Being among the most frequent topics our customers enquire about is how to paint leather shoes. Some want to take their “kicks” from dull to “daaaaymn!” or, maybe, they are really faced with turning a hundred pairs of neutral character shoes into custom creations.
WHAT YOU WOULD NEED: paint for leather
Angelus Professional Leather Paint
Meltonian Shoe Cream
Terry cloth rag or old washcloth
Heavy Duty Protective gloves
Air tight jars
Polishing rag or old pantyhose
The first term everyone learns in a professional kitchen is “mis-en-place” which translates “have your stuff together”. Well, that principle is vital in this technique as well. You must have your entire ingredients set up in a proper ventilated, properly lit area. When possible take your projects outside. Your projects table should be well covered as well.
THE FIRST STEP: Prep
Remember the grade of your prep has everything regarding the quality of your paint job.
Most instructions begin by removing the waxy finish, dirt and oils with deglazer or preparer or if you’re seriously changing color, using acetone to strip the colour away. The only real problem with this technique is these products are flammable and quite volatile with toxic fumes. This intense “stripping” also changes the basic character of the leather, raising the “tooth” over a smooth leather making it feel almost like suede.”It destroys the integrity of the leather,” Anthony believes, so he loves to take a much gentler approach. He uses 99% Isopropyl Alcohol to strip the shoes before painting. He only “breaks” through the very best layer of the finish on a fresh shoe meaning that he does not find it essential to completely remove all of the color from a shoe that he’s painting. He prefers using an old washcloth or a terry cloth rag instead of a smooth rag as its’ slight abrasiveness assists in removing the finish. Remember Alcohol is highly flammable as well, however the fumes are much less toxic. You’ll still must work in a well-ventilated area and stay away from open heat sources. While some professionals don’t wear masks, it is recommended and essential for anyone with a respiratory problem. All of the pros, do, however, wear gloves, between the threat of burns from the alcohol and the staining of the paint on the hands it’s just foolish never to.
After the alcohol evaporates (approx. 5 to ten minutes) you are actually ready to move on.
SECOND STEP: Paint
Painting can be a frustrating process. Your alternatives are patience or frustration from cracked and flaking shoes.
Use masking tape to mask off any areas you don’t want to paint,
Anthony uses Angelus Leather Paint, but instead of utilizing it as it comes from the bottle he thins it down with water until, he says, “it’s the consistency of ‘Bisquick’ [or pancake batter].”
Anthony likes to paint 3 thin coats. Several thin coats wear better than several thick ones and provide more control over flaking and cracking,
Apply paint with short even strokes being careful to erase the edges to avoid getting ridges. Anthony uses angled brushes to facilitate that.
After he finishes painting his first coat Anthony uses a hair dryer to aid in the drying process. A dryer does a couple of things. First it “shrink wraps” the paint to the shoe and second, it smooths out any unwanted brush strokes by melting the paint directly into the prepared leather.
When applying another coat Anthony shows that to achieve better coverage you should brush on the paint in the contrary direction from the first coat, i.e. if you paint the first coat heel to toe, you should apply the second coat perpendicularly over the uppers of the shoe.
Dry this coat with a hair dryer as you did the first.
Apply the ultimate coat, once again alternating direction from the next. Once you dry this coating with the hairdryer you are prepared for the next phase.
THIRD STEP: Protect
Finishes serve two purposes. They add protection that preserves your paint job, plus they can also give your shoes a matte or glossy surface. Although Angelus makes several finishes to choose from, Anthony prefers to complete his shoes with Meltonian shoe cream. After application Anthony’s preference is to buff the shoes with pantyhose, nevertheless, you may use a soft cloth or old tee-shirt – a lot more you buff, the higher the gloss. If you want to ramp up the colour or shine of the finished product, let’s get creative.
If you like the color which you have painted you may use a neutral Meltonian polish as a finisher. If you want to”kick it up a notch” and improve your color you may use the same color or slightly different color Meltonian shoe cream (they have got a wide and complementary color palate) to complete your shoe. That’s where the fun and challenge begins. It requires trial and error to get the look you want and probably some understanding of color theory. Please, don’t come this far and then ruin your product – be judicious as you customize the final. You can always go back and repeat the procedure with a touch more color.
If you want your shoes to truly have a really high sheen you can mix your base color into metallic paint such as silver or gold. You will need to judge the proportions by eye until you achieve the required shade, once again be prudent with your metallic additions.
If you’re painting delicate, soft or worn shoes, stuff the toes with newspaper or plastic bags to make a smooth surface.
In the event that you were painting a light color more than a dark wall at home you’ll have to prime the wall first, it’s the same with shoes. If you’re lightening up a black or other dark shoe “prime” it with an initial coat of white or, at least, neutral. That is particularly important if you are painting with a metallic or neon paint.
If you are painting with metallic colors, use a “base coat” in a similar, yet non-metallic shade. This provides a far more even surface for the metallic coat.
If painting shoes in multiple colors, start with the lightest color first, then progress to the darker color. In the event that you make a blunder, it’s easier to hide it by painting dark over light rather than vice versa.
Use good quality brushes not wool daubers for painting. Daubers are meant for applying dye or polish, not paint and the angled brushes minimize stroke marks. The brushes don’t need to be natural, synthetic is okay.
When making custom colors, mix them up before painting, store in airtight containers and make sure to create the formula down.
Anthony has a final suggestion which harkens back again to the famous journalist Don Hewitt and an acronym he drilled into his correspondents, “KISS” = Keep It Simple, Stupid! With no offense meant, that needs to be the watch phrase because of this project.