A Finished Pair of Vans Customs, From Start to Finish

I have wanted to do a blog post like this for a long time! Whenever I get the opportunity to customize some shoes, I make sure to take a few nice, non-shakyhand pictures of the final product. Yet for some reason, the process of really documenting the work in incremental steps never gets done whenever I decide to paint a pair.


I was recently asked by the people at Vans to create a fancy new pair of painted Vans shoes to be put on display in their flagship store in Las Vegas. I had to look up the definition of “flagship” when I read the email, because I figured I’d have to write the word in this post…it means (according to Wikipedia) “the most important or leading member of a group”…it used to be just a sea-faring type word, but it has since crossed over to more common, everyday use. But basically, in sailing terms, this Vegas Store is like the Santa Maria…if pilgrims wore Vans…what?

Anyways, I like Vans and their people…so I said yes to the idea…and here is how it all went down:

I got a package in the mail from the Vans HQ…I’m not going to write the address in case it’s underground and hidden…and in case I missed that non-disclosure portion of the email…I skim emails…who doesn’t? So I get a brand new pair of pearly white Vans delivered to my doorstep:

Aren’t they so fresh looking that you just wanna stomp on ’em? Well…I wanted to…but instead I channeled that odd playground bully-type rage into a productive act…I just squuueeeezed some white paint out into a 3oz bathroom cup from Wal-Mart instead!

My fingers look like Play-Doh, I know…let’s focus OK? This is the part where I got the shoes ready to be painted…which is definitely the most boring part…so be sure to have a podcast or two all loaded up when you start this portion. I happened to hear some great infomercials (on the tv, not in my head) when I was working on this pair of shoes. That can be helpful, or maddening…so proceed with caution.

Now that the most unrewarding part of the process was done, I felt relieved…and finally it was time to get down to some things that MATTER…like stupid-looking drawings of cats and dogs! So I grabbed my red colored pencil (I just use it because I like the color, a regular pencil is also OK to use) and loosely doodled the characters all over the shoes. I decided to go with the right shoe for the dogs, and the left shoe for the cats:

Putting the characters on the shoe didn’t take very long…I always find the quicker, the better…things can always be labored over in the painting process. So I grabbed another handy little Wal-Mart bathroom spitty cup and mixed up black paint with a generous amount of water. Lots of water in your paint makes for a nice fluid texture and it makes smooth lines much easier.

Now the scribbly lined characters done in pencil are about to be solidified! I tend to work in patchy areas all over the shoe, and just paint in the parts that look the most interesting to me at the time…it also keeps me from getting stuck in one particular area and just overworking a character’s eyeball for an hour…which can happen and is an unfortunate waste of time. I like to start on the front of the shoe first, and if I stuff my hand into the shoe, it helps the surface stay nice and flat…which allows for cleaner lines.

So at this point, the linework is not perfect, but it is all filled in with paint… and that’s good, because when it’s coloring time and the lines aren’t dark and strong, the paint will just cover it all up.

In typical me-style painting, I like to pick a nice random color to start with and just see how it goes once it’s all down. So I figure blue is always a winner…and looks clean…so I mixed up a nice amount of blue (for probably waaay too long) and started putting it down onto the shoe…in very much the same way a child might put the marker to a coloring book.

Once the blue was all down on the dog shoe, I couldn’t image doing that again…so I picked a pinkish magenta color for the cat shoe and got to coloring…

Here’s what happened at the end of that day:

I had the idea to use the blue for the characters on the pink shoe…and then use the pink for the characters on the blue shoe, in order to tie it all together…after congratulating myself for arriving at this stunningly obvious design conclusion, I went back to work…

So I liked where this ended up here…but something felt a little unfinished about these shoes. I decided it was all that white everywhere…so I broke out the black paint again and slapped it to the soles! Or to put it more clearly, I painted the soles of the shoes with black paint…c’mon, get hip to it!

Boom! Now there’s a bit more contrast going on here…and I also decided to fill in the lil’ elastic band part with black too.

Okay, now where were we? Ah yes, face to face with a chubby blue kitty:

Most of my time at this point is spent laboring over little details and making small marks with a small paintbrush…cleaning up linework and crisping things up…also a good time to listen to your local newscast or anything banal enough to not distract you too badly.

Now that the linework has reached a coherent stage…I can apply a nice shade of red to the side and back tags of the shoes! This will successfully give a more personalized look, and it will give me the chance at re-creating the Vans logo in my own “font”.

Annnnd with these final details all sorted out…the shoes look like they are DONE!

Now it’s time to chuck that nasty paint rag! Hey raggy, get a job! This one’s over!

Now I will no doubt spend a little more time (at least two days) letting the shoes just kinda hang out in the living room before mailing them out to the Las Vegas Vans store.

Well if you’ve made it this far down the page…thanks for taking the time! I am looking forward to hearing what you think of how it all turned out.