One of the most useful things I’ve learned how to do in small-budget theatre is changing the color of a pair of shoes without making them look as if they’ve been painted with house paint. Done properly, you can make a cheap pair of shoes match your outfit, or (if they are in relatively good shape) a pair of old shoes look like new.
Here are some tips.
Don’t try and turn a pair of white shoes black, or black shoes white.
Start with something within the same color tone of your finished piece.
Unless this is for a production that only runs for a week, you’ll start to get cracks in the paint of even the best done paint job. You’ll be able to go longer between touch-ups (due to cracking, flaking, scuffing, etc.) if you start with something similar. For example, if you want brown shoes, start with black or navy. If you want white shoes, start with cream or off-white.
Use dye on canvas, spray paint on leather.
There are specialty spray paints for shoe leather, and if you have the budget, they are well worth the money. They penetrate the leather so they are less likely to crack, although you can still run into a problem with scuffs.
If you can’t afford the leather paints (or can’t get your hands on any at the exact moment you need it), floral spray paints also work well.
And, truth be told, I have purchased $2 cans of generic spray paint from the local hardware store, and made it work. You need to be extra vigilant with the shoe prep, and expect to do touch-ups. I would absolutely not recommend doing the super cheap option on anything with a run longer than four days.
As for dye, I have found canvas shoe dyeing to be somewhat tricky as there isn’t a good way to keep the dye off the rubber soles. Sponges and paint brushes work fairly well.
Also, straight shoe polish will work wonders on suede shoes. You can deepen browns, or take brown shoes to black fairly easily.
Do not try and paint suede shoes white. It never looks good.
Which brings us to . . . Preparation.
Acetone (nail polish remover) should be a staple in the costume shop. You need this to remove the finish coat on the shoe (we’re back to leather shoes here).
Use a soft rag, soaked in the acetone and take off the polish in small circular strokes. You’ll know you’ve taken enough off when either nothing more comes off on your rag (you’ll be throwing the rag away by the way), or you get tired of working on it and give up. Because the shoes where probably made with dyed leather to begin with, you’ll never get ALL of the color off (which is why you need to start with something similar to the final color in the first place). But you do want to make sure that you have an evenly colored and textured “canvas” on which to paint.
Once you have prepared the leather, you’ll need to tape off all areas of the shoe that should not be painted. Cheap masking tape is fine (though I did just have a bad experience with glue residue on a pair of shoes). Time spent taping correctly and efficiently will give you a more professional look. Don’t forget metal buckles and areas that are elastic.
If you are painting open toed-shoes, or sling-backs, or sandals, (or similar) be sure to tape the inside of the shoe as well. No-one’s foot completely covers these areas, and you’ll want to preserve the contrasting color and finish. And there is the ick factor – actors don’t want to put stinky, sweaty feet next to shoe paint. If the shoe is completely enclosed, simply stuffing tissues or paper towel to keep paint out of the inside is enough.
Whenever you use spray paint, remember: light, even coats avoid drips and runs. Also, start with the hard-to-reach areas (the underside of the shoe, straps, the back of the heel) and do the easy parts last (top of the foot, sides, toe. Also, don’t forget that spray paint is toxic, so use in a well-ventilated area with a respirator.
You can get really creative from here. Do a bottom layer in a solid color. Add some texture with an air brush or laying an open-weave fabric over and “stenciling” in. Finish with a dusting of glitter or clear high-gloss. The possibilities are pretty much endless.
Just look at the fantastic pair I found online!
What tips to you have on painting shoes? What works? What doesn’t. One of the best things in theatre is sharing stories so that we all learn what to (not) do to succeed!
Happy New Year to everyone!
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