Untying Macey Howard’s Shoe Illustrations

Posted inDesigner Profiles

The old adage decrees that a picture is worth a thousand words— but what about an illustration of a shoe? For my money, it’s worth a hell of a lot more. The Portland, Oregon-based illustrator Macey Howard would surely agree, as she continues to delight the online masses with her delicately perceived color pencil interpretations of loafers, sneakers, and oxfords.

I count myself as one of Howard’s many admirers who has fallen under her spell. She captures an abundance of spirit and character within her illustration style, from her soft and soothing color palettes to her free-spirited yet impeccably controlled lines. Howard’s illustrations ooze playfulness, joy, and retro timelessness. I connected with Howard to learn more about her point of view as an artist and to figure out, most importantly, why shoes?

Howard’s responses to my questions are below.

How would you describe your illustration style? How did this develop?

I’d say hand-drawn is the main component. I love messy, thick lines with lots of texture and imperfections.

I’ve always been into art. I embroider, draw, sew, paint, and build stuff, and I’m just a doer. In 2019, I made it my goal to draw people. The first face I drew looked like a kindergartener had drawn it, but everyone has to start there. I had a handful of artists who inspired me and helped me land on the style I have now: Damien Cuypers, Yu Nagaba, and Haley Tippmann, to name a few. They have very different styles, but I’ve always admired their bold and effortless lines. I would try to straight-copy an illustration they’ve done, not putting any of it out there but using it to help me work on my technique and see if anything felt true to me. Then, I’d try to emulate their style on other subjects

Eventually, I started coming up with a style that was unique to me. One of my biggest accomplishments is coming up with my own style. It was a long and frustrating process, but something I’m really proud of. My style developed with hours and hours and hours and hours of practice— there’s no shortcut.

I occasionally like to look back at my old sketchbooks to see how far I’ve come and to motivate me to keep going. It feels good to see an illustration I was proud of at the time and think, “Wow, I sucked.”

When I’m looking for inspiration, I like to find a challenge.

Your shoe illustrations have clearly struck a chord with the masses. Why do you think that is? What do someone’s shoes say about them?

I think shoes, especially the loafers I’ve been drawing recently, strike a chord because they’re distinct and tend to remind people of someone. I get comments about how I’ve drawn the exact pair someone’s grandpa wore. There are comments from people who think I’ve drawn Tyler The Creator’s shoes or shoes from the movie Jojo Rabbit. I absolutely love hearing whose shoes people think I’ve drawn.

I don’t know what people’s shoes say about them in real life, but they’re often the focal point in my drawings. Oversized shoes that are either polished or sloppy add character to my characters.

How do you decide which shoes to draw?

I love sneakers with long loopy laces. I’m into the loafers now, partially because the shine allows me to draw the harsh shadows that I love. Primarily, I find shoes that lend well to my style, and any shoes I think are fun.

What’s your creative process typically like? Do you carry a sketchbook with you at all times? What sorts of people, things, and scenarios compel you to draw them?

I love the idea of being someone who sketches people at coffee shops, but really, I do my best work snuggled up on the couch.

I take pictures of people, shoes, or interesting color combos out and about, but you can’t beat Pinterest for inspiration. I also love collecting old books for reference photos or kids’ books from my favorite illustrators. I recently found a pair of red leather shoes at a thrift store, and I took a photo of them to draw. You’ll be seeing those soon!

I like drawing people in motion and exaggerating my favorite part, the shoes.

What do you hope your illustrations communicate to your viewers? 

Honestly, I’ve never thought about that. When I’m looking for inspiration, I like to find a challenge. A different angle I haven’t tried or new subject matter. Colored pencils were also new to me when I started to develop my style; they’ve always been my least favorite medium. I like to use colored pencils like a crayon: with a dull tip, ultra-pigmented, bold, and messy. So I hope my process inspires people to try something new and challenging.