How to Up Your Instagram Game

How to Up Your Instagram Game

Advice For Sneaker Artists Starting Out on Instagram

Summary: You are about to become an apprentice in custom shoe design. These tips will empower beginners to be more disciplined with their time, grow their following on Instagram, and maximize the number of custom projects they can complete.

Topics Covered: #customkicks #customs #shoes #profit #art #paint #Instagram

Shoes as a Medium of Art

There are many reasons for learning how to design shoes. To begin with, the activity of paining is a source of much pleasure and satisfaction. Each shoe or sneaker has its own medium. As form follows function, this gives you the artist a wide range of canvasses for personal expression.

People are seeking exclusivity. People are seeking nostalgia. The best custom designers realize this and tap into the buyer's emotions and need for self-expression. 

Glass Case 'em: Some shoes are so fly that they barely see the light of day. A discerning client is willing to pay thousand$ NOT hundred$ for a limited-edition custom sneaker. 

The Demand Has Never Been Higher

“There’s probably 10,000 footwear designers in our industry. -D'wayne Edwards Pensole Footwear Design Academy

D'wayne Edwards Fast Company

D'wayne Edwards, one of the greats. Photo: Fast Company


Going Viral, Getting Clout

Your mission should be to gain clients, show off your work, gain better clients, and keep showing off - AND keep showing up. “80% of life is showing up.” -Woody Allen

How important is the right exposure? It's everything. 

Prime example:

One artist we collaborate with gained 5000 followers overnight with the release of a commissioned pair for a celebrity. The custom shoe was made for Tesla founder Elon Musk using fine leather laser cut with the Tesla logo.

Elon DM Customs Customized Shoe

Photo: @dmcustomsneakers & @dnicecustoms

They didn’t get these followers overnight. They stuck with it for decades and finally rose to the top. Not “years” - mind you- decades.

Instagram Celebrity Status, One Happy Customer at a Time 

Once you get past a certain threshold of followers on Instagram (some report the range to be between 10,000 - 50,000 you have enough business coming in that you don’t need to advertise anymore. That is, with 10K+ followers, your content just naturally proliferates on the web, without you having to hustle for comments, like in the beginning.

Instagram Influencers

Tools Every Shoe Artist Should Have in their Arsenal


The pencil is the most familiar drawing tool of all. It has a varied range, allowing for soft, velvety tones as well as delicate lines and details. Although the number two pencils that you’re used to using in school make a good substitute, it is better to upgrade and step up to other supplies. Other types of pencils like propelling pencils, clutch pencils, and carpenter's pencils have a lead that allows you to make everything from broad marks to thin lines.  

Pencil Techniques

The immediacy, versatility, and sensitivity of pencils make them the most popular instrument for drawing. Pencil lines can be soft and sinuous, vigorous and bold, or controlled and crisp.


Erasers aren’t just used for rubbing out mistakes or scuffs. They can also be used as mark makers in their own right. Erasers pull out the highlights and light areas by creating “negative” lines and shapes.

You can produce a different mood

Depending on the eraser type you can produce different moods and surface qualities - depending on the type of eraser you use and the degree of pressure applied.


The need-to-have paints are black and white as these get used most often. You'll also need a deglazer to strip the paint, and a spot remover (to use as eraser where you painted by accident). Angelus paint is great for those starting out because of its durability and low cost.

Purchase Angelus Paint here

How to be More Productive Making Custom Shoes

Need to Know Basics: Shoe Artistry

Prepping Before Your Paint

  • Remove shoe-laces
  • Apply painter’s tape to areas you don’t want to paint over
  • Prime the canvas and allow the primer to dry up completely
  • Set a workstation with newspapers, magazine, or cardboard (especially when working with spray paints or acrylics)

Tips for Beginners

  • Sketch the shoe on paper first. Doing this allows you to mentally form the vision for your shoe. Only veterans go straight to the canvas. As with painting oils and watercolors, taking a pencil to layer the paper on top of the 3-D model to produce a better final form.
  • Remember to pay attention to the “negative” shapes between forms - as this will help you to ensure the accuracy of your drawing.
  • Remember to stand back from your design from time to time so you can see how it is taking shape.
  • Build up. Keep your marks light. You can build up darker colors as the drawing progresses.
  • Learn 3-D design; either in CAD or Photoshop; this will help you tremendously when trying to “wrap” the 2-D piece of paper around the 3-D shoe mold.

Paint Like a Boss

“At times it is folly to hasten; at other times to delay. The wise do everything in its proper time.” -Ovid

How to Paint Custom Shoes Like Bob Ross 

This is the “chill” mindset. No need to be hard on yourself as every project is a learning experience. Get into the habit of designing a little every day, experimenting with a range of shoes, products, and techniques. There are no mistakes, only “happy accidents.”

Bob Ross Leather Care Supply

Start with happy little trees...


How to Paint Custom Shoes Like Rick Ross

This is the “hustle” mindset. Realize that you’re gonna have haters; let them talk. You need money because your art has to sell at the end of the day. You’re working against the clock and competing against other talented artists.



