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How to Create Killer Sneaker Art with Daniel Cordas

Daniel Cordas Air Jordan 1

With the custom sneaker market booming, it’s becoming harder and harder to get noticed. Lucky for Daniel Cordas, he’s creating ‘ART NOT CUSTOMS’. Driven by his tagline, Cordas has been using sneakers as his canvas to produce memorable works of art featuring everything from The Joker to Bob Marley. We linked up with the killer collaborator to talk technique, the perfect silhouette, and what it’s like working with artists Billie Eilish and Lil Pump.

Tell us about your love of sneakers and art. When did these passions overlap?

I have always loved drawing and being creative. I got a fine art scholarship to my school, and I remember sitting in the back of the class in other lessons and just drawing in my sketchbook.  Growing up in London, I was around a lot of streetwear-heads. My time at university really got me into sneakers. I was hooked, big time. The first pair of sneakers I ever painted was because I wanted a pair nobody in the world had, and I was a broke student. I painted some floral Nikes and put them on Instagram. That sneaker changed my life.

At what point did you realise a career in sneaker art was possible?

Ever since I put up that first pair, people started asking me to do some for them. I wasn’t charging or making much at first, but I was so happy I was making money through art. I finished my business degree and was obsessed with trying to become a full-time artist. I took a job in retail at Nike in Harrods, instead of an office job, to help pursue my dream. I was painting before and after my shifts, and editing photos on my lunch break. Within a year, I ended up leaving that job on the shop floor to open my official collaboration with Harrods as a bespoke artist. It was a dream come true, and since that moment about four years ago, I’ve just worked for myself as an artist. I am appreciative every day for that.

What was your thinking behind the tagline, ‘ART NOT CUSTOMS’?

I was talking through a design with a business partner, and I was explaining that we could either keep it perfectly clean, or just go crazy with the artwork. They said, ‘Yeah just go crazy, it’s a piece of art, not any old customs’. I named the invoice ‘ART NOT CUSTOMS’ and never looked back. I even have it tattooed on my foot now! I can either paint on a canvas, a bag, some sneakers, or whatever – the artwork is not defined by what canvas you use.

Can you take us through the process of creating a piece?

You need to invest time and patience to make sure the paint looks right and the item is 100 per cent durable and wearable. The material first has to be prepped to make sure you are working directly onto the leather (or whatever the material). I then use an Angelus leather bonding paint with the correct mixture for the material I am painting on. For example, Primeknit mesh and leather require two completely different mixtures. You then need to paint in thin layers, building them up and sealing them in-between. I finish with a sealing process, too.

Do you have a particular sneaker that you love working on?

I’ve painted so many sneakers at this point, and love to change it up: Yeezy, Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Fear of God, Balenciaga, Jordans, adidas. It’s good to have variety, depending on the artwork and the client. I do think that an all-white Air Force 1 is just such a timeless design, and a perfect blank canvas, I use them a lot.

What was it like working with Billie Eilish and Lil Pump?

So sick. It’s exactly what I always wanted to do. Someone like Billie wears whatever she wants, and has the world’s top brands throwing clothes at her to wear. The fact she chose to rock some ‘ART NOT CUSTOMS’, and on Ellen of all places, was so lit! Lil Pump was a good night. I went backstage to his dressing room to meet him and give him his pair. He has fun. I like to take time to smell the roses. It’s mad to think I started in my bedroom at uni, and now I have created something that some of the biggest names in the world would like to co-sign.

We now have NBA and NFL players wearing custom sneakers and cleats. Is the industry getting bigger? Is it harder to carve out your own space?

I’m just glad I went out and started when I did. Being obsessed with sneaker art, I have been very lucky to work with some amazing brands and clients, and have some dope people following my brand. I don’t think it’s ever too late though, you just have to do what you love and let the passion speak for itself. Good artwork that is different will always attract attention. Lots of people are artists, and it was always hard to get noticed. This is just a growing medium to show your art. It’s a good thing.

Is there a particular person or brand you’d love to design for?

The holy grail for any sneakerhead has to be an official shoe with a top three brand, right? I’ve got time. Dream big!

What are your plans for 2020?

Right now is a crazy time, for obvious reasons. I am so appreciative that I have a studio room in my house and am working more than ever in lockdown. I’ve got a few big names that I have projects in the works with, so I think it’s going to be another good year for dope art and self-improvement. I hope the world will be OK, and that things can go back to normal. I’m back working with Harrods on our collaboration, and I’m already planning some stuff for 2021! Onwards and upwards!

Keen for more illustrative inspiration?

Check out our interview with Jonas Cozone!

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