How to Paint Canvas Shoes (Zombie, Harry Potter & more)

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Customise your shoes with your favourite design by learning how to paint canvas shoes! This is a totally easy way to DIY your shoes and you can end up with a walking fashion statement on your feet! Try it out!

There was a period of time when I was obsessed with customising canvas shoes using the design of my favourite characters, whether it be from a book or a TV series. It initially began when I saw designs of zombie feet on the canvas shoes and that design literally SPOKE to me! So I made my very own zombie shoes and I wore them for YEARS.

If you saw me on the streets, you will notice that I have a…unique fashion sense. It’s not a phase, mum! But sadly, my current wardrobe has been replaced with boring work clothes of an office lady. Ah.. I miss my glory days! Someone needs to carry on my legacy!

But for real, if you are into canvas shoes as I am, take a look at this guide on how to paint canvas shoes. I will share with you 2 DIY custom shoe projects that I embarked on and how to make them yourselves! Zombie and Harry Potter shoes, anyone?

What you’ll need

Preparation before Painting Canvas Shoes

  1. Have a picture reference ready and sketch it out on a template of your shoes.

    You can find free shoe templates of famous brands such as Vans and Converse online. This DeviantArt artist, Katus-Nemcu, has a wide selection of shoe templates. This is such a good resource! Make sure to check out her page for shoe templates!

Vans Classic Template Shoe by Jojo Mendoza

Vans Classic Template Shoe by Jojo Mendoza

  1. Otherwise, you can DIY your own shoe template by tracing the shoe over a paper and marking out the shoe lips.

    This is an especially useful step for beginners as you will be able to see how you can fit your design within the limited canvas of the shoes.

  2. Stuff the shoes with newspaper or any rough paper to make it firm and smooth. This will make it easier to paint the canvas. You don’t want it to shift while you paint!

  3. Use Frogtape Painter’s Tape to cover up the areas on the shoes that you don’t want to get paint on such as the soles.

  4. Prime the canvas shoes. If you are using fabric paint, you can skip this step.

    If you are using acrylic paints, you need to prime the surface with a thin layer of gesso. I would use Liquitex Basics Gesso to prep the canvas and allow the paint to stick better to it.

The Golden Rules of Painting Shoes

  1. Always paint THINLY. The proper way to paint shoes is to paint it in several thin layers to prevent it from cracking when dried.

    The first few layers might be splotchy and won’t cover the canvas fully, but this is totally normal! The canvas will get even more filled up as you add more thin layers of paint.

  2. Paint the lighter colours first. It is much more difficult to make the lighter colour vivid if it is painted over a darker colour. Always add the shadows/darker parts last.

  3. Add details to your painting with paint markers or detail brushes for crisp lines and edges.

    The best paint markers for sharp line art on canvas shoes, in my opinion, are Uni Posca Paint Markers. It doesn’t bleed at all and is completely waterproof! That makes it perfect to be used on shoes where you will be wearing it out and about!

  4. Remove any accidental paint from areas that are not meant to be painted (i.e. soles) with acetone. Don’t apply this on the painted area!

  5. Always seal the finished shoe by spraying or brushing on a clear sealant. The sealant i always use is the Krylon Clear Sealant.

    If you are using fabric paint, set the paint first with a hairdryer or heat gun, before spraying it with the sealant.

Now let’s get cracking and start customising shoes with paint! Check out my 2 DIY custom shoe projects below to spark an idea! Following these techniques, I went on to paint custom zombie shoes and portrait shoes, including a cool Harry Potter custom shoes! Read on!

How to Paint Custom Zombie Shoes

  1. Trace the outline of your feet over the canvas shoes with a pencil.

  2. Prepare the shoe for painting (refer to earlier section)

  3. Add zombie features over the outline of your feet such as chipped nails, worms, protruding bones, decaying flesh, ya noe the standard zombie feet.

