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PenWag slide-1 at 72dpi

Someone asked me the other day how I got started  painting shoes. The answer is: a stenciling class, some fine print, and a wearable art magazine.

Here’s the story. Back in the summer of 2005, I took a class in how to stencil on sweatshirts (which is a great way not just to decorate them but to hide the inevitable spots and stains they seem to attract) at Back Porch Fabrics in Pacific Grove, CA. The paint we were using was Lumiere and I was delighted by the yummy gleaming colors it came in. Needless to say, I went home with lots of bottles, large and small.

PenWag slide-2 at 72dpi When I got home, I was looking at the larger bottles and reading the fine print on the back. (I’m naturally curious AND a lawyer’s daughter….) This was a bit of a challenge since the fine print was in about 5 point type — even smaller than the warnings on cigarette packages. Anyway, it said the paint was “perfect for surfaces including wood, canvas, and natural or synthetic fabrics from lightweight silk to denim and leather.”

LEATHER?? I thought. Then why isn’t anyone painting shoes?? So I called up the manufacturer, Jacquard, and asked if Lumiere really did work on shoes. They assured me that it did. They even added that it worked on manmade leather as well as genuine leather.

Next stop, Bass Shoe Outlet, where I bought a pair of faux suede sandals on sale for $12. PenWag slide-01 at 72dpi I decided it would look cool to paint each strap a different color. So I did. Starting at the toe, I painted them Pewter, Halo Pink Gold, Metallic Bronze, Pearlescent Blue, and Metallic Rust. (I don’t have a photo of this stage of the project because I had no idea at the time that I was going to someday write about it. I was just playing with my new paints!)

When I got done, I thought, Well, that’s okay. But they looked sort of plain. So I let them sit around for a while. Then a few weeks later, I was stenciling over some more stains on another sweatshirt and realized that I had a stencil that was exactly the width of the straps on my painted sandal. Why not stencil over those very plain (if colorful) straps?

This was before I learned that it’s a little tricky to stencil on shoes since they don’t lie nice and flat like paper or fabric — so I just went ahead and did it. Here’s the stencil I used.

Gypsy Summer stencil at 72dpi

I used contrasting colors for the stencil and I liked the results, though I had to touch them up a bit Gypsy summer closeup at 72 dpi with a tiny brush. (Sorry,no picture of that step in the project either.) The sandals looked MUCH more interesting. So I decided to go a bit further and add contrasting highlights to the leafing on the stenciled area. Here’s a closeup of what that looked like when I was done.

Another big improvement. I was on a roll, so I wondered what else I could do to these shoes. That’s when I noticed a little line of stitching holding three of the straps together. Hey, I thought, a little line of beading might look cool there.

So I dug around in my bead box and pulled out some Bali silver tube beads and a couple of fresh-water pearls left over from a bracelet-beading project. I stitched them over the stitching and voila, a very nice touch! (See photo below.)

PenWag slide-4 at 72dpi That’s how the sandals remained until our daughter Bronwyn came over one day. At that point, the footbed was still sort of pale beigy-gray, not the blue you see in the closeup photos. Bronwyn is a writer, artist and artisan with an excellent sense of color, so I asked her what color she thought the footbed should be. She took my selection of Lumiere paints and without even appearing to think much about it, mixed up a sort of denim color. It was perfect.

I topped things off by stenciling a spiral — a symbol of transformation, which seemed quite appropriate — at the end of the footbed. Here’s the final result.

PenWag silde-4a at 72dpi

Actually, that was not quite the final result. The final result was that I sent my new Gypsy Summer sandals in to Altered Couture magazine, which had just started publishing. They accepted the shoes and I was thrilled! But I didn’t start to think about starting a whole new craft until my partner opened an issue of Somerset Studio one day and saw an ad for Altered Couture that had my sandals in it!

PenWag slide-5 at 72dpi

Hey, I said to myself,if these folks have chosen my sandals as part of an advertisement for their magazine, maybe they are really good. Maybe I’ve got some talent here!

That’s when I decided to keep going with DIY shoe design and see what happened. And that was the beginning of Sassy Feet!

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