Jonathan Noon is San Diego-based triathlete and coach who's also a remarkably talented artist. He's merged his passion for sport and art through custom painting of cycling shoes, including, most recently, a very special pair for two-time IRONMAN World Champion Jan Frodeno. Jon was kind enough to share his art and his story in this interview. I asked Jon about his background before going in-depth about about his current projects. All images are copyright Jonathan Noon.
SlowTwitch: give us your backstory. Obviously talent this is the product of a lot of hard work and practice. Even if you have a knack for it - and you clearly do - it's a long process.
Jonathan Noon: I grew up drawing as a kid. Some of my earliest memories are of my brothers and I watching XMen cartoons and drawing my version of the superheroes. It's hard to explain, but the instinct to draw these characters was incredibly compelling. For sure in another life I would've been a comic illustrator! I was also a social adolescent, and art being very solitary meant I did less and less of it. I abandoned art for many years from grade school through college. I always missed it and almost felt guilty for abandoning a God-given artistic gift I believe I had. I only recently got back into it, which sort of works well with triathlon training because they can both be very solitary activities.
ST: Okay, so, painting bike shoes. How did that start?
JN: It basically started because I love the aesthetics of training/racing attire. I wanted designs that obviously weren't offered by shoe manufacturers. Once I discovered acrylic paint sticks to leather very well I jumped right into it starting with friend's donated shoes. This whole endeavor probably would not have been possible if it were not for the support from Pete Coulson at Bont Cycling.
ST: Can you walk us through the "how" of how you paint a shoe? What sort of paint(s)? Brushes/tools/etc? Can you paint any bike shoe? Or do only certain materials work? Or do most materials works with only a few exceptions?
JN: I'm getting better with the process and still learning, but I use a lot of acrylic paint pens (POSCA), airbrush, and acrylics designed for use on leather. I haven't run into a bike shoe that these mediums don't work on, although it does not hold to carbon as well.
ST: Are they just art? Or are the wearable/race-able? How durable is the paint?
JN: I get this question a lot - they are very wearable and quite durable. Acrylic is actually water repellent by nature, but I also coat the finished shoe with a gloss designed for acrylic on leather. To be honest I am yet to hear from someone who has gone through mud or something and put the painted shoe through heavy duty use, but there is no problem wiping and light scrubbing the surface with a little soapy water. My personal Mountain bike shoe is painted and I've had no problem keeping them clean and the paint intact.
ST: You do regular (street) shoes as well. Do you do running shoes?
JN: I started doing street shoes also as gifts and because they are a much cheaper 'canvas' than Bont shoes! I realize there is a massive community of "sneaker heads", and while I do have a bit of a shoe fetish I'm not quite a sneaker head. I haven't done as many running shoes but it's a no-brainer for key races - science shows you run faster with custom kicks!
ST: How much does a pair of shoes typically cost? Most expensive pair?
JN: Cost largely depends on how complicated the design, but I usually quote between $100-200 for the paint job. Sometimes cheaper if it's just something like a logo, solid/basic coloring or something. People can send me their existing shoe or I can set them up with Bont as I have a relationship with them now regarding this endeavor. Anyone who hasn't tried Bont cycling shoes really needs to - I truly believe the VayporS is a performance enhancer.
ST: What's your favorite design you've done so far
JN: My favorite design is probably the shoe I recently did for Jan Frodeno just because I actually got to do a shoe for a freakin legend! But also my Xmen shoes!
ST: Who would you most like to design a pair of shoes for? Doesn't need to be triathlon. Or even cycling.
JN: O man, good question.. maybe Peter Sagan or Manny Pacquiao!
ST: You're also a coach. Is artist or coach your full-time job? Would you choose to do one more fully than the other if you could? I.e., would you rather be full-time artist and part-time coach or part-time coach and full-time artist.
JN: Strength coaching/personal training makes up most of my income right now, and it is a true passion of mine. I not long ago finished coursework at Baylor earning a Master in Exercise Physiology, and I plan to give coaching my full attention once my silly triathlon dreams have run their course! If I had to pick, I think I'd probably rather be a full-time artist because of the freedom it allows, but I love strength and conditioning so would still want to continue this work in some capacity. I think it's important to have something in life that stimulates you physically, something that stimulates you creatively and something 'stimulates' you financially.
ST: Along those lines, How long does it take to paint a pair of shoes?
JN: It can take anywhere between 2-8hrs to paint a pair of shoes. Sometimes the prepping takes up a lot of that.
ST: What else - sports-related equipment (e.g disc wheels? bike frames? helmets?) do you paint?
JN: I haven't painted frames or helmets, but I am currently working on my own helmet!
ST: What else - NOT sports-related - do you paint?
JN: I do some painting on canvas and Masonite - lots of comic book and sports stuff.
ST: What's the craziest request you've ever had?
JN: Sorry to say I haven't had anything super crazy yet! I'll look forward to it though! There has been some pretty crazy designs though.
ST: Have you ever designed a tattoo? I ask just because that seems to be so popular now that I wonder if you've had requests here.
JN: I have designed a couple of my own tattoos and a large tattoo my best friend has. Plus if Jan ever gets a tattoo he says I'll be his guy haha!
ST: Are there any similarities between painting and racing? Basically, have you learned anything as an artist that has helped your racing/training? And vice versa - have you learned anything as a triathlete that has helped your art
JN: There is actually one big similarity between triathlon and art, and that is patience. Often times a 20-hour painting will look like crap until the last few hours, so I have had to learn to be patient. Obviously a lot of patience is required with endurance training and racing as well. Breakthroughs can be a few brush strokes away or in your next race!
ST: Anything else you want to share or talk about? What do you wish that I'd asked that I didn’t?
JN: Contact me at email@example.com and please see more of my shoes on instagram @sweet.pea.shoes and my personal art @jon.noon