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Boots & Bears

My name is Jett Johnson and I'm a self-taught artist currently living in Hot Springs, AR. I work in acrylic, India ink and oils. I mostly paint horse racing paintings as I live right across the street to a horse track. A place I had grown up around and worked for several years. I also do portraits, pet paintings, and a personal style heavily influenced by artist Ralph Steadman.

I have to say, this is the first time I've been commissioned to paint a Grateful Dead theme on a brand new, $150 pair of boots. I was excited to do something new. Ive never painted, let alone drawn on a curved leather surface.

A close friend of mine Danielle, who offered me the job, was so excited about getting them started. So much in fact, she offered to help paint... Its a good thing she is good at painting. I normally wouldn't be keen on the idea but she was excited and it ended up saving me some time that day. It was a lot of fun. Thank you Danielle.

Later I went home and I began painting at least 1 layer of paint on the entire surface of the boots. Using a paint brush worked well with the majority of the surface.

Only when I got to the seams did I realize I needed something to get close to the edges. Danielle suggested acrylic paint pens and went to buy me several different color pens. This made the work much easier than a brush. I was so relieved to have something to ensure I kept the paint precisely where I intended. When I started using the paint pens, I kept getting paint on the bottom half that was supposed to stay white. I grabbed some masking tape and got to work. After I taped the solid white on the lower boot, I was then able stop worrying that I would mess it up.

Once I had a few layers of white one lower half of boot, I then had to figure out how to get the Dead bears on each side of each boots. I knew drawing it freehand on leather was out of the question.

I decided on making a stencil of all 5 bears with each bear 1 inch in height. Its tricky to get the image at exactly 1 inch tall but after trial and error, I finally got it right. The hardest part was making sure each bear was lined up correctly as well as at the correct angle.

After drawing and redrawing the bears about 3 or 4 times, I was ready to use the acrylic paint pens. It was still quite the challenge to get the paint to exactly were its needed with the bears as well as the seams in the leather. More trial and error.

Well I finished the boots. I can't say I didn't get stressed out from time to time. All I had to do next was seal it with UV Archival gloss varnish.

The gloss varnish really sealed it well and gave a richness to the colors that I hadn't seen before. Danielle received her boots the night before the Dead and Company concert and was so happy with the final product as you can see from the photos below.

Thank you for taking the time to check out my blog. You can follow me on

Please contact me it if you are interested in any of my work or merchandise.

My email is:

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