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Painting Portraits on Shoes: A Step-by-Step Guide

An ultimate guide diving into the secrets of portrait painting on shoes by the well-known custom shoe artist, Cam Createz.

Custom painted Joker themed Jordan 1's by Cam Createz, Angelus Direct, Custom Shoes
Cam Createz with his hand painted 'Joker' shoes

Sometimes as an artist I wish I had the knowledge I possess today about painting portraits on shoes when I was starting out, the resistance you can face when getting proportions right solely by sight can be very daunting and frustrating. But through the years of painting many different portraits on shoes, I have stuck to a consistent technique that has stayed the same while my skills have evolved, let me introduce you to my 'tape technique'.

The following tutorial will guide you how to exactly paint a portrait onto the compact surface of a shoe, but realistically this technique can be used for any kind of portrait painting.

You will need:

Step #1 - Preparing the Shoes

Before we start painting the shoes, we need to begin by removing the factory layer of paint which will allow the paints to adhere to the surface properly. First, you will need Angelus Leather Preparer and Deglazer or acetone, simply apply this to a cotton pad and give the shoes a good rub (you should spend quite a while on this step). If your shoes are made of canvas/fabric, you will not need to do this step.

Step #2 - Choose a Portrait

Select a portrait image that you want to paint on the shoes. Ensure the image has clear features and distinct shadows and highlights for better stencil creation in my 'tape technique' (explained later in this guide). I have chosen this portrait of Joaquin Phoenix as 'The Joker' and created a basic mock-up design to assist me in maintaining accurate proportions.

Step #3 - Trace the Portrait onto Tape

This is where my infamous 'Tape Technique' is introduced to the process.

First, place continuous lines of tape over your laptop/computer screen with the correct sized portrait image displayed. Next, using a pen, carefully trace the MAIN sections of the portrait, this includes the eyes, mouth, nostrils and the distinctive shadows and highlights. I've found that squinting my eyes helps me gauge these main sections accurately.

Step #4 - Cut Out the Portrait Shape

What we are doing here is cutting the main portrait shape from the tape using a scalpel blade. Take your time to ensure precise cutting. You can see in the images that I have then blocked out the hair and left the face shape, this is our FIRST *section.

*a section is a part of the portrait that will be repeated through the tape technique process

Step #5 - Apply Base Layer of Paint

Okay, you're ready to get painting!

Now we are using Angelus Leather Paint to apply a base layer over the exposed shoe surface within the stencil, you can apply this by brush or by airbrush and aim to mix the colours so it matches the overall skin tone. For this portrait it was a light, unsaturated blue. A quick tip for colour matching is to use the colour picker tool on either ProCreate or Photoshop.

At this point, I also like to squint my eyes again as I apply various shades of skin-tone to get a basic approach of how the face will look.

Step #6 - Cut Out Main Shadows

From the face stencil, identify and carefully cut out the main shadows. Mix your shadows to correctly match your reference image shadows. Use your new stencils and paint your shadows onto the face. Apply in light layers and when finished, you can remove the tape and make any necessary paint strokes. I blend the wet paint with cotton buds to create more realistic shadow effects.

Paint each shadow section at a time, here I am painting the eye shadows.

Step #7 - Add Highlights

Once the first shadow layer has dried, identify the darker shadows in that particular section and add darker details. After this, it is time for highlights. Use a lighter shade of acrylic paint to add highlight onto the shadowed area focusing on area where light naturally hits the face. Highlights tend to play a crucial role in uniting the details of the face, making it even more realistic.

Step #8 - Repeat for Different Sections

Repeat steps 6 and 7 for different sections of the face, such as eyes, nose, mouth and hair for example. Use separate tape stencils for each section you do and remember to experiment with colour when mixing your paints. You will find each section is different so I recommend using a colour picker tool on your computer to mix colours more accurately.

Step #9 - Final Touches

After completing all sections of your portrait, remove any tape stencils and touch up any areas all around. Use a fine brush if needed and refine the painting to enhance depth, especially with highlight. Here I touched up around the hair, where the tape was, with fine brush strokes.

Step #10 - Seal the Paints

This is one of the most crucial parts of the painting process, sealing. I personally use a brand called Liquid Kicks, their 'Matte Top Coat' create a beautiful finish for every shoe I paint. This can be applied in multiple thin layers with either airbrush or brush, this protects the painting and ensure longevity making them completely wearable pieces of art.

Final Step - Admire Your Work!

Lace 'em up, step back and admire your masterpiece.

Custom Painted Jordan 1 with Joker theme, Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix
Final Shots of 'Joker' Jordan 1's by Cam Createz

As I finish this guide, I hope it has helped you with your creative journey wherever you're at. This process has evolved for me through years of practice painting faces on many shoes and just remember that you can learn something new every day literally! I am continuously learning about portrait painting and I love every step of the process.

Please share any work you have created with me via social media! My Instagram and TikTok is @cam.createz and I would LOVE to see what you create from this tutorial.

*Disclaimer: There are some affiliate link above, which means I make a small percentage of any sale made. It doesn't affect you in any way, but it supports me a little! :)


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