aren’t stretched like a normal canvas. I have to be super cautious on how the sketch gets transferred. Ryan being tied around in all of that rope was definitely the most difficult of all of the sketches.

From there the first thing I paint is the tongue and the back stripe of the shoe. I typically do a gradient on the tongue and two colors on the back stripe. This helps me get into the flow of the rest of the painting because it is a relatively simple application. I also knew which colors were going to be used for the tongue and back stripes. Sometimes that can be difficult to figure out if a design is utilizing a lot of different colors.

For these shoes, the next step was to do the red, orange, and yellow gradients on the inside of each shoe. These made the shoes more uniform, and I only had to mix the color palette once. That helps save a lot of time and paint supply! I repeated the process for the outside of the shoe, which was white. I didn’t like how flat the white ended up being so I added silver to the heel and toes to give it more dimension (besides, who doesn’t love a little bit of shimmer??)

The next part was to take a very small paintbrush and paint in the smaller details on each side. These were the logos, numbers, and hearts. After those dried, to give the hearts more dimension, I took a sharpie and added some 2D “shadowing” to make them pop away out of the white background. I decided to do the same for the 603 numbers on the insides of the shoes.

Then came the difficult part…all of the portraits! I ended up doing the most difficult ones first: Ryan tied in the rope. I ended up not looking at the photo reference and decided to let the paint add dimension to the rope how it will. I just made sure the rope stayed in a diagonal rope-like pattern when I started to add the shading of the rope. Ryan’s portrait ended up being the easiest to achieve because…well, his mouth isn’t open! All the other portraits they are screaming something!

Justin’s portrait was difficult because of the “shout face” he has going. It was difficult to get all the portraits looking consistent even though each portrait was a slightly different size based on the size of the shoe. His jacket and the roses were fun though, it was a nice break from the largely earth tone/skin color palette I had been mixing.

The inside portraits were tricky, even though I had painted those before. What made them tricky is that I have to glue a canvas paper circle to the rubber circle that is on the inside of Chuck Taylors. I had discovered that the fabric paint that I use on the rest of the shoe doesn’t hold up well on the canvas paper. I have to use normal acrylics. The thing that I don’t like about canvas acrylics…they dry…REALLY FAST! So I am remixing the color palette constantly! I had to shift between that paint and my normal fabric paint to get it all right. I eventually got it down to where I was saving the worst part for last – painting in the paper circles.

These shoes took a long time to make because I was making 4 pairs all at once! I learned a lot in the process because it was the first time I was making multiple shoes at once.

My pro tip from this project: Always give yourself an easy entry point!
Sometimes, I didn’t want to go through the effort to paint some nights. Especially when I was getting to the more difficult stuff like the portraits. I should have left some hearts unpainted or the 603 numbers unpainted so that I could start with something simple like those to help me get into the flow of painting. It’s difficult to get into that flow sometimes, giving myself an easier entry point to get there should help me in the future.