Painting Leather

One of the first things I ran into where there was a serious lack of good advice was in finding a good paint to use on leather. Figuring I would go to a good source, I called around to my local art supply shops and asked what they would recommend. Bearing in mind that what I wanted was a paint that would be fairly flexible and weather-resistant (within reason) they all agreed that I should be using an acrylic medium. What they could NOT say, however, was which brand would be best for the application.

Gee, guys – real helpful there. I ended up picking a brand pretty much at random and taking a couple small bottles home to test. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the results.

So, being me, I did some more digging online and played with the search terms a bit until I ran across an interesting phenomenon – apparently it is the ‘next big thing’ to personalize your sneakers by painting them. Now, I can remember scribbling on my Converse hi-Tops with a sharpie when I was a kid, but I never got paints out. In any case, I figured paint used on sneakers would probably suit my purpose pretty well and ordered some sample jars.

What I got is from Angelus Paints, who do not have a website – at least, I have failed to find one at any rate. They have a huge selection of colors to choose from, and TurtleFeathers (linked on the right) has the best prices I could find. (Strangely enough, these paints are also big in the gourd-decorating circuit. Whoda thunkit?)

The paint comes in 1 or 4 ounce bottles, and the small ones have a brush built-in to the cap. This is fine for grand work, but sucks for detail – buy real brushes too. Also grab a bottle of the Leather Preparer / Deglazer, and a bottle of an appropriate finish (matte, gloss, etc.) to seal the whole thing up when you’re done.

The paint goes on well, and thinly – you’ll want to do at least two coats of your top color. It sticks well to leather and other layers of paint, and cleanup is just soap-and-water so no harsh chemicals for your 8-yr-old “save-the-world-er” to complain about. (Always a good thing.)

Now for the use: while you could be entirely anal about the process and use some precision-dyeing method so that you don’t have paint on top of dye, there is really no need. Acrylics will stick to dyed leather just fine, and it also doesn’t really matter what tanning process was used.

Now, I put the picture of the Bone paint up for a reason. As the color itself goes, I think it is a little too gray for use in coloring bone, but you could mix a little white in to lighten it if you like. Its best use, however, is in covering up the dye to give you a light canvas again.

Most of my work is on black leather, and the lighter colors like white and silver just don’t do a good job of covering that up – even with three or four coats. Yellow picks up this sick-looking green tinge somehow. The bone, however, covers very well and makes an unobtrusive background for your top color to sit on.

Speaking of those other colors, I have to say that I am not impressed with the silver – it just doesn’t look right. It’s a little pale, and even on the bone it doesn’t cover well. This is all right though, because the first paints I got were by Liquitex, and their silver looks great over the bone background. This you can find at your local art supply store no problem, and you’re going to need brushes anyway. (Buy your brushes in person the first time, and find a brand and tip style you like. You can look for a cheap on-line supplier later.)

As for other supplies, next time you’re at the store, hit the sundries isle and look in the shoe polish section for Kiwi Foam Polish Applicators. These handy sponges-on-a-stick work pretty well for applying the finisher, and they have a nice little handle so you don’t get any on your hands without having to wear gloves. The foam is firm without being too firm, and won’t scratch your leather or flake off into the finish.

The last tip for the day is one more Angelus product: The Dye Liners and eye-droppers. These are felt-tip pens that come without any ink in them. Use the eye-dropper to add leather dye of your color choice and presto! Instant leather sharpie. Great for delicate work, and even better for touching-up the inevitable paint smear. At least, that last is great if you’re using black dye. Black dye covers up anything.

The Preparer / Deglazer will remove paint fine, but is difficult to use in tight spaces. The fine-point Dye-Liner, on the other hand, is just about perfect for this, and with a careful hand can even get down into the bottom of a cut line. Very handy for slobs like me.

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