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Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

Rick Murphy’s ILLWALKEES Custom Sneakers

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In a culture dominated by mass-produced fashions, running into someone wearing the same shirt isn’t uncommon. But with a pair of custom kicks by designer Rick Murphy of ILLWALKEES Custom Sneakers, you can guarantee you’re the only person on the planet who wears them.

When did you start customizing sneakers?

I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up, I was into graffiti and I started drawing on my sneakers with permanent markers. I found a way to paint the sneaker so it can stand up to the regular wear and tear, and then I went with it. About two and a half years ago I started taking it seriously.

What’s the secret?

You have to apply acetone to the leather sneaker to take the factory finish off. Then you can paint directly onto the leather. If you don’t take that coating off, the paint adheres to it instead of the leather and it will chip or crack when you walk.

Who has influenced you artistically?

Basquiat and Van Gogh. There are also a few custom sneaker designers out there that I follow, like Jor1 and Yoa Customs. Jor1 has his own style. His work looks like a gallery piece. Yoa Customs does a lot of client-based shoes. If you give her a comic book page, she’ll put it right on the shoe in a very, very clean style. They both motivate me.

Do you customize all types of shoes?

Any kind of leather shoe. Mainly I’ve been doing sneakers, but for my fiancé I’ve been doing high-heels for her and all her friends. I also do custom skateboard decks.

How would you classify your style?

Abstract. I’ve painted some that are mainstream, like Cookie Monster on a pair of kids’ shoes. But I’ve also designed a pair of shoes that have 40 different simple faces on the whole shoe, and a pair of Jordans with obtuse shapes of different colors. I’m more into abstract design instead of redoing images or themes.

How do you price your work?

I charge based on the materials I use and the amount of time I spend working on the shoes. I use a high-quality paint called Angelus Leather Paint, which is expensive. I gave a pair to a friend who’s 6-10 and wears a size 19. It ended up costing a lot of money because I went through so much paint.

How does a potential client commission you to design a pair of shoes?

It’s on a referral basis right now. Customers can buy their own shoes or I can get the shoes for them. Then they tell me what kind of image they want and what colors. For now I’m looking to sell them at some Downtown boutiques, but my ultimate goal is to have my own storefront that’s designed like a gallery, where, instead of paintings, my shoes are on the wall.

RicK Murphy can be reached at: illwalkees@yahoo.com