Destiny Wilson AKA The Artvst Turns Sneakers Into Wearable Art

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The Artvst contains a painted Converse sneaker. (Photo by The Artvst)

When I see a brand new pair of white sneakers, I see endless potential for disaster – a misstep in a mud puddle, a drop of ketchup falling from a fry, a touch of caramel macchiato, an accidental scratch from a passing. Destiny Wilson, also known as The Artvst, sees a blank canvas begging for color.

UNC graduate Charlotte, 20, has been creating from a young age, trying her hand at electric piano, photography and cooking before turning to the versatility of the visual arts through painting and drawing. However, it wasn’t until she pulled her brush off the paper and put it on a sneaker that she really began to see the possibilities.

“You don’t have to just draw on paper,” The Artvst told Queen City Nerve. “You can draw on canvas, you can draw on a sneaker, you can really do anything on your canvas as long as it can be painted.”

Over the past five years, The Artvst has connected with hundreds of shoppers looking for colorful, quirky sneakers that aren’t in store. Her hand-painted shoes paid homage to history, social justice movements and breast cancer awareness, among others, amassing its nearly 11,000 followers on Instagram.

It all started when she customized her own pair of Nike Roche Runs at the age of 15.

No sneakers left behind

Tired of the white midsole on their black and pink Roshe Runs, The Artvst decided it was in their power to change them. Fortunately, his older brother was once a fan of custom painting shoes and he had kept all the supplies despite switching to another hobby. She grabbed a brush and paint and created a black and pink splash pattern.

The end result inspired The Artvst to revamp some of their other sneakers. By the time she was done ransacking her own closet, she set out to find any pair of shoes she could get her hands on.

“I would go to the thrift store, find a pair of Air Forces for $ 30, clean them, tape them, paint them and make them look completely new,” she said.

She also painted custom sneakers for friends, painting over worn and worn out shoes, learning as she went, and sometimes turning to YouTube for instructions. Once she felt comfortable enough in her own skills, she was ready to accept paying clients.

Now the Artvst only works on new sneakers, and even then a custom pair can take up to 10 hours to paint depending on the design. For canvas sneakers like the Vans and Converse, she mixes a dye additive with the paint to permanently dye the fabric, then builds up the layers layer by layer, finishing with a heat gun so they don’t harden. while drying.

Artvst paints a pair of Vans
Artvst paints a pair of Vans. (Photo by Izzy Franklin)

Leather shoes like the Nike Air Force 1 and Air Jordans take a little more work. Before The Artvst can even do her first brushstroke, she needs to prep each sneaker – removing the factory finish with acetone and sanding it down – to allow her specialty paint to bond to the material.

She then sticks duct tape where she doesn’t want paint and begins applying light, buildable coats with a protective sealer in between. She finishes the job with a satin or matte finish.

“I love being able to create colors that don’t yet exist with inspirations from my everyday experiences, or the most ordinary thing that I can turn into a nice block of color,” said The Artvst, adding that although painting shoes is tedious, she enjoys watching the transformation. “Finished sneakers tend to be rewarding as an initial idea in my mind for a mockup has been turned into wearable art.”

Artvst said customers can wear their custom painted sneakers for a few years before they start to notice minor cracks and tiny chips. After all, “painting is painting,” she explained. That’s why she tries to avoid painting the toe area as much as possible, as the creases that occur naturally at each step can quickly crack and affect the paint.

Artvst sneakers make statements

The sneakers made by The Artvst have caught the eye of companies like Taco Bell, Subway, Converse and the Carolina Panthers. Her first international sale was a pair of Taco Bell-inspired shoes that she made for a client in Japan. The brand reposted a photo of the sneakers on its social media.

She also painted a pair in Subway colors, which caught the attention of Subway France, and a collection she calls the Nostalgic Pack, with shoes inspired by old Nintendo game consoles.

“Each collection, I create something that maybe relates to an event that’s happening in the world or just something from the past that I remember that I want to represent through art,” said The Artvst. “The nostalgic pack is all about remembering the simplest moments in life. “

But some of her artwork has a deeper message, like the red, white and blue Nike Cortez she created in June 2020 in honor of George Floyd, who died in May at the hands of police in Minneapolis.

Walk through history shoes
Walking Through History Shoes. (Photo by The Artvst)

She cut out words from archived newspaper articles on race and equality and layered them over the Nike swoosh to highlight how history repeated itself. On the back of the shoe, she painted Floyd’s infamous last words, “I can’t breathe.”

“It was that statement that sparked the whole world and made us pay attention to what was going on,” The Artvst said. “These shoes are still in a display case in my studio. I had offers to buy them, but I won’t give up on them.

In late 2020, she created custom cleats for Carolina Panthers player Colin Thompson as part of the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign. The tight end wore the cleats against the Broncos to raise awareness Athletes helping athletes, an organization that connects athletes with special needs with traditional student-athletes in a spirit of friendship.

Shoes from The Seasons of Blackness collection
The seasons of darkness. (Photo by The Artvst)

With its Seasons of Blackness collection, released in February to coincide with Black History Month, The Artvst aimed to recognize other black designers by producing a promotional video on what it means to be black. The collection included a custom painted sweatshirt and sneaker.

Her work was recently exhibited publicly at The Underground in August for Lemonade – an exhibition designed to spotlight women of color in art, music and technology. Artvst showed off their Nike Air Max 1 “Chunky Dunky” and an acrylic painting inspired by the TV show Bob’s burgers called “Everyone eats”. She described the play as “a representation of all of those around me chasing their dreams, uplifting each other, sharing opportunities that match their dreams and being a strong support system.”

Despite her tendency to speak out on social issues, The Artvst does not see herself as an activist. While her name could be read as “The Artist”, she actually pronounces it as “The Artist”.

“I don’t want everything to be so centered on the message where you are sort of wrapped up or on the side of the debate,” she said. “I just create how I feel and most of the time there’s some type of underlying message that I’m going to put in a caption or explain what I was thinking or how I felt during this creative process and then I let people see it.

The Artvst plans to launch their latest project, titled Good Deeds, in early November. The collection focuses on bringing light to the world, which we all need after nearly two years of a pandemic. She wants good deeds to serve as a reminder to treat yourself and others well.

Light up someone’s life a little bit, she said, because we could all use a little more of the “good” in the world.

Destiny Wilson, also known as Artvst
Destiny Wilson, also known as The Artvst. (Photo by The Artvst)

Brush stroke growth

When The Artvst launched her Instagram at age 15, she was posting photos of her digital designs and not seeing much engagement. Once she switched to custom painted sneakers, her work started to gain more attention. As larger accounts rested his designs, his social presence grew.

She was also a traveling billboard for her own art, wearing her own custom painted sneakers on the UNC Charlotte campus and constantly answering viewers’ questions about where she bought them.

But what about the custom painted sneakers that turn so many heads? This is exclusivity, explained The Artvst.

“If you were to walk into a Foot Locker, of course you have your selection and the hundreds of people who come to that store can choose that selection,” she said. “With a custom sneaker, you can work one-on-one to say, ‘I want this design, I want this color that no one else has,’ and then get it done. ‘

Artvst’s work is therefore aimed at those who seek uniqueness. With every sneaker, she helps people achieve that feeling by creating something that’s just right for them.

So no. When The Artvst sees a brand new pair of white sneakers, they don’t have a hunch of future catastrophes – they see a blank canvas and an opportunity to stand out with color.


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