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Luka Doncic landed at the top of our 25-under-25 rankings, two years in a row. To celebrate, The Step Back commissioned a pair of custom sneakers for him.
For the past five years, FanSided’s NBA team at The Step Back has begun each new NBA season by ranking the 25 best young players in the NBA. It is a project designed to celebrate the wealth of young talent in the NBA and the unique gifts of each individual player.
Our team ranked Luka Doncic No. 14 before his rookie season, among all the players in the league, 25 years old or younger. Going into his second season, he climbed to No. 3. And he held the top spot in each of the last two lists, a remarkable reflection of both his production and potential.
In honor of Luka Doncic finishing No. 1 in our rankings in each of the past two years, FanSided and The Step Back commissioned a pair of Air Jordan 1 Mids for him, custom painted by contemporary artist Rosanna Kalis.
Kalis is a versatile contemporary artist specializing in large-scale paintings and murals, but during the pandemic, she began experimenting with custom shoe design. A first-generation Korean immigrant born and raised in the Washington, DC area, her creative perspective is heavily influenced by her upbringing and time spent living in various cities including DC, San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York City, and Seoul. Her inspirations include the rawness of wabi-sabi, the lines of traditional Asian art, the intricacies of Art Nouveau, and the irreverent movement of street art.
The shoes Rosanna created include numerous references to Doncic’s personal history, career and interests — including his jersey number, the Slovenian flag, the Dallas skyline, his favorite Overwatch character and more.
Rosanna Kalis spoke with FanSided about the custom sneakers she designed for Luka Doncic, to honor his 25-under-25 achievement
FanSided: To start with, can you share a little background about yourself as an artist and how you first started doing the work on shoes because I know this is kind of a newer thing.
Rosanna Kalis: My background is in large-scale abstract art and murals. So, I’m based in South Florida and had a studio that really focused on doing art, large scale. So when the pandemic hit, I couldn’t go into my studio anymore. And things were sort of shut down. And I needed to figure out some other ways to keep going and building my art at home without having a large studio space.
I had a friend a year before the pandemic ask me to do a pair of shoes, which I’d never done before. And then I started doing more of them. And now I’m I think 50 or 60 shoes in and super busy working away. What I’m really doing is one-of-one, totally customized. I call it hyper-personalized shoes where I really want to research the person and incorporate a bit of that person’s style or individuality into it. Make sure they get something that looks cool, and is actually fashionable but also adds my style as well.
When you got started, was it a learning process? From a technical standpoint, like figuring out what kinds of paints and materials would work on shoe leather and things like that?
Kalis: There was a graffiti artist who was my studio mate at the time, a couple of years ago. He did a few shoes and introduced me to some of the basics, and then I did a lot of research and trial and error in the beginning, with a lot of different types of shoes on my own, just to test out the products and whatnot. And so I learned a lot about using really specialized leather paints, preparing the surfaces, which shoes and every brand have different levels of quality for leather. I’ve also done different surfaces like helmets and water bottles and random things just get experience with the different surfaces too.
Do you feel like you were able to be consistent with your personal style, your personal aesthetic with your large-scale artwork? Did you feel like that translated to shoes? Or did you have to sort of come up with something new?
Kalis: It’s funny because this style sort of originated from my doodling in my studio. Go way back in my Instagram, I have doorframes that I doodled along with a Sharpie. That was what I used to do to warm up before painting. Yeah, I would just draw with a Sharpie, and I wouldn’t be able to erase anything because it’s permanent. So it really helped hone sort of a freestyle painting style. I started doing live events, I learned spray painting, which I wouldn’t say I’m some graffiti artist, but I really enjoy that medium. And so my murals and the style of shoes are all really similar. It’s all about interweaving ideas and images together in a really bold, typically black and white style.
Can you talk a little bit about this specific process for creating a pair of shoes? What are the steps that you go through?
Kalis: The first thing, the selection of the shoe is important, right? It needs to make sense and then the actual type of the shoe inspires the design too. There are a lot of shoes that have different panels that I can work around. There the styles inform the design. Secondly, there’s an extensive prepping process where you take off any factory finishes to make sure that paints can really sink in, so it maintains wearability. For me, the most fun part is the design process, which is, I take the actual shoe, or at least the image of the shoe and doodle on it for a while and really try to capture something that works. And it’s really great for my clients to actually visualize, ‘oh, this is what I’m going to get.’ So I get a couple of tweaks here and there and then I go into painting. And it’s a lot of really detailed, fine, fine work and layers and layers, a lot of time goes into it.
And it’s all brushwork?
Kalis: A combination. So on the shoe that I did for Luka, it’s a combination of brushwork on the larger areas, and I use fine tip pens. You can’t paint the whole shoe with this but for fine details and just to sketch out the pattern. I use paint pens, but it’s all specialized, really high-quality acrylic paints, and leather paints to do that flex with the wearer.
So on these shoes, you have 15 or 20 different little things that you’ve identified for Luka, the flags and the fishing and the video games and stuff. How do you take these things that, maybe, aesthetically don’t actually have anything to do with each other and make it into kind of a coherent design?
I think one of the main elements I start as part of my design thought process; it’s not only the type of shoe but the type of person that I’m dealing with. So I did a professional boxer and he’s that same kind of competitive spirit. I wanted something really bold and aggressive. Sometimes people think oh, that just means a lot of colors and wild design and for me, it’s if you can actually see there’s something aggressive in the lines of the shoe. So I have like the dragon, the stallion sort of looking like they’re attacking and that’s the vibe and dynamic that I wanted to put on the outsides of the shoe. And the inside of the shoe is a little more of a calm vibe that just relates to his hometown. And with my style, I try to make references to personalized images that he would understand. But to someone just looking at the shoe, they may not even notice because they’re just woven into the style. That’s sort of how I like to personalize everything.