Most people who see Converse high-top sneakers or Vans walking shoes would view them as typical footwear.
Not Dallas Gordey. The Estevan teen, who is three months removed from his high school graduation, looks at shoes and sees an art canvas.
And his innovation and creativity have punched his ticket to a top Vancouver art school.
The shoe art began 18 months ago. Gordey was thrilled when the movie "The Hunger Games" was released. So he painted his shoes with characters, scenes and themes from the movie.
"I thought it would be really cool to have my own, custom shoes, and everybody would comment on them," said Gordey. "I always love to be different."
The shoes drew rave reviews. So he painted footwear to celebrate the release of "The Avengers," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and other Hollywood blockbusters.
"People were asking 'Can I have a pair of shoes,' and they were suggesting that I turn this into a business," said Gordey. "It grew from there."
During the interview for this story, he was wearing shoes the he created as a tribute to the "Man of Steel" Superman movie.
Movies based on comics are a common theme for his shoes, since he's an admitted comic book fan. But he's also branching out to shoes with motorcycles and other patterns.
Converse shoes are preferred for his material, thanks to their cloth. Vans are another footwear brand that's easy for him to work with. But he'll use anything that he can draw on.
Once he receives the shoes, he goes to work.
"I pencil it all out, because I get ideas like that in my head," said Gordey. "I just maybe think about it for a second, and the next thing I know, I have the idea. I colour it up, and add my little signature. Then I give it to them, and they're just blown away."
His work has evolved, too. When he first started, Gordey used Sharpies on the shoes. Now he uses Copic Markers, which are more alcohol-based, and offer more durability in water. Copics also stand out better and brighter, and he can do a better job of blending the colours, which allows him to draw more designs.
The "Man of Steel" designs were created with Copics a couple months ago, and he said they still look brand new.
"I was afraid that when I did the shoes, that they would fade over time, and then pretty soon, the design would be gone," said Gordey.
He prefers working in two-dimensional art as opposed to 3-D, and he's not afraid to experiment. For example, the shoes he created for the "Back to the Future" movies have the characters portrayed by Michael J. Fox's and Christopher Lloyd – Marty McFly and Dr. Emmett Brown, respectively – in cartoon form.
"They look better and they stand out better (in cartoon form), I think, and everyone thinks so, too," said Gordey.
Gordey hopes to meet Lloyd, and show him the shoes, at an upcoming comic book convention in Edmonton that Lloyd is slated to attend.
Celebrities have given the shoes their thumbs up. When Gordey's parents attended a recent KISS concert, they showed their son's KISS-themed shoes to the band's lead singer, Gene Simmons; the footwear proved to be a big hit with all of the band members.
"They were all just blown away," said Gordey. "On the tongue, I did Gene Simmons with his tongue hanging out, and Gene absolutely loved that."
Photos of the KISS shoes wound up on the band's Facebook page and website, and on Simmons' Twitter page.
It takes Gordey a day or two to complete a pair of shoes. He estimates that he has finished about 55 pairs.
Gordey typically charges $125 to paint a pair of shoes. If the customer supplies the shoes, then it's only $60.
Friends, family members and even his grandmother have ordered his shoe art.
Gordie took a few art classes when he was at the Estevan Comprehensive School. He admits that he wasn't strong in the art theory course, but he enjoyed a painting class. Art teacher Wade Kotelo offered advice on how he can be a better artist.
Thanks to the shoes, Gordey will attend the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts' (VanArt) 2D and 3D character animation program. The opportunity arose when he attended a comic book convention in Calgary. He showed a pair of his shoes to a VanArts representative, and was offered a spot in the school almost immediately.
"I'm really looking forward to going," said Gordey. "As soon as I went there, I felt at home. Vancouver's an awesome place."
He'll start his studies at VanArt in the fall of 2014.