Painting Shoes for Theatre

Costuming, Technical Theater Tips, Theatre

In the interest of full disclosure I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my productions and can sometimes get a little crazy with the details of props and costumes to really make the show pop, hence my new obsession (within the last year) obsession with painting shoes for productions. I painted 60 pairs of tap shoes for 42nd Street last spring and picked up a lot of tips and tricks along the way, so for those of you wanting to go this route here are some suggestions based on lots of trial and error.

Steps to Paint Shoes
1. Priming
This step is super important if you want your shoes to last more than a few rehearsals. first find out if you have leather or non-leather shoes. If you have leather shoes, you’re going to want to use rubbing alcohol and cotton balls to rub the top of the shoes to break the seal of the first layer of the shoes. If you have nonleather man-made shoes, you’re going to want to use nail polish remover to do the same thing. If you’re using canvas shoes, you can skip this step.

Simply put either the rubbing alcohol or the nail polish remover on cotton balls and rub the shoes as if you’re cleaning them until the cotton balls don’t have any residue, this might take a while. With black shoes you’ll have a residue but just try to get as much off as you can. This will keep the paint from peeling off the shoes when they’re worn. My advice do not skip the step unless you want to repaint the shoes.

2. What kind of paint do I use?
I use the Angelus Leather paint available on Amazon and from Manhattan Wardrobe. ( it comes in tons of colors and you can mix the paint together to create a custom color if you want. It also comes in the Glitterlites which works really well on top of another color to add some sparkle to your shoes and looks fantastic on stage. (I used the gold for the “We’re in the Money” tap shoes).

3. Painting the shoes
-Use a fan brush if you are painting the entire shoe. It works quickly and gives a nice light coat where you won’t see the brush strokes.
-Use 2-4 light coats of paint letting it dry in between, if the paint is too thick, it won’t dry well and will chip off.
-Be patient and let the paint dry completely in between coats, you can use a hair dryer or a fan if you want, but if it’s a nice day just paint outside and it will dry faster.
-Small stiff angled brushes work well for trim and details, as well as for the Glitterlites.
-Nail art dotters work really well if you are making fake saddle shoes or Oxford shoes.
-Pinterest is a great place to get ideas about what vintage shoes looked like, if you find a pair you like they are pretty easy to replicate with paint once you get the hang of it.

4. Top Coat
For leather and man made shoes make sure you don’t skip the top coat. For canvas shoes it’s not really necessary. Angelus makes a matte, satin, and gloss top coat. I use the glossy because it looks better on stage and really makes the paint pop! ( )
*Tip* use a big fan brush and apply quickly to get the best look. If I am doing a bunch of pairs of shoes I do this step on multiple pairs at a time, it’s easier to do it on a bunch at once. Make sure you wait 24 hours after this step before the shoes are worn, and make sure your paint is completely dry so that it doesn’t smudge and ruin all your hard work.

For some examples of the shoes in action check out my portfolio under musicals for 42nd Street and Bye Bye Birdie. Feel free to contact me with any questions and happy painting!


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