Try Tattoo Shoes on for Size

Try Tattoo Shoes on for Size

Ram Lee turns the shoes slowly just as he would a forearm. He stuffs them taut to get the same consistency. Tattooing shoes is just like skin — minus the flinching, he said.

The tattoo art trend — a la Ed Hardy and Sailor Jerry — brought the former taboo out from under clothing and into the mainstream. Tattoo art coats everything from jeans to water bottles. Why not shoes?

Going great guns the shoe tattoo trend is not — at least in Traverse City, Lee said.

It’s more of a “West Coast thing,” Lee said of the art that is more of a sideline hobby compared to his bustling business at Traverse City Tattoo. At $200 a pair — plus the cost of the shoes — it’s not for everyone, Lee said.

“It’s just for fun, I’m not getting rich off them,” Lee said.

But shoes make a great canvas and those who get them, love them. Lee has several repeat customers, and like tattoos, the art they select to tell their stories is always personal.

Musician Levi Britton commissioned a single koi fish on his Vans, the head on one shoe curving around to the tail on the other. Bay Pointe Community Church Pastor Nick Twomey’s shoes incorporated a rose (his wife is named “Rose”) and a “Rock of Ages” cross. One client loves “sugar skulls,” decorative skulls that symbolize life after death.

They can be fun, too. Lee did a pair with Batman on one shoe and the Joker on the other for the Cherry Capital Comic Con. He once spent a day decorating Toms shoes with flowers and dinosaurs outside of Gliks with his son Dakota, who is also an artist. Lee even did a nautical pair that will likely never be worn; they were commissioned to compliment the client’s sailor-inspired decor.

Twomey saves his for special occasions and always gets a good response when he wears them onstage for a sermon.

“People, especially the younger ones, love it,” Twomey said. “It’s not everyday that you can wear a one-of-a-kind pair of shoes, the only pair that exist in the world.”

A typical pair of shoes requires four to six hours of work, Lee said. He draws with markers and uses sealant to preserve the art. Oliver Sweeney Shoe Tattoo pop-up in London’s Selfridges uses a tattoo gun on their leather products and reports an “endless demand” for customization. Those shoes cost a pretty pence as well, ranging from $465 for a pair of leather slip ons to a wallet for $149, plus $42 for tattooed initials and $170 for more complex designs.

But getting your shoes tattooed can be a bargain compared to tattoo removal surgery — which ranges from $500 to $2,000. Lee likens it to wearable art that “you can take off.”

It’s also a way for the non-tattooed crowd to sport, and support, the art form.

“It’s as close as I’m probably ever going to get to a tattoo,” Twomey said.