Jill Forie, a.k.a. the Queen Of Canvas, is the creative mind behind Sink Or Swim Custom Kicks. The Long Island native began working on shoes at the age of 20 and has now become one of the most sought after customizers in the business. Her work has been seen on the likes of Paramore, Green Day, Bam Margera and many more. She looks to continue building her brand and company and reach higher heights in the world of custom sneakers.
We had a chance to speak with Forie on her custom work and plenty more. Check out the interview below.
What made you want to start customizing sneakers?
It was around 2007-2008. I started getting frustrated with everything I was seeing in stores. I’ve always been really into sneakers. I kept thinking, “How are these major corporations killing it and all of this stuff sucks? I’ll just do it myself.”
What was the first sneaker you customized and at what age?
It’s hard to put a date on it because I always doodled on my shoes throughout high school, but when I set out to customize my first pair was 2008. I had just turned 20. I bought these hideous shoes in hot pink from Hot Topic simply because they were $3 and thought to myself, “What could I do with these?” I painted “Katie Kaboom,” which was a skit from the cartoon Animaniacs. They came out pretty awful, but I still have them. From there I started painting tattoos I wanted on shoes because I couldn’t afford to actually get the tattoo itself.
How long does it usually take you to make a sneaker?
It really depends on the design. There have been pairs that I breeze through in less than an hour and some I’ve dedicated 12-plus hours to.
What pair of sneakers has taken you the longest to customize?
Any pair with Disney characters takes awhile to do. They have such a signature style that is surprisingly hard to replicate well. One pair I did when I first started had about 16 different Disney characters and had to be arranged in two cohesive scenes as if they all belonged together. I spent like 14 hours on those.
Do you feel like customizing shoes has become over-saturated?
Absolutely, but that’s the world we live in today. I am friends with some of the biggest customizers out there, and I constantly hear how I deserve more exposure and recognition. I don’t focus too much attention on plastering my work on social media, which (unfortunately) needs to be priority No. 1 these days. A lot of people nowadays trust in follower/like numbers as opposed to legitimate talent. They just try to follow people who other people follow. Someone could paint three pairs of shoes with popular Disney characters, tag it with widely used hashtags and next thing you know they have 10K followers and are validated as a customizer. Almost everything becomes bastardized and beaten to death until the next Instagram hashtag comes out and tells you otherwise. Have you ever looked at the #customvans on Instagram? I don’t want to be a member of this temporary trend. I don’t look at the shoes I make as just shoes or a way to make money. They’re my artwork, and I treat each pair that way, which I think is a rare mentality when it comes to customizing. Whatever photo-sharing app comes out next will not determine whether or not I continue doing this. I was here before customizing became a social media phenomenon, and I’ll be here after.
What celebrities have you customized sneakers for?
Various members of Paramore, Green Day, New Found Glory, The Wonder Years, Bayside, The Swellers, Bam Margera, Shawn Levy, Linda Blair, Charlie Saxton and a ton of other bands.
A lot of customizers are known for a signature style or material they use. What do you think you’re mostly known for in the world of customs?
I’ve been called the Queen Of Canvas with both, complimentary and patronizing tones. It’s interesting because there’s definitely subcultures within the “real” sneaker customizing world. There are those that work on Nikes and really high-end, limited-edition sneakers. They’ll paint as well as deconstruct and reconstruct sneakers entirely. I’m more of a fine art painter than a designer. I leave the shoe as it is. I allow the shape of it to dictate the painting. I dive in to the work head first. I don’t plan ahead or sketch or render anything on Photoshop.
What’s the price range for your work?
I keep everything at a flat rate. $150 for kids and $200 for adults.
Favorite shoe of all time?
Vans Checkerboard slip on.
Out of all the sneakers you’ve customized, which one has been your favorite?
I never know how to answer this because I change my mind all of the time. I usually refer to anything I’ve done having to do with a horror movie just because I have a lot of fun with those. To be honest though, this will probably sound super corny, but my favorite shoes that I’ve done are the pairs that get a strong reaction from their recipient, especially when received as a gift. My goal is to always be the best version of Sink Or Swim from one pair to the next. When I receive a heartfelt thank you, or video of someone being surprised by their new shoes, is when a certain pair becomes my favorite. When the customer is not as excited about the fact that they have cool new shoes to put on but more so of the artwork that will walk around with them, that’s when I’m reminded of why doing this is more than just about fashion and footwear.
What shoe was the first to get you recognized in the sneaker community?
The “Pet Sematary” pair that I made for Hayley Williams of Paramore kind of put me on the map in general. I made shoes for her my first year in business back in 2009; one tweet from her and it all went from there. That put Sink Or Swim’s name out there, which got other customizers talking and reaching out to me.
Are you working on any sneakers at the time for a major celebrity?
I always have a few tricks up my sleeve. Stay tuned.
Since we are XXL, give me three of your favorite rappers of all time.
Biggie, Nas and ODB. There’s so many more that I want to say!