KA Hanna is a published children's book author and magazine writer who dabbles in DIY crafts.
Customized Shoe Art
Join the customized shoe revolution! With only a few markers and a pair of white canvas shoes, you can create a beautiful and personal style statement. The best part is that it doesn't take a lot of artistic ability—just the desire to be creative.
This article will show you how to use chalk markers to decorate your canvas shoes.
While you can use a variety of paints or markers on canvas shoes, chalk markers come in brilliant colors, are easy to use, and stand up to the day-to-day rigors of wear and tear on your shoes.
Chalk markers are markers specially made to be used on chalkboards—you probably have seen them in use at your local pub or coffee shop. Be aware that the type of chalk marker that you want for use on shoes is the type that can only be erased from a chalkboard with an ammonia-based cleanser. This type is permanent on fabric.
Good brands include Pentel Wet Erase Chalk Markers and Chalk Ink Artista Pro waterproof markers. Make sure that formulations have not changed prior to purchasing your chalk markers; ask to be sure that you are buying chalk markers that can only be erased with ammonia-based cleanser.
With chalk markers, you have a short window of time in which to blend the colors as you work. This is helpful for creating tones, highlights and volume in your shoe art.
Note that chalk markers will work best on the cloth part of your shoes. If you want to decorate the rubber parts of your shoes, you may wish to use Sharpie permanent markers for those areas.
Shoe Art Supplies
To decorate your shoes, you'll need just a few supplies:
- White canvas shoes
- Chalk markers (not the water based kind)
- Rubber gloves (optional)
- Heavyweight muslin or canvas fabric (for practice work)
- Cotton swabs for blending, or art blenders
- Art brushes (optional, if you want very thin lines)
- Small plastic palette (optional, if you want to make a color palette for brush work)
If you've never worked with chalk markers before, practice beforehand using heavyweight muslin or canvas fabric, or white denim fabric. This will give you confidence and help you conceptualize what design you want to draw on your shoes.
Step 1: Practice
On heavyweight muslin or canvas fabric, practice the following using the chalk marker.
- Drawing Lines—Get a feel for how thick and thin you can draw lines using the markers. If you want really fine lines, you may need to use an art brush and make a color palette by expelling small amounts of marker ink into a plastic palette.
- Shading and Blending—Some chalk marker brands work best by allowing one color to dry and then overlaying a second color to create highlights and shadows. Some work best by blending while the colors are still wet. Practice both techniques to see what works best for you. To create light shades, try placing color onto your practice cloth, then use a cotton swab to pick up the color (while it is still wet) and then lightly transfer it to another area. Alternatively, use a dry art brush to pick up color from the marker tip and lightly apply the art brush to the area you are coloring.
- Filling in Shapes—Practice coloring in small areas to understand how best to fill in shapes.
- Make a Color Palette—Practice mixing colors to see what happens, and to see what colors you want to work with. If you plan to make very thin lines, or you want better control over your colors, you can "milk" the Pentel brand chalk markers and put the ink into a plastic palette. Then, you can use a regular art brush to apply the marker ink to your shoes, and you can mix the colors together however you want.
Step 2: Formalize Your Design
Probably the toughest decision you will make is what design to choose for your shoes. If you're not comfortable with using an art brush to do detail work, select something that doesn't need a lot of detail, or go with something more abstract that you can more easily draw using the chalk markers. With this in mind, I decided to go with a simple design that would only cover the front part of my shoes. One side would be a red cat, the other would be a blue cat.
It really helps to draw out your design in pencil on paper first, before moving to your shoes. You may need to work out issues related to composition, scale or detail; you may wish to simplify your drawing once you see what it looks like on paper or crop it in some interesting way. In any event, it is worth the time it takes to draw out your design on paper first.
Step 3: Pencil in Design on Shoes
Using your pencil with a light hand, draw your design on your shoes. Chalk markers are opaque, so you shouldn't see your pencil markings, but even if some pencil does show through, it won't be noticeable unless someone is really looking for it.
When you've finished, take a step back and look at both shoes together. This is the time to make any last minute changes, to erase anything that you feel is over-the-top or that doesn't fit into your overall vision. Remember, too, that you don't have to completely cover your shoes with chalk marker. In fact, some white space creates interest and makes the design pop.
Tip: If you're feeling a little shaky, try drawing upside down! You'll focus more and not worry as much.
What to Do With Mistakes
First, don't panic if you make a mistake. They happen. Second, if you do make a mistake, you have a few options that you can try:
- Incorporate the mistake into your design by leaving it alone and working around it.
- Blend the mistake with another color and try to make something new.
- Allow the chalk marker to dry and then color over it (this may lessen the appearance of the mistake, but will probably not completely cover it).
- Live with it. Likely nobody will even notice the mistake.
Step 4: Decorate Your Shoes
Using your chalk markers, decorate your shoes with color! Work from back to front, if you can, as it helps build your confidence as you work your way to the most visible part of the shoe. If you're only decorating a single part of your shoe, just go for it!
Step 5: Allow to Dry
Allow your shoes to dry completely, at least overnight, before wearing. You don't need to apply any type of sealant, though some people do like to cover their art with an acrylic sealer. If you've used the permanent type of chalk marker, no sealant is necessary.
Once dry, wear and enjoy your newly decorated shoes!
Art Media for Shoe Decorating
Sharpie Permanent Markers
Readily available, permanent
Can bleed in rain, color can rub off.
Pentel Wet Erase Markers
Permanent on canvas, versatile
Must use the Pentel type that removes with ammonia-based cleaner.
Artista Pro Chalk Ink Markers
Permanent on canvas
Hard to find.
Permanent on canvas
Not as easy to work with, must be applied with brushes.
Permanent on canvas
Must use the type that does not need ironing to be permanent. Not as versatile.
KA Hanna (author) from America's Finest City on April 18, 2013:
Celeste, You must keep on decorating your shoes! It's so much fun!
Celeste Wilson on April 18, 2013:
Gosh this brought back memories. When I was a tween I loved doing this to my canvas sneakers. It even earned me an nickname in my family. It is an awesome way to show some personality.
KA Hanna (author) from America's Finest City on April 16, 2013:
Thanks for your comments!
freecampingaussie from Southern Spain on April 15, 2013:
What a novel fun idea for old shoes ! I saw a car with hearts all over it in Spain the other day lol !
Dil Vil from India on April 15, 2013:
That is so cute. I like the paint decoration on the shoe. Brilliant work!
KA Hanna (author) from America's Finest City on April 15, 2013:
Alison Graham from UK on April 15, 2013:
This looks like a great project to do with my Grandson in the holidays! Thanks so much for the detailed information, I am sure he will have some great ideas of his own once we have had a 'practice' - Angry Birds seems to be his big thing at the moment so that could be a fun idea for some personalized shoes. Voted up and shared!