How to paint custom zombie shoes
  1. Paint the skin of the feet with a colour of your choosing – you can literally pick any colour of the rainbow for this. The sky’s the limit y’all.

    Do a simple 3-toned shading (1 base colour, one darker colour as the shadow and one lighter colour as the highlight). Remember to always paint the lighter colour first! So in this case, paint the base or highlight colours first, and the shadows last.

  2. Here’s a quick colour reference guide (but you can experiment with other combinations as well!):

  • Green with mint green highlights

  • Purple with pink highlights

  • Blue with cyan highlights

  • Grey with any neon highlights

  1. Paint the zombie features next! Think yellow nails and decaying flesh.

  2. Paint the rest of your shoes!

    I picked black as it really makes my zombie feet POP! Not that it’s subtle in the first place. You can actually choose to paint the background before painting the feet, but it is up to your personal preference.

How to paint custom shoes
  1. Optional: I quite like the effect of outlining the feet and its features with a black fabric marker. But it’s up to you!

  2. Finish by spraying acrylic sealant all over it! Give it 2 coatings, with around 30 minutes in between.

How to paint canvas shoes

The painted shoes still going on strong after a few years!

How to Paint Custom Portrait Shoes

This is quite challenging as it requires you to have basic skills of drawing and painting portraits of the characters. PLUS, the shoes have a CURVED surface, so sometimes I have to deal with some weird rendering of my favourite characters! Oh, the embarassment! So tips for those with mediocre skills, pick a character with DISTINCTIVE, even cartoonish features. My only successful one was a Harry/ Voldermort canvas shoes, what with Voldie looking like a cartoon character or Casper the Friendly Ghost.

  1. Have a picture reference for the characters. Pick one where they are looking STRAIGHT ahead.

  2. Start sketching out the portrait on the shoes. This will be the most time-consuming part. For those who can’t sketch, you can try this pencil tracing method which I saw online. I’ve not tried it personally but it’s worth giving it a try.

how to paint harry potter shoes
  1. Prepare your shoes for painting (refer to earlier section)

  2. Base colour: Now start painting the portrait with a LIGHT layer of acrylic paint. We don’t want to cover our pencil sketches with the paint just yet.

  1. Shadows: Following the picture reference, paint the shadows/ dark parts and try to follow the outline of the pencil sketches.

  1. Paint the background of the shoes with an opaque coat.

  2. Second coat: After you have painted the main features of the portrait LIGHTLY, time to paint a second opaque coat. This is where the pencil sketches will be covered by the paint. Paint as many layers as needed for full coverage.

How to paint canvas shoes
  1. Highlight: The highlight colours are painted last to really give that polished look to your portrait.

  2. Finish it with Krylon clear spray sealant!

I’ll have to admit, the portrait shoes are challenging! Like on one hand, my Harry Potter shoes are bombdiggity (Okay Harry looks a lil’ ugly) but my Buffy the Vampire Slayer (BTVS) shoes are an ugly nightmare!!

How to paint buffy vampire slayer on shoes
How to paint on shoes

LOOK AT IT! OH LORD VOLDIE! Spike looks skeletal and Buffy doesn’t look like HERSELF AT ALL, I’M SO SORRY MY BABIES!

This isn’t my first DIY fail either. I once tried to spray paint my Dr Martens shoes and it was a DISASTER and i shared with you mistakes to AVOID when spray painting shoes. I’m no DIY guru! After that nightmare, I did so much research and came up with the top 3 techniques for painting galaxy shoes specifically and a more general bite-sized guide to fabric painting.

So the key to successfully painting canvas shoes is really picking the right characters within the limits of your artistic skill. This might sound obvious, but let’s be real, us DIY-aholics are pretty ambitious. In my defence, I’m a Slytherin! 🐍 

Have you guys painted on canvas shoes? I would LOVE to see and hear about it! Let me know in the comments below!


How to paint canvas shoes

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