"You gotta have game if you wanna get work.” -Rick Ross

Winning Mindset: Some days you gotta be like Bob Ross (and be kind to yourself) and some days you gotta be like Rick Ross (and go hard). The right artist strikes the right balance of both.

The 5 Laws of Painting Custom Kicks

1) Murphy's Law - Everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

Luckily, there’s Law #2

2) The Law of Eventual Improvement. Practice makes perfect. First year in business it may realistically take you 8 hours to complete a pair of shoes. Third year in business you can get the same project done in 3 hours. Workflows are set-up, and you have templates for what you need.

3) The Law of Diminishing Returns. After 6:00 pm your most productive time you’ll likely make more mistakes than make progress. Pros know when to put the paintbrush down and call it a day.

4) Law of Layers. The Law of Layers dictates that you put multiple layers of paint on a shoe, 3 at the very minimum, and up to 10 if you expect long-lasting wearability. If you’re impatient, this can be one of the most excruciating parts of the process to work through & learn.

5) Clients Create Your Clout. When you are creating a customized artwork for somebody, consider their network, and charge accordingly. The more exposure you could be getting for your own brand, the more you can lower and discount the price.    

5 Ways Artists Can Use the Laws to their Advantage  


1) Law #1 It is in the psychology of humans to solve problems. Murphy’s Law also states:"Things will go wrong in any given situation, if you give them a chance." The problem is, when you’re starting out as an artist or business owner, you don’t know what you don’t know. Finding the right tools, products, and suppliers takes trial and error.

“If it’s easy to do, there’s no money in it.”

2) Law #2 Professionals that persevere and push through the initial phase of self doubt and chaos eventually come out the other side. Without question, as you make a part time career out of designing shoes and other fashion accessories, you will improve in your perseverance. The Law of Eventual Improvement is there as a safeguard. In time you will find your flow. Here are the things you should know when starting out as an artist:

    • Know yourself better. (Are you a morning person or a night person.
    • Find out what distracts you. (Where can you work uninterrupted? Maybe you need to put the cellphone on airplane mode while working).
    • What shoes styles fire you up? “If you love what you do you won’t work a day in your life.”
    • What should your workstation look like? Stick to the strict essentials

    3) Law #3 Many a perfect pair of shoes have been ruined by hurry and impatience. The Law of Diminishing Returns prevents you from working when you’re not focused, thereby preventing you from making mistakes in color selection or color application.

    4) Law #4 The more layers you add on the more dope they will be. Applying coats of paint “reinforces” the shoe, and can really make the color pop. If you wanted to cover up a dark material by using white paint you’d need multiple coats, layers, and applications so that the color is truly white, and doesn’t have a grayish tint to it - influenced by the dark color underneath.

      • The Law of Layers also teaches us to be patient as the paint dries, and not to be cheap when applying paint.
      • What are the minimum number of coats you should apply? Experts recommend 3 to 10.   
      5) Law #5 Your goal as an artist and a business owner is to maximize efficiency. That means doing better work for higher-caliber people for which you can charge more money. Simple enough...To get there you need effective marketing and happy customers. Clients Create Your Clout in that they will be wearing your sneaks, and hopefully showing your creation to their social media network, thereby getting you “eyeballs” and clout to bounce back to your brand.
        • A word of warning: If a client promises an Instagram feature make sure they can deliver on that promise, and promptly. Should trouble arise, ensure the barter/sale stipulations are written down via e-mail, as e-mails are easier to defend in a court of law than text message conversations or direct messages.
        • Where should you invest your resources as an artist? Find patrons with high follower counts. The greater their followers, the greater your potential visibility.
        • It just might be worth it to design a pair of shoes for a celebrity and send it to their publicist/PR-person. Although celebrities are solicited all the time like this, your unique creation may prompt them to wear your name.

        Growing Your Flow

        When you’re starting out, it can take a lot of trial and error to find the right tools. It can realistically take 8 hours to complete a shoe due to a lack of tools, impatience, and hurry to get it done. However, when you grow your clout, start getting higher paying clients, and start integrating with the custom sneaker community, you’ll find techniques, tools, and products that make your job easier, and save you time.

        The Social Media Hustle

        The social media hustle is a grind. Instagram can look great from the consumer-side, but as a business, Instagram is work! If you hope to make it big, the objective marker of success is your follower count. The same way salary is the measure of success in the corporate world is the same way follower count (and follower quality) is the measure of exclusivity.

        At the end of the day, you’re in the luxury retail business. Collaborate with others and create magic! Keep collaborating up with accounts that are equal or bigger than you. By so doing, you’ll leverage their unique network and get people looking at your work.

        “Hustle to get your portfolio into the right hands” -Complex 10 Steps To Becoming A Sneaker Designer

        "Your portfolio sucks, plain and simple." -Leather Care Supply 6 Worst Parts of Being a New Shoe Artist

        If you have game, we want to see your work! We sponsor talented artists with paint, brushes, and other product. Contact gm [at] leathercaresupply [dot] com for a sponsorship opportunity. 

        Follow us on Instagram @leathercaresupply

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        • Alex Pop